The Psychology of Eating

Posted in all posts, books, presentation, psychology by coleman yee on October 9, 2010

The amount of food we eat is influenced by many things around us, and we don’t even know it.

If we use a bigger plate for instance, we’ll put more food on the plate (and end up eating more). Or if we were presented with more variety, we’ll also end up eating more. Or if you eat with more people (vs eating alone), you’ll also end up eating more (unless you’re already a heavy eater, then you’d end up eating less).

The great thing about all this is that this can also help you lose weight effortlessly, without needing much willpower. You can tweak your environment so that you’ll end up eating less, such as by using smaller plates or having less variety. And because the stomach is really a bad judge of how much we’ve eaten, if you just eat 20% less using these tricks, your stomach can’t even tell. You won’t feel deprived.

And over time, you’ll slowly but surely lose weight. Just by drinking one less can of Coke everyday for instance would make you 6kg lighter in a year. Just one less can of Coke.

That, in a gist was what my talk today at BarCamp Singapore 6 was about. I don’t intend to share my slides, partly because they’re in a mess, but more because the research findings I talked about is mostly from the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Dr Brian Wansink (Amazon affiliate link), and you should buy or borrow it for yourself.

Mindless Eating is one of those rare non-fiction books combine sound and accurate information with fascinating insights and are entertaining and easy to read. I first read it from a library, but it was so good that I had to own one for myself.

It’s filled with numerous experiments that give insight into things that affect how much we eat, and how we can manipulate our environment so we will cut down the amount we eat.

One last tip. If you’re eating stuff like chicken wings or other foods that leave behind some ‘residue’ (like bones or shells or sticks etc.), don’t let the waiter clear it – you’ll end up eating less with the ‘residue’ in sight.

Thanks to all who attended my talk!

*** Update ***

Designer/illustrator Bernadette Quah drew a lovely visualization of my key points while attending my talk:

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Sisyphus revisited

Posted in all posts, books by coleman yee on December 18, 2008
Sisyphus revisited

Sisyphus revisited

This cartoon by Tom Fishburne will no doubt resonate with anyone who’s done a large project for a large client.

I’m thankful that my company hasn’t experienced anything extreme like in the cartoon, mostly because we defend our work pretty well (at least that’s what I’d like to think), and that mostly because our work is usually based on research and evidence and a lot of thinking.

The cartoon first appeared in Fishburne’s blog post, sisyphus revisited, but I first came across it in his highly-entertaining book, This One Time, at Brand Camp.

Every page has a cartoon, on the dysfunctional side of the marketing/branding industry.

Hilarious stuff, but it would have been funnier if the stuff in there weren’t true. Then again, it’s funny precisely because it’s also true. Sad but true.

Brain Rules

Posted in all posts, books by coleman yee on August 11, 2008

It’s not everyday that I read a book about the brain that is readable, useful, and actually entertaining.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina falls firmly under this category.

It contains 12 “rules” or facts about the brain that scientists are certain about, and how they can be applied in our lives.

The first rule, for instance, is that exercise boosts brain power:

Researchers found a group of couch potatoes, measured their brain power, exercised them for a period of time, and re-examined their brain power. They consistently found that when couch potatoes are enrolled in an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back online. Positive results were observed after as little as four months of activity.

Medina goes on,

It was the same story with school-age children. In one recent study, children jogged for 30 minutes two or three times a week. After 12 weeks, their cognitive performance had improved significantly compared with pre-jogging levels. When the exercise program was withdrawn, the scores plummeted back to their pre-experiment levels.

Now, if this doesn’t convince you to get off your seat, I don’t know what would.

Anyway, here are all the 12 brain rules:

EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
SURVIVAL | Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
WIRING | Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
ATTENTION | Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
SHORT-TERM MEMORY | Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
LONG-TERM MEMORY | Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
SLEEP | Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
STRESS | Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
SENSORY INTEGRATION | Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
VISION | Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
GENDER | Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
EXPLORATION | Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

The nice thing about Brain Rules is that the book comes with a DVD with entertaining video presentations on each of the 12 rules – an excellent and painless way to make the ideas in the book stick. Do check out the Brain Rules website as well, which has a couple of the videos.

Now, time for me to get some exercise.

