Britt's Reviews > Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
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's review
Apr 18, 09

bookshelves: food, nonfiction, psychology
Read in May, 2007

This might be marketed like a diet book, but Mindless Eating is really about the scientific method.

In one anecdote after another, food scientists and nutrition researchers who are intellectually keenly aware of the mistake we makes about food fall again and again for environmental cues, perceptual errors and psychological tricks that make them eat more than they think they are eating.

These phenomena are explored in beautifully designed experiments that quantify the caloric difference between having a candy dish on your desk or in your drawer, having your chicken-wing bones cleared away or left on your plate, and accompanying dinner with a wine that you perceive as cheap or pricey.

The message of the book is that it is not enough to KNOW that we eat more from a larger plate than a smaller one, or that we will eat more M&Ms when they are a variety of colors than when they are all the same color. Forewarned is not forearmed. Even being aware of these effects, you will still fall into the trap of overeating.

The bad news is that the food industry is well aware of many of these effects, and they are actively out to trick you into buying (and eating) more than you need. Also, innumerable little habits are lurking undetected in your lifestyle, causing you to eat extra calories.

The good news is that we can outsmart ourselves. There are many ways to trick ourselves into a healthier diet. An excellent example is that we tend to pour ourselves more to drink when we have a short, wide glass than a tall, skinny glass. You can exploit this cognitive trait in two ways. 1) Choose a set of tall, thin glasses to use for juice, soda, or alcohol. Without any conscious effort, you'll pour a little less than you normally would, and cut out some unnecessary calories. 2) Choose a set of short, wide glasses that are only for drinking water or other calorie-free beverages. You'll unconsciously pour more, and be better hydrated.

These tricks can operate in what Wansink calls "the mindless margin," the deficit of around 100 calories a day that you won't even notice but which will, over the long haul, add up to significant weight loss. What appeals to me is that this isn't a diet where you eat differently, lose weight, then go back to your old way of eating and gain it all back. The book offers many small, painless changes to your lifestyle that will help cut out a few calories a day.

The kicker is that those calories aren't making you happy or satisfied. They're just creeping into your life through your own mindless habits and the tricks of food manufacturers, advertisers, and sellers. You're not going to drop weight at the same rate as when you go on diet and actively deny yourself calories, but you are going to be able to make lasting changes that will not make you feel deprived, but will help you maintain a healthier weight for a lifetime.

That's the theory, anyway. Wansink's < a href = " Eating Challenge website can help you incorporate 3 new habits into your life each month. This month, my weight has definitely stopped creeping upward. I'm not seeing any dramatic loss (maybe 2 pounds), but I'm hoping to lose the weight slowly, and I'm confident that I will be able keep it off because I'm making permanent, sustainable changes to my lifestyle.


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