12 Simple Strategic Changes To Make Nutrition Work For You

This is a guest post by Alex McMahon.

When it comes to making dietary changes a lot of people feel intimidated because they’ve been lead to believe that you need to make massive changes right away to get results.

However we know that diets based on deprivation and too much change too soon are destined to fail. This is why the diet industry is worth billions of dollars, yet has such a poor success rate.

The reality is when you make changes to your nutrition there are two distinct battles that are being fought that you’re neglecting to recognize.

The first is battle is with your food environment. This applies to your home, work and anyplace you eat like restaurants or social events.

The modern food environment is filled with hyper palatable foods that hit the reward center of your brain and make you want to mindlessly overeat.

These high reward, calorie dense foods are cheaper and more easily accessible than ever.

When you’re making an effort to change your nutrition habits to lose fat and get healthier, it’s like navigating booby traps everywhere you go.

The second battle you have is with your brain, which fights back against any kind of perceived dietary deprivation.

When you consciously try to deprive yourself of any food you’re much more like to crave that food in the long run, even if it’s not something you eat on a regular basis.

I’ve seen this so frequently in my nutrition practice that I started calling this the purple elephant effect, let me explain what I mean.

What if I said don’t think about a purple elephant ?

No one in their right mind would think of a purple elephant until you read this blog or I talk to you about it, then what do you think of ?

Surely not a purple elephant…Right?

Food is the same way, when someone is told not to have a certain food, even if it’s one they don’t consume frequently they start to notice it more around them and have cravings for it.

You and your brain don’t like to feel deprived, and you have an inner dietary rebel that says “I’ll eat whatever the hell I want”

You’re an adult and can eat whatever you want, but that same mental framework is likely why you’re in the position of wanting to get healthier and lose body fat in the first place.

The answer to your environmental and mental battle to change your nutrition habits lies in mindless margin.

This is a concept developed by Brian Wansink Ph.D, Professor of Consumer Behavior and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

The Mindless Margin

The good news is that the same environmental and mental booby traps that cause you to gain body fat over time can also be used to help you get leaner and healthier over time.

As described by Brian Wansink in his book Mindless Eating, when you eat 1,000 calories more or less than normal you’re very aware of it.

However the difference between eating 100-200 calories more or less per day goes completely unnoticed because of how small it is.

When that 100-200 calorie difference is compounded over months and years it can be the difference between weighing 10-20 pounds more or less per year without even knowing it.

The beauty of using the mindless margin for you health and fat loss goals is you don’t feel deprived. You’re not cutting out entire food groups, and white knuckling it through your health and fat loss efforts.

Instead you’re making simple easy changes to your food environment that allow you to still enjoy foods you like while getting healthier and leaner.

Let’s take a closer look at the top 12 ways you can use the mindless margin to achieve your fat loss and health goals.

12 Ways To Make The Mindless Margin Work For You

  • Coffee creamer: Exchange your higher calorie coffee creamer for a lower calorie option that you enjoy the taste of like almond, cashew or coconut milk.
  • Use non caloric sweeteners: If you’re someone who adds sugar to your coffee and other foods, by simply using a zero calorie sweetener you can hit that sweet tooth without the extra calories. I generally have people use is stevia if they want to sweeten something.
  • Exchange ½ portion of rice for cauliflower rice: Carbs aren’t bad, but some of them can be easy to consume a lot of. For many people rice falls into this category of easy to overeat, and by switching out half a portion of rice for cauliflower rice you can add a good amount of food volume without feeling deprived.
  • Use powdered peanut butter: As humans we’re horrendous at guessing portions, and this can be especially true for any kind of nut butter. A tablespoon of peanut butter is depressingly less than you would think. By swapping regular PB for the powdered version you’ll cut calories by nearly ¼ without sacrificing the taste.

  • Prioritize protein: When you eat enough protein it can have a great impact on your appetite, and naturally reduce hunger.Protein is the highest satiety macronutrient and leaves you feeling fuller for longer. The simple act of prioritizing your protein intake at meals has allowed many clients of mine to feel fuller at meals and naturally eat less. Protein also has the added benefit of helping many people to curb food cravings as well.
  • Replace caloric beverages with low or zero cal beverages: The downfall of caloric beverages is that they aren’t going to be very filling and can contain a good amount of excess calories. By replacing caloric beverages with something much lower in calories you can still satisfy your sweet tooth but stay within the mindless margin. A few helpful low and no calorie beverages are Zevia, Kombucha and flavored seltzer water.

  • Serve yourself a portion, and put the package away: People view portion sizes in correlation to how much they have in front of them. If you have an entire box or bag in front of you the perception of how much you’re eating, and what a reasonable portion is gets increased, and allows you to naturally eat more than you need. Serve yourself a portion, and put it in a small bowl or plate and put the bag or box away.
  • Buy pre portioned packages: When you buy a larger portion of something that’s already pre portioned into smaller servings it makes you much more aware of your intake and influences your perception of portion size. Brian Wansink the author of Mindless Eating and Slim By Design discusses how the 100 calorie snack pack provides a mindless cue that you’ve eaten enough because you’ve finished the package.

  • Exchange regular pasta for spaghetti squash: We all enjoy some form of pasta dish, but they’re also very easy to overeat. By simply swapping pasta for spaghetti squash you can still enjoy your favorite pasta dish but at a fraction of the calories and carbs. You can also use a spiralizer and turn things like zucchini or carrots into a pasta substitute as well.

  • Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice: When you eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice you’re able to reap all the micronutrient and fiber benefits that come along with eating whole fruit. The fiber will help to keep you fuller for longer at a fraction of the calories and sugar content compared to fruit juice.
  • Use smaller plates, bowls and utensils: This is a recommendation I made in the last article I wrote for Vigor too, but this one change alone can reduce how much you’re eating and drinking at each meal. The same portion of food on a smaller plate or in a smaller bowl will look like more food than a larger bowl or plate. Eating with smaller utensils will help you to slow down your eating, and recognize when you’re actually satisfied rather than full.

  • Add vegetables or fruit to every meal: This may be the most “duh” recommendation on the list, but also the most useful. There is no easier and healthier way to stay fuller for longer and reduce unnecessary snacking than consuming more vegetables and whole fruit throughout the day. Make sure you’re always trying a new way to prepare your veggies and getting a ton of variety in terms of color, texture and the region they come from. When a client has a sweet tooth and they snack a lot I’ll have them get chilled jicama sticks, strawberries or sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes to snack on.


Make sure you’re drinking enough water: I’ve had a ton of clients who were constantly snacking, and when we looked over their water intake I could see that they were likely dehydrated. When we agreed on a water habit and they started to drink enough water daily they noticed their in between meal snacking naturally went down. When dehydrated people regularly mistake thirst for hunger. A good starting place is ½ your bodyweight in pounds as the amount of ounces you should drink. A 190 pound person would work their way up to 95 ounces of water over time.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions drop them in the comments below!


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