Grammar Made Interesting

Posted in all posts, books, story by coleman yee on August 28, 2007

I’ve been interested in how grammar can be taught in an interesting and engaging way, and I sometimes use manufactured fairy tales as a teaching technique (for other concepts), so I was quite pleased to find a grammar fairy tale, The Grammarian’s Five Daughters by Eleanor Arnason.

Once there was a grammarian who lived in a great city that no longer exists, so we don’t have to name it.

It first introduces nouns:

The oldest daughter thought a while, then opened her bag. Out came the nouns, sharp and definite. Sky leaped up and filled the grayness overhead. Sun leaped up and lit the sky. Grass spread over the dim gray ground. Oak and elm and poplar rose from grass. House followed, along with town and castle and king.

Then it goes on to cover verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions.

I can’t really tell how effective this is, but it’s certainly a great effort, and might be worth trying on schoolkids.

Since we’re on the topic of grammar made interesting, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon is probably the best (and most humorous) I’ve read (and owned).

Gerunds as Objects of Prepositions:

By being so pregnant with meaning, her announcement went over like a lead balloon.

Through sporting a cudgel, the Neanderthal made a rude but necessary start.

By dunking her crumpet in the marmalade, Melissa committed a midafternoon faux pas.

In finding the chink in his armor, she found herself shown to the door.

It’s been years since I’ve read it. I’m tempted to read it again.

Creating Great Schools

Posted in all posts, books, education, innovation, management, policy by coleman yee on January 24, 2007

Educators know that there is something deeply wrong with the school and educational systems, and that there’s definitely a need for change. And yes, changes have been made, but real, positive results, if any at all, are barely visible. In fact, resistance is rife, or if not resistance, neglect or grudging compliance, perhaps until management gives up.

Creating Great Schools: Six Critical Systems at the Heart of Educational Innovation by Phillip C. Schlechty is a book that addresses the issue.

Creating Great Schools
But what is wrong? What, exactly, is the problem?

I often hear educators complain about “students nowadays”, who, unlike in the good ol’ days, have less respect for teachers and have little self-discipline. The implication would often be that the fault lies with the students (and their parents and the society), and there’s little the teacher can do.

What educators often miss is that there’s a need for a paradigm shift – a shift from compliance and attendance to engagement. According to Schlechty,

the present system is designed to produce compliance and attendance. What we need are schools that ensure that most students learn at high levels […]. To achieve this, schools must be redesigned to nurture commitment and attention.

Because schools are really complex social organizations, when implementing systemic changes (“educational innovations”), social systems within the organization need to be managed and changed as well, without which the effort in systemic change is almost sure to fail. Schlechty identifies 6 critical social systems:

  • Recruitment and induction systems
  • Knowledge transmission systems
  • Power and authority systems
  • Evaluation systems
  • Directional systems
  • Boundary systems

Schlechty explains in detail how each of the 6 critical systems affect the dynamics of the school system, and some key questions to be addressed by the management.

While this book deals only with the American school system, the same problems often exist in other educational systems elsewhere. And Schlechty certainly seems to have a clear grasp of the problems in educational systems.

An important book for those interested in educational and change management.

Making Ideas Stick

Posted in all posts, books, stories, teaching by coleman yee on December 25, 2006

Imagine this scenario:

You spend the larger part of your one-hour lecture slowly and painstakingly explaining partial differentiation (or some other important but abstract concept you have to teach), and your students seem to get it.

Come the following week, only the 2 nerds in the front row seem to recall anything. The concept was as sticky as Teflon for everyone else.

Familiar? I’m sure most teachers have experienced this, and many of them have cracked their heads trying to concoct with stories or analogies or illustrations just to make a concept more sticky – I’ve spent countless hours doing it myself.

Well, looks like help is on the way, with the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

As of now, this book isn’t out yet, but you can (and should) read the introduction, which is really compelling.Made to Stick

The introduction talks about the 6 principles of sticky ideas (which I won’t elaborate on):


It helps that the 6 principles spell out ‘SUCCES’ – corny, but helpful – and these principals are a good gauge on how sticky the concept will be.

I like the part on the Curse of Knowledge as well:

This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.

Teachers are definitely “cursed” cursed by their knowledge!

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book.