Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

I just finished Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink. I picked this one up because it was suggested reading at the end of In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan actually discusses a couple of Wansink's studies in his book and that's what really got me interested in reading Mindless Eating.

Wansink is a food psychologist (who knew this occupation even existed?!), and does tons of studies at Cornell about what we eat and why. One of my favorite studies he talks about is the bottomless soup bowl study, in which half the diners in a restaurant were given automatically refilling bowls (the bowls refilled from the bottom in such a way that diners were ignorant of the trick). People with auto-refill bowls ate 73 percent more soup than those with non-refillable bowls. The study showed that Americans base their eating behavior on outside cues - that is to say we stop eating when our bowl (plate, bag, etc.) is empty, rather than stopping when we feel full.

Wansink goes on to describe several other studies he has performed - studies that show how we react to labels, at what age we stop recognizing when we're full, what stops us from snacking throughout the day - and then he tells us how we can avoid or curb those cues to stop us from eating more than we should. He explains that diets often don't work because we're trying to make major changes, but if you just try to cut out 100 or 200 calories a day, you'll lose between 10 and 20 pounds in a year without even realizing it.

Some of his suggestions include drinking from tall skinny glasses instead of short fat glasses (unless you're drinking water). His basis for this recommendation comes from this optical illusion:

The lines are actually the same size, but for some reason our minds don't see it this way. If we have a tall, skinny glass, we will almost always pour less into it because it looks like more, whereas with a short, fat glass, we pour more because it looks like less. You can easily cut out calories this way. Similarly, using a smaller plate will make you feel fuller while eating less. This is based on another optical illusion:

Here, both blue dots are the same size, but our brain thinks the one surrounded by small dots is bigger because of what it's compared to. This translates to plates in that you'll feel like you ate much more food if it's taking up a bigger amount of the plate, even if it's the same amount of food. It's strange to think that we can trick our brains in this way, but Wansink has proven it time and again with his studies.

Even if you're not particularly interested in losing weight, this is an interesting book. I thought it was fascinating to learn about all of the behaviors we have unknowingly picked up in regard to food. Also, I'd love to know how Wansink comes up with all of these great ideas for studies.

For more information you can check out his Web site here (there's even a mindless meter where you can test your skills as a mindful eater), and I found an interview with him here.

This book has also been reviewed on:
Living to Read


Dorothea said...

I especially liked his suggestion that if you want to reduce the amount of wine that your guests drink at your next dinner party, pour each refill into a clean glass and leave the used glasses on the table. The accumulating glasses will send a message. I also wrote a blog on this book at that you may find of interest.

Chason said...

This sounds like an interesting book. I enjoyed the optical illusion pictures. I have considered using a smaller plate when I eat dinner, but then I always think I'll just pile more food on the plate so it will be the same amount of food I would put on a bigger plate, but just piled higher. I guess that's not how it works. It's good to be conscious of food portions and eating habits as we get older because our metabolisms will slow as we age. I am already feeling that it's harder for me to eat as much as I want and not put on a few pounds. Interesting review. Maybe I'll pick this book up one day soon.