According to a commercial from a popular cereal company, “When it comes to dieting, the more options you have, the more likely you are to stay on track.” Excuse my French, but that is complete bull! They are just trying to get you to buy each of their eight different versions of dry cereal.

In fact, according to at least 20 studies on consumer habits and dieting, the more options you have, the more you will buy and the more you will consume. And, the more choices from one particular food group, the more you will eat. That’s a fact, Jack!

Think about it. Let’s say you like cookies and you buy four different kinds of cookies at the supermarket. Chances are, when the cookie urge hits, you will want a sampling from each package before you feel “satisfied.”

If you eat those cookies at a party or in an environment that stimulates your eating cues, then you will be more likely to overeat by virtue of association. Some researchers refer to this as a Pavlovian response, kind of like the way Pavlov’s dog salivated in response to the sound of the bell.

Humans (and rats) can have the same response to what researchers term “palatable food.” When rats were given plain ol’ rat chow in a cage where they were previously given cookies, the rats over-consumed the rat chow. This is called a context cue. So not only do you have to be wary of how many cookies you buy, but also where you eat them and how much pleasure you derive from the eating experience. If you like your cookies a little too much, you will love any food eaten in the same location a little too much, too. Keep this in mind while dining this holiday season.

One research study showed that when people think something is healthy, they eat up to 35 percent more than an item not perceived as healthy. A simple trick to help you stay on track is to divide your plate in half. Fill half the plate with vegetables and on the other half place equal portions of protein and complex carbs like sweet potatoes and yellow corn. No matter how you slice it, you should enjoy all food in moderation, healthy or otherwise.

A study out of the University of Albany showed that when people were told not to eat a cookie, they were less successful than when they decided on their own not to eat a cookie. In other words, according to the researchers, people with autonomous self-control are more likely to be successful than those who are told, “Eat this. Not that.”

More importantly, don’t eat this or that while watching TV since a study out of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom has shown that people who eat lunch while watching the “telly” tend to eat more biscuits (British cookies) at their afternoon snack. Overeating biscuits can be attributed to the distracting effects of television viewing. In a sense, they did not remember eating lunch because the television distracted them from the full pleasure of the event.

If you’re going to overeat anything, grab some fruit to satisfy that sweet tooth. A tasty study in the journal Appetite showed that people who ate as much fruit as they wanted actually consumed fewer calories than those who ate high fiber oatmeal cookies at will. This all comes down to the energy density of the snack. With fruit, you get more volume for fewer calories and it’s really the volume of food that aids satiety, not the calorie intake overall.

When you sit down to holiday dinners, be sure you have plenty of elbow room. One study showed that when people feel confined, they are more likely to choose more variety. This type of research helps supermarket designers. If you find yourself feeling claustrophobic in the grocery aisle, be mindful about how this may affect your purchases.

Oh, and if you really want to keep your food consumption in check, please arrive at your family functions with a positive attitude. Optimists are less likely to overeat even when someone tries to sabotage their good mood. Individuals with a poor outlook are more likely to bury their head in the mashed potatoes when Uncle Jim asks why they’re still single at 40.

In order to keep yourself from overeating, think of food in basic groups: protein, starch and vegetables. When we further subcategorize: ham, turkey, tofurkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, lima bean casserole, green bean casserole, etc. then we are much more likely to overeat. Remember K.I.S.S. — Keep It Simple, Sweetie.

My favorite piece of consumer research is an article by a New Jersey dentist entitled, “Fortune Cookies Are Often Right.” I think so too, but I was unable to obtain the actual article in order to learn why this dentist thinks fortune cookies are often right. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure: fortune cookies are the one cookie least likely to cause overeating. I wonder if it has anything to do with the thought-provoking message that distracts your mind away from the food and leaves you to instead contemplate the meaning of your existence. Chew on that while you enjoy a moderately proportioned dinner with loved ones who will hopefully lift your spirits.

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