Chew over these tips on eating mindfully

HOLLIS – There’s a restaurant in Seattle that sells "burritos big as a baby," and offers free burritos to visitors who bring in newborns to be photographed next to their gigantic Mexican dish.

Twenty years ago, the average bagel was three inches in diameter and had 140 calories. Today’s bagels are 350 calories each and six inches wide – double the size.

Since 1971 the amount of food men eat has increased by 168 calories a day. For women, that calorie consump­tion has gone up by 335.

Is it any surprise that we are all getting fatter?

It’s not lack of willpower, it’s corporate manipulation of portion sizes, said Liz Barbour, who has been cooking professionally in the Boston area since 1992, when she talked about "Mindful Eating" at the Hollis Social Li­brary last week.

Her slideshow is based on the findings of Brian Wan­sink, a food psychologist at Cornell University who stud­ies how corporations get people to eat more than they should.

"There are companies whose whole existence is to ma­nipulate portion size" in order to get us to eat more, Bar­bour said.

And that’s not hard to do, because our eating habits are fairly mindless.

"We make more than 200 food decisions a day and we are unaware of 90 percent of them," she said.

For example, Wansink has found that people will eat more when they are eating from large containers, and they will eat more ice cream when it’s served in a large bowl.

Take Orange Leaf, the frozen yogurt company, which serves its products in eight, 16 and 32 ounce containers, with the implication that eight ounces of fro-yo is a small serving.

"Big packages imply what is a normal amount to eat," Barbour said as photos of huge jars of Cosco’s cheese puffs appear on the screen.

Restaurant eating used to be an occasional treat for families. Now they go regularly and they’re served way too much food.

"We Americans like big portions, and it doesn’t cost fast food restaurants much to offer bigger portions" Bar­bour said, and it’s a way to keep bringing people back to the restaurant.

Beware of food that’s labeled "enriched," a word that signals processed food that has had the goodness re­moved, she said.

On the other hand, most people shouldn’t be too cau­tious about eating salt, which enriches flavors and is im­portant for well-being, although we should be aware that there is a lot of hidden sodium added to foods like chick­en.

Barbour offered tips for avoiding mindless eating and outwitting the corporate food scientists.

Don’t buy things like packaged cookies, or if you do, separate them into small portions and put them where you don’t see them every day.

Plates and spoons also play a role. Dinner plates are much larger that they used to be – less than nine inches across was typical in 1960 and that size holds about 800 calories worth of food. In 2009 the typical plate was 12 inches, holding 1,900 calories worth of food.

"Bowls should nest in your dishwasher. If not, they’re too big," Barbour said.

"Even if it’s healthy food, you have to watch" and be mindful of portion size, with the ideal being a quarter of the plate filled with chicken or other protein, a quarter filled with a starch and half the plate holding vegetables.

"Don’t be afraid to eat pota­toes," which are delicious and nutri­tious, she said, and don’t eat when you’re distracted – at the com­puter, in front of the television or while driving.

Near the end of her presentation Bar­bour made "spiralized" zucchini, turn­ing the vegetable into a huge pasta-like mound, and mixed in summer herbs and coconut peanut sauce. She then quickly steamed kale and served it with the drizzled-on peanut sauce, giving out samples to her appreciative audience.

Barbour does cooking and healthy eating presentations for libraries, corporations and other groups and works with the Bed­ford School District’s Smarter Lunch­room program. She runs her business, Creative Feast, out of her Hollis home.