Should You Be Eating MindLESSly?

easy chinese chicken

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I[/dropcap]f I mention the words ‘mindless eating’, what thoughts pop into your head?

Probably nothing healthy, right?

For me ‘mindless eating’ normally evokes thoughts of chowing down on junk in front of the TV or computer. Big bags of chips or pop corn at the cinema. Or shoveling ice cream straight from the tub.

While I’m a huge fan of the concept of MindFUL eating, I’ve also come to appreciate that there’s a place for mindLESS eating in a healthy lifestyle.

Really? Mindless eating = healthy?

Mindless Eating for good is a concept I discovered via the lovely Darya Rose. It was coined by researcher Brian Wansink in his awesome book, ‘Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think’.

Basically Wansink’s research team have found that our bodies aren’t very good at accurately keeping track of how much food we eat. Most people can eat 20% less and not actually feel like they’re missing out on anything.

Wainsink calls this the ‘mindless margin’. It’s basically a ‘buffer zone’ where our brains don’t detect whether we’ve eaten more or less.

Over time, the extra (or less) food eaten in the mindless margin adds up to weight gained (or lost!).

So today I wanted to share some tips from Wainsink’s book that I’ve found helpful.

3 Tips to Eat Less Mindlessly

1. Use smaller plates
It’s an optical illusion but it really does work. The same amount of food look like much more if served on smaller plates. So you’re more likely to feel satisfied with less.

Same goes for smaller glasses, something to think about if you’re trying to limit your wine consumption. (Nothing to see here…)

2. Serve (slightly) less food
Most of us keep eating until our plates are empty. So a great way to eat less is to serve yourself less food to begin with. The trick is to find a balance, you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out. It’s about keeping inside the ‘mindless margin’.

3. Only serve healthy options in the middle of the table.
I love serving big platters of food in the middle of the table because it looks so appealing. But as you probably know yourself, if food is there it gets eaten.

I’ve found by serving healthy options like salad and vegetables in the middle, I still get the look and feeling of abundance. However keeping the extra servings of meat and potatoes in the kitchen, means we’re far less likely to have too much of these.


easy chinese chicken

Easy Chinese Chicken

The simple sauce for this chicken was inspired by my favourite food writer, Nigel Slater. A bit of garlic, some 5-Spice powder and soy sauce. So easy and really delish. I can get Chinese 5-Spice at my local supermarket but if you can’t, an online spice merchant will be able to help you out. Or see the variation below for an alternative.

Enough for 2
2 teaspoons Chinese 5-Spice
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
500g (1lb) chicken thigh fillets, slice into bite sized pieces
250g (1/2 lb) snow peas, trimmed
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
handful cashews

1. Combine 5-spice, garlic and 2 tablespoons oil. Toss in the chicken and allow to marinate for as long as you’ve got. A few minutes is fine but for anything longer than an hour, keep it in the fridge.

2. Heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan on a very high heat. Add snow peas and stir fry until bright green and just cooked but still very crunchy. Remove to a clean bowl.

3. Heat a little more oil in the wok and stir fry chicken until well browned and just cooked though. About 5-10 minutes.

4. Return snow peas to the pan to warm through. Remove from the heat and toss in the soy sauce.

5. Serve in two bowls with cashews on top.

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vegetarian – replace chicken with sliced hallomi and pan fry until golden instead of stir frying.

vegan – replace chicken with sliced eggplant. Allow more time stir frying for the eggplant to cook properly. Undercooked eggplant is one of my least favourite things.

no Chinese 5-spice – make your own approximation with equal parts ground cinnamon, fennel seeds, black pepper and star anise. Or at a minimum just use cinnamon and fennel.

different veg – asparagus, sugar snap peas, bok choy, broccolini, broccoli, Chinese broccoli, red capsicum (bell pepper), zucchini (courgettes).

more veg – serve on a bed of cauliflower ‘rice’ (grated raw cauli).

carb-lovers – serve with steamed rice or rice noodles cooked according to the packet.

different meat – minced (ground) chicken, chicken breasts, pork fillet, steaks – any tender cut that will stir fry well.

With love,
Jules x
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  • Great advice about eating. I actually already use your suggestions, and am much happier for it. Given that my tendency to eat too much is emotionally driven, I have also been working to change my thought processes by talking to myself about proper servings being enough. Immediately after such a talk, it doesn’t seem like the food will be enough, but by the time I finish eating my portion, it turns out to be just right.

    Funny I should be reading this post right after fixing your very similar recipe for crunchy snow pea and garlic stir-fry. My husband and I both love that dish. I’ll have to see if he’d be willing to try it with the 5-spice. It sounds like a wonderful addition.

    • Hi Susan!
      Thanks for sharing your own journey on changing your thought processes… a very important piece of the puzzle!
      And so glad you’ve been making the snow pea stir fry :)

  • Just made this stir-fry; it is delicious! Don’t have 5Spice so put some fennel seeds, cinnamon and pepper in the spice grinder and the flavor is wonderful. Used sugar snap peas. The recipe is really more than two servings for me; more like three. Dark meat chicken is so satisfying and filling. Thanks for another super easy but complex-flavored meal!

  • Hi Jules,
    I was wondering if you have come across Robert Lustig’s work? His youtube video ‘Sugar: the bitter truth’ gives a very persuasive agrument on sugar (fructose) being the reason WHY “our bodies aren’t very good at accurately keeping track of how much food we eat.”
    I have completely eliminated fructose from my diet and now (5 months later), it wouldn’t matter how big my plate was or if there was more food right in front of me; I will stop eating when I’m full. It feels so good to be able to trust my appeptite and know that I don’t have to always be on edge and ‘try to be good’.

    This has also eliminated my ‘snacking’ habits, as you mention in a diferent post.

    • Hi Caitlin
      Thanks for sharing your experience…
      I’m not familiar with Robert Lustig but he sounds very similar to David Guillespie who wrote ‘Sweet Poison’.
      Really interesting to hear your experience with eating fructose-free

  • Jules, You are the best! I always enjoy Your recipes. And one after another, I’ll cook them all.

    Sincerely, Jutta

  • This became one of our favourite recipes almost immediately. Added Hoisin sauce on a whim, & love it even more! Thanks so much!

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