Last week, we learned how to eat with more awareness — for example, by slowing down and savouring the flavours and textures of our chicken rice and kai lan, instead of mindlessly wolfing down the meal at our desks while checking emails.

This week, we’ll look at how we can be more mindful of environmental cues that affect what, how, and how much we eat. These cues include how food is displayed, what utensils we use, and more.

Cut the Cue

We’ve all been there: we’re in the hawker centre deciding what to eat, and we spot a long queue at a stall.

Without second thought, our instincts tell us to chiong (rush) over and stand in line — we subconsciously link long queues (the environmental cue) to good food.

Being mindful of your environment means taking time to walk around and survey the stalls and choices, instead of zooming straight to a stall on autopilot.

Before you order, ask yourself if the food is nutritious and what your body needs.

Bonus tip: Eat healthier at hawker centres, food courts, and eateries. Look out for “Healthier Choice” decals that tell you which stalls use healthier oils, or serve lower-calorie or healthier options!

Related: Keep Fit While Waiting In Line

Eat Better at Buffets

We love all-you-can-eat buffets: us kiasu Singaporeans can’t wait to get into action and eat our money’s worth. But wait! There are ways to enjoy buffets without throwing mindful eating out the window.

Before feasting, walk the aisles and observe your options. Notice the aromas and how the food looks, and think about what goes into each dish. Ask yourself if that’s what you want to eat, and what your body needs.

Next, strategise! Instead of heading straight for the prominent rice-and-noodle section (another environmental cue), start your meal with fresh fruit and veggies.

A study[1] suggests eating fruit first might help you avoid high-calorie, high-fat dishes in the buffet line.

Use a salad plate for the food, instead of standard-sized dinner plates — this helps prevent overeating. Don’t forget My Healthy Plate guidelines while you’re at it!

Lastly, share food and good conversation with your buffet buddies, and stop when you’re full. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to send signals that you’re full, so take your time to eat!

Related: Restaurant Guide to Healthier Eating

Home In on Mindful Eating

At home, limit eating to the kitchen or dining room. This way, you’re less likely to mindlessly munch in front of the TV or computer.

And remember: out of sight, out of mind. Store the snacks you want to eat less of away in cabinets — make them harder to reach by placing them on the higher shelves!

Make environmental cues work for you by displaying healthier snacks like fruit on the coffee table or kitchen counter: monkey see, monkey eat!

Related: Banish Nasty Nibbles with Healthy Snacks

Mindful Eating, Every Day

Sit down at a table before eating, and always eat from a plate or bowl instead of a container or bag — especially if you’re snacking — to prevent eating more than you intended to.

For example, divide a large bag of potato chips into many smaller portions to avoid polishing off the whole bag in one sitting.

You can also trick yourself into thinking you’ve eaten a bigger portion by using smaller plates and bowls[2]. This works for drinks too, so go for taller and thinner glasses and mugs.

Read these next:


  1. Wansink, B. & Hanks, A. S. (2013, Oct 23). Slim by Design: Serving Healthy Foods First in Buffet Lines Improves Overall Meal Selection. PLOS One, 8(10), e77055.
    Retrieved (date) from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/authors?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0077055

  2. Wansink, B. & Cheney, M. M. (2005, Apr 13). Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption. JAMA, 293(14), 1723-1728.
    Retrieved October 2017 from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/200673