Comfort Cravings

How to soothe yourself without food—and how to eat healthfully and mindfully

The Pistachio Effect

How shelled nuts can help you slow down.

Do you love nuts but steer clear of them because you are afraid of eating too many?  The good news is that you don't have to avoid them anymore.  If you want to snack on nuts mindfully, your best bet may be to eat pistachios.  

This suggestion is based on recent studies by Dr. Jim Painter (remember he was part of the clever automatically refilling soup bowl experiment) and several colleagues at the department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University (article in Appetite, 57, 2011).  Their findings highlight the "Pistachio Effect." This term refers to the idea that making simple changes can make a big difference to your eating.  Looking at a pile of pistachio shells can significant reduce how many more you eat of them.

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1) Mindful Eating Tip: Buy the shelled pistachios

In one study, researchers found that subjects offered in-shell pistachios consumed an average of 125 calories. In condition two, subjects offered pistachios removed from the shell consumed an average of 211 calories. This constituted a difference of 86 calories.  What's interesting is that the participants rated their fullness and satisfaction the same despite the fact that one group ate more. 

Thus, simply buying pistachios in their shells will help you to eat them more mindfully.  Why?  It's because it takes time to remove the pistachios from their shells.  This reduces the tendency to pop them mindlessly into your mouth.  Anything that naturally slows you down will help you to be more in charge of your portion size.

2) Mindful Eating Tip:  Save the shells! 

In another study by the Family and Consumers Science Department of Eastern Illinois University, subjects who kept the shells in sight versus throwing them away consumed an average of 216 calories. In condition two, when the shells were pitched, subjects consumed an average of 264 calories, a difference of 48 calories. 

Keeping visual cues of what you eat helps you to be aware and more conscious of how much you eat. While this applies to pistachios, the principle also is applicable to many other foods.  A wrapper left on your desk is a good visual reminder of what you've eaten. It's very easy and normal to forget what you've consumed when you have many things to remember.

The added benefit:  Pistachios provide fiber and protein which make them a very filling snack.  They keep you energized much longer than many other snack foods.

So, the next time you have a craving for nuts it may be worth taking a scoop of pistachios in their shells.  It's nice when a snack food can help you to naturally and easily eat more mindfully.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is the author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and is a Huffington Post and Psychology Today blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health, Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV show. Visit Albers online at http://www.eatingmindfully.com.

*Wansink B, Painter JE, North J.  Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake.  Obes Res. 2005 Jan;13(1):93-100.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a psychologist who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. 

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