Book Review: Mindless Eating

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
 - by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.

This book was a great read! Lots of interesting experiments illustrating how our minds work (or don't) when it comes to food.

One quick example: people at a movie theater were given free popcorn in either medium or large sizes. Those with the larger size ate, on average, 173 more calories. The point of the experiment was to show that people will automatically eat more from a larger supply. But to me, this was the craziest part: the popcorn? Was stale, 5-day old popcorn! Yet people kept on taking handful after handful. They might set it down, but after a while, they'd sneak those hands right back in for more. Mindless!

Here are my top tidbits from the book:
  • The author refers to the "Mindless Margin" which is 100 calories more or less than weight maintenance. Eat just 100 extra calories per day, and you'll gain a pound a year. But eat just 100 fewer calories, and you'll lose a pound a year. And 100 calories is so little as to be considered mindless. The 100 extra can come from a handful of M&Ms. The 100 fewer can be a larger portion of your plate devoted to green vegetables instead of carbs, or skipping cheese on your burger.
  • Dish out your food; never ever ever eat from the package. Extra especially important if you eat while reading, watching TV, internetting, etc. When multi-tasking, you're almost guaranteed to eat everything in front of you. Make sure what's in front of you is one reasonable serving.
  • Do not serve meals family-style. Dish up your plate, and leave the pans & bowls of remaining food in the kitchen or over on the counter. It's easy to eat another spoonful when it's right in front of you. If you have to stand up & move to get it, it's less likely to happen.
  • Dish out 20% less than you think you'll eat. You can go back for more if you're still hungry, but chances are good you'll be satisfied with 80%.
  • Smaller plates really do lead to smaller servings. Or rather, the opposite is more true: the larger the plate, the larger the serving size you will take. 
  • And not just the plate you're eating off, but also the serving dish! Another experiment provided 2 large bowls of snacks vs 4 smaller bowls, same total quantity. People took significantly less of the snacks in the room with smaller bowls. A big problem if you shop at warehouse grocery stores.
  • The more variety you have to choose from, the more you'll eat. Think about holiday desserts. If there are 3, you want to try small pieces of all 3. But if there were just one, you'd likely be just as satisfied with a small piece of 1.
  • Don't keep going back for more at a buffet. Literally take everything you think you'll eat. This in-your-face display will make you think twice about the quantity you're eating. Another experiment was wings: when servers did not clear away the bones, people ate 28% fewer wings than those who had zero visual reminder of how many they'd already downed. (Kind of like if you lined up all your empty beer bottles and realized you certainly had more than the 2-3 you stopped for.)
  • Kids:
    • When kids know there is more of a food, they automatically report feeling hungrier, deprived, and want more. For example, if you give little Sabrina 2 cookies, and she sees the rest of the package, she's going to want more. But if you had pre-divided the cookies into bags or containers of 2 cookies each when you purchased them, and so now that was all she saw, she's far more likely to be content with her 2.
    • Do you best not to use food as reward ("you get ice cream if you ace your test"), or punishment ("no TV unless you finish your veggies"), or guilt ("there are starving kids in China, clean your plate!"), or comfort ("this cookie will make you feel better").
    • Get creative with food. One daycare center had kids who loved broccoli and thought it was cool. Why? Turns out one of the kids' mothers described it as "dinosaur trees"!
    • Put snacks in hard-to access locations. Top shelf, back of the pantry. Up-front items should be the healthiest of choices.
      • I'm pretty sure these tips don't just apply to kids.
  • Lots of talk about comfort food and working on distinguishing between emotional and physical hunger. 
    • When you must indulge, see if you can't make some minor substitutions. Instead of a bowl of ice cream drowning in syrup, maybe you can reduce or eliminate the syrup and instead load it with strawberries.
    • Next time you're going to indulge in a treat food, consider the calorie count and ask yourself if it's worth the amount of exercise it will take to burn it off. Is a caramel worth running a mile for? Maybe. Maybe not. Just take a second to stop & ask.
    • Or try this strategy when you find yourself staring into the fridge, then the cupboard, back to fridge, feeling snacky without being hungry: say to yourself out loud, "I'm not hungry, but I'm going to eat this anyway." Again, it might work, it might not. Even if it only works 1/3 the time, isn't that better than what you're doing now?
  • We all know fast food is bad. Never go there, right? Or if you must, pick Subway. Or if you can't, get a salad. Not always that simple, my friend!
    • People at Subway regularly think they are eating healthier than they actually are. They see a "health halo" over everything on the menu and forget that Jared doesn't recommend cheese or mayo or footlongs or cold cut combos.
    • Fast food salads are often loaded with cheese & dressing, or huge portions, so consider whether it's truly a healthy choice!
    • If you're jonesing for a burger & fries & shake and dammit, nothing else will do, get the kids' size. You're going to be just as satisfied without beating yourself up over it so badly because  you're likely halving the calories!
  • Pick one goal to work on at a time. Then create three simple daily habits to help you achieve this goal in a mindless fashion. You can find specific advice on this here and even get a daily-goal checklist here!
Okay, that was an awful lot of tips. I like thorough book reports! I highly recommend reading this book to see what other strategies you can pick up and apply to your own life. It's available at the Douglas County Library!

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