One-Bite-at-a-Time Diet Makeovers
Dinners chez Diana were once the kind of affairs that made other women nervous about extending reciprocal invitations. Although she's an attorney for the criminal tax division of the U.S. Justice Department, currently on maternity leave, her real passion has always been cooking. Hawaiian raw fish salad? Portuguese fish stew? Diana's friends all wondered how she did it. But she stopped playing chef two and a half years ago when she gave birth to her son, Ezra. And now there's Naomi, 3 months old. Although Diana looks fantastic, she's put on 10 pounds of postbaby weight.
"I'm home, so I'm eating," she explains to Wansink and Haven in the dining room of her Washington, D.C., home. "I sit on the couch half the day feeding Naomi, the hunger sets in, and the only things within reach are Ezra's Cheez-Its or popcorn." Ezra's dietary habits have sharply influenced Diana's. Because he's a "terrible eater," she is always trying to coax a little more food into him, serving larger portions than he'll finish. "He eats five out of six peanut butter crackers, and I'll eat the last. It's the same with chicken nuggets. And frozen waffles..." At the end of the day, she has dinner with her husband. And then afterward she consumes—by her estimate—an additional 1,000 calories. She shows us a "snack basket" full of cookies, chocolate-covered blueberries, biscotti. "As soon as Naomi starts to cry, I gather food to take to the couch—popcorn or chocolate or whatever I can grab," she says. "It's so rattling to hear her cry that I actually feed myself. It comforts me."
"Is it frustration?" Wansink asks. Diana nods. Boredom, too. Wansink wants to know about her protein intake at lunch and breakfast. Zilch. As for which foods she can't stop eating—no surprise: chocolate.
Wansink's advice: Breastfeeding burns 300 to 500 calories a day, Haven reminds Diana, so she shouldn't diet right now. She needs the calories. Wansink agrees with Diana that, beyond the nursing, her constant hunger has to do with comfort and convenience. So his first recommendation is about the snack basket—not to dismantle it, which he thinks will lead to backsliding, but to swap its contents. In his lab, Wansink found that office workers who put a bowl of carrots on their desk ate 35 percent more per day than those who placed them 6 feet away. So, as with Jo, Wansink asks Diana to buy cut-up radishes, carrots, fruit, and cubed cheeses to fill the basket. The chocolate needs to go, he says: "Put it on a high shelf. As with carrots, 6 feet of distance cuts down chocolate consumption—by more than 50 percent." Wansink's research also found that when people stockpile a snack food, in the first week they consume it almost twice as fast as when they keep a smaller amount around. Next, he wants Diana to start incorporating protein—tuna, peanut butter, hummus, low-fat deli meat—into her breakfasts and lunches. ("Women are comforted by eating chocolate, ice cream, chips—but 15 minutes later, they feel guilty; they can get nearly the same comfort and feel less guilty if they eat a protein-based meal," he tells her, citing yet another of his studies.) Last, he suggests mint gum to help her stop picking off Ezra's plate. "It has a suppressing impact on smell-induced craving. We learned that from chefs who have problems snacking in the kitchen—they taste less if they chew gum while they work."
Two weeks later: The prepackaged mini-carrots in the snack basket seem to be working. "Partly it's about having something to munch on," Diana says. "The carrots are good for that because they take a long time to eat. I'm even buying cut-up apples." And the gum seems to be helping too. Protein is making its way into her lunch, although less so into her breakfast: "I'm a cereal person," she says. "But the other day at 4 p.m., instead of crackers, I made myself a scrambled egg." While Diana wants to lose the extra 10 pounds she's carrying, she knows she can't seriously diet until Naomi is weaned. "Most of all this has made me more aware," she says. "It was cathartic just talking. I realized, 'Wow, I'm eating a lot of chocolate!'"