The Chopsticks Diet

November 9, 2018

If you eat with chopsticks, you’ll lose weight, become healthier and live longer.

If you eat less you’ll live longer. It’s a concept widely accepted in the scientific literature. Of course, taken to the extreme will give you disordered eating, but generally speaking, regularly eating until you’re stuffed will shorten your life.

But people enjoy food. They enjoy the taste, they enjoy the ‘ceremony’ of eating, they enjoy the social interaction it brings. And making a conscious choice to eat less requires willpower. And this is a problem. Because as we talk about in “Build Willpower to Fuel Habits“, “Willpower is a skill that can be learned. It is like a muscle. It can be trained and it can also be fatigued.”

This willpower fatigue is why you’re more likely to make unhealthy food choices at the end of the day (even more so at the end of a particularly challenging day). You’ve spent the whole day making decisions, and you just don’t have the strength left in your willpower muscle to make healthy food choices (unless that’s already a habit, which we discuss in Building and Breaking Habits).

So we can’t rely on you consistently making the right choices. It’s very difficult to rely on willpower to drive your behaviours. It’s exhausting. Changing human behaviour is difficult. Changing the environment is easy. It’s hard to make people change, but we can create the conditions that support change.

And here’s where the ‘chopsticks diet’ comes in.

Eating with chopsticks makes it more difficult for you to overeat. If you’re eating with a spoon, you can mindlessly shovel food down your throat. Chopsticks make you work for it. They not only bring your attention back to the process of eating, but they make the process of eating take longer, which gives your body more time to release the ‘fullness hormones’ that make you feel like you’ve eaten enough.

Now, we’ve got no research on this, but it wouldn’t be too big a jump to say that this can explain at least some of the increased life expectancy in Asian countries.

Of course, this is just one example of modifying your environment to influence your eating patterns. Here are some others:

  • Eat with a smaller spoon out of a smaller bowl. Research has shown that we eat less if we are eating from a smaller bowl, and using a small spoon. The numbers tell us that we serve ourselves 30-50% less food using a small serving utensil and a small vessel.
  • Store less healthy foods in an opaque (non see through) container: Research tells us people eat less food when it’s not visible.
  • Store unhealthy foods in inconvenient places: People eat less when the food isn’t readily available. Increase the number of steps needed to complete a behaviour you’re trying to stop, decrease the number of steps needed to complete a behaviour you want more of.
  • Drink unhealthy drinks (sugary drinks and alcohol) from a tall, skinny glass: We base our awareness of volume on the depth of the liquid, not its breadth. When asked to measure a shot of alcohol into one of two glasses, people are found to pour more alcohol into a short fat glass than a tall narrow glass.
  • Drink water from a short, fat glass: For the exact opposite reason we should be drinking alcohol from a tall skinny glass!

And the great news with environmental modification is that it doesn’t sap your willpower. It’s a ‘one and done’ sort of thing. Replace all your big plates with smaller plates. It’s a single grand gesture that will benefit you forever.

We are creatures of habit with rapidly fatiguing willpower muscles. We can’t rely on our minds to lead us down the healthy path. Instead, we should modify our environments, hacking our mind to make heathy choices automatic.

It’s hard to make people change, but we can create the conditions that support change.

How can you change your environment?

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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