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Prairie Fare: Take Steps to Manage Mindless Eating in the New Year

Popcorn is a healthful whole-grain food. (Photo courtesy of monlightway, morgueFile) Popcorn is a healthful whole-grain food. (Photo courtesy of monlightway, morgueFile)
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo) Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo)
Consider setting a goal of eating more “mindfully” when temptations surround you.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I promised my 12-year-old daughter that we would go to a movie at a nearby theater during the holiday break. She gets to choose the movie and the treats.

My daughter was excited and immediately went online to search for the movie times. She stopped short of finding the keys to our vehicle and standing by the door in her winter coat.

She loves popcorn, so I know she will choose the large tub of buttered popcorn. I like popcorn, too.

Yes, popcorn is a healthful whole-grain food. However, popcorn drenched in butter is quite caloric, with 1,200 calories for a large popcorn (20 cups).

Yes, some of us are tempted to eat a little too much popcorn when we go to the movie theater.

Have you ever noticed that food “disappears” when you eat while watching TV or movies? You may have a box of crackers or a bag of chips at the start of a program and crumbs at the bottom of the box or bag by the end of the program.

When we are distracted, we may eat far more food than we would eat if we were paying attention. This is called “mindless eating,” and researchers have studied the concepts of “mindless” and “mindful” eating.

Researchers at Cornell University studied the influence of watching various TV programs on calorie consumption. The researchers studied three groups of young adults who were provided snacks while watching a TV program. The participants watched one of the following: an action show with lots of variation in sound, the same action show without sound, or a slow-paced interview program.

The study participants were provided with several snacks, including candy, cookies, carrots and grapes, to munch as they watched 20 minutes of programming. What do you think happened?

They were engaged in “mindless eating.” Compared with the slow-paced show, the students watching the action-packed show with sound ate 65 percent more calories. The participants watching the action show without sound ate 46 percent more calories.

Based on this research, I need to find a slow-paced documentary for my daughter and me to watch. However, my daughter may choose not to be my movie partner in that case unless a jumbo bucket of popcorn and a hand-held video game are part of the deal.

Besides distracting shows, many factors affect how much we eat. Have you ever rated your hunger before indulging in the treats of the holiday season and beyond? Sometimes we are eating for reasons beyond being “hungry.”

Often the New Year is a time for resolutions, and those may be related to weight management. Consider setting a goal to eat more “mindfully” when temptations surround us.

Before indulging in food, try rating your hunger on a 10-point scale (0 = very hungry; 10 = very full). Does your body need to be fed at this instant? Can you wait five minutes to eat?

“Mindful” eating techniques teach us to consider what our body is telling us. Are you eating for emotional reasons or physical ones? Are you feeling stress? Try to figure out “why am I tempted by these treats?”

Maybe you are thirsty. If you are thirsty, have a glass of water with a twist of lemon. Sometimes thirst masquerades as hunger.

Are you worried about something? Turn on some music, take a warm bath to relax or take a brisk walk.

Are you bored? Turn your attention on something else. Work on your favorite hobby or read a magazine or book.

Could you be tired? Take a break to decompress or curl up for a nap.

If you really are physically hungry, start with a healthful snack such as some apple slices, carrot sticks, yogurt, a mozzarella cheese stick or some whole-grain crackers to take the edge off your hunger until your regular mealtime. Or have just one piece of candy or small cookie and take the time to really taste and enjoy the treat. Turn off the TV and enjoy it.

If you are at a movie theater surrounded by temptations, as I will be, try having the “kid-sized” treat tray. I think my daughter has chosen an action-oriented, animated movie. I may need to sit a few seats away from the tub of buttered popcorn.

Sometimes, having a smaller serving of flavor-packed food tames your appetite more than a large amount of a less flavorful treat. Here’s a recipe with a “kick” adapted from the Popcorn Board (

Cajun Popcorn

2 1/2 quarts popped popcorn

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. lemon pepper (salt-free)

Pop popcorn as desired. Air-popped popcorn is lower in calories than oil-popped popcorn. Pour melted butter over warm popcorn. Combine remaining seasonings and sprinkle over popcorn; toss to mix. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven for crispy popcorn. Put your portion in a bowl and savor the flavor.

Makes 10 cups. Each cup of Cajun popcorn (made with air-popped popcorn) has 70 calories, 5 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 40 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Dec. 31, 2015

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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