Is your house making your fat? It’s possible that the urge to reach for a cookie instead of an apple or to dig into second and third helpings really isn’t our fault. According to food psychologist Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, our environment is the biggest predictor of whether or not we have healthy eating habits. He’s identified what he calls the “five zones” where most of our eating and food choices occur — home, favorite restaurants, workplace, grocery stores and our kids’ schools. In his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life (William Morrow), he explains how each affects us and how we can take more control.
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Research in recent years has made it clear that losing weight and getting healthy isn’t something that happens in a vacuum. One study that garnered numerous headlines several years back found that a person’s chance of becoming obese increases by 57 percent if a close friend is obese, 40 percent if a sibling is obese, and 37 percent is their spouse is obese. That’s some hefty (pun intended) pressure on your social circles.
But Harvard professors Walter Willett, MD, and Malissa Wood, MD, have taken the research several steps further. Their new book Thinfluence examines how friends, family, colleagues, online communities and the environment exert influence over your health behaviors — and how you can make them work in your favor. Here, Dr. Wood talks about what it takes to stay on track.
Who exerts the biggest influence over your behaviors and why?
For most people, it’s whoever you spend the most time with. And that often ends up being your co-workers. You might spend more time with them than you do your family and eat more meals at work than you do at home.
What are some ways these people can negatively — or positively — influence your own behaviors and choices?
The influences can be very powerful. If you work with a group of people who like to go out and eat unhealthy food every day for lunch or always order in pizza when you’re working late, those decisions will shape your behavior. But, for example, I’m lucky enough to work with several women who all decided to make some efforts to get healthier by eating better and exercising more. I spend all day with these people, so that has had a very positive effect. Read more
If you were to take a little bit of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, cross it with some of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, and set the story in the fields and parks of New York City, you’d come up with Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal, a touching new memoir by the New York Times “Wild Edibles” columnist Ava Chin. Confronting the demise of a relationship she thought would end in marriage (but instead just ended), and reeling from the loss of her beloved grandmother, Chin takes to the urban forests of New York City, hunting for blackberries, dandelions and wild greens, ultimately finding herself (oh, and a new guy too.)
It’s crazy to think that you can find wildly healthy foods in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or even your own backyard, but Chin proves it’s easy once you know where (and how) to look. You’ll never stroll through a park again without looking for something to eat growing right beneath your feet. Chin beautifully threads foraging tips and terrific recipes (wild greens pie, field garlic and hummus, and mulberry-balsamic jam) through a heartfelt memoir that is honest, real and inspiring.
You’re a professor of creative writing at the City University of New York. How did you get started foraging?
I was the kind of kid who grew up pulling onion grass from the back courtyard of my apartment building and eating it. I would also go fishing in New York City waters during summer camp and bring the fish home for my family to eat. I loved that kind of thing. But I didn’t start foraging in earnest until I became an adult, and I went on a foraging walk with a naturalist, Wild Man Steve Brill.