Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

Mindless Eating

RATING: 8/10…READ: October 20, 2010

A book that explores behavior change when it comes to eating. We are more prone to environmental forces than simply relying on will power in following a diet. A bit academically dry, but solidly recommended.

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Every one—every single one of us—eats how much we eat largely because of what’s around us. We overeat not because of hunger but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.

Even though some of them had just had lunch, people who were given the big buckets ate an average of 53 percent more than those given medium-sized buckets. Give them a lot, and they eat a lot.

Simply thinking that a meal will taste good can lead you to eat more.

Compared to those unlucky diners given wine with North Dakota wine labels, people who thought they had been given a free glass of California wine ate 11 percent more of their food—19 of the 24 even cleaned their plates. They also lingered an average of 10 minutes longer at their table (64 minutes). They stayed pretty much until the waitstaff starting dropping hints that the next seating would be starting soon.

Any sign with a number promotion leads us to buy 30 to 100 percent more than we normally would.

Deprivation diets don’t work for three reasons: 1) our body fights against them, 2) our brain fights against them, 3) our day-to-day environment fights against them.

We make 200 food decisions each day

If we don’t realize we’re eating a little less than we need, we don’t feel deprived. If we don’t feel deprived, we’re less likely to backslide and find ourselves overeating to compensate for everything we’ve forgone. The key lies in the mindless margin.

Cutting only 100 calories a day from our diets would prevent weight gain in most of the U.S. population.

Think 20 percent less: dish out 20 percent less than you think you want before you start to eat.

For fruits and vegetables, think 20 percent more.

The superbowl ranks first in terms of home parties and even beats new years eve.

Unless we can actually see what we’re eating, we can very easily overeat. Unless a person consistently weights him or herself, most people start realizing they’ve overeaten (and have gained weight) only when their clothing gets uncomfortably tight.

Our clothes don’t lie. They fit, or they don’t fit. For some people, losing 20 pounds is an abstract concept. But being able to fit into their favorite jeans is not at all abstract

Top 8 signals people use to know they’ve lost weight:

When my jeans feel comfortable again

When I have to start wearing a belt

When I suck in my stomach, and I can see some definition like a four pack

When my belt notch moves back to where it used to be

When I don’t get tired walking up two flights of stairs to my office

When I can see my cheekbones

When I don’t have to inhale to button my pants

When friends of colleagues ask me if I’ve lost weight

Volume trumps calories. We eat the volume we want, not the calories we want.

Many research studies show that it takes up to 20 minutes for our body and brain to signal satiation, so that we realize we are full.

At high levels, all of us—normal weight and overweight alike—underestimate calorie levels with mathematical predictability.

See it before you eat it: we find when people preplate their food, they eat about 14 percent less than when they take smaller amounts and go back for seconds or thirds.

See it while you eat it: when you’re eating chicken wings or ribs, you’ll eat less if you see what you’ve already eaten.

We find over and over if people serve themselves, then tend to eat most—92 percent—of what they serve.

The campers who’d been given the tall, thin glasses poured about 5.5 ounces. The short wide glass campers poured an average of 9.6 ounces—74 percent more than their tall glass buddies. The real surprise: they estimated that they had poured only 7 ounces.

No one is immune to serving size norms—not even intelligent, informed people who have been lectured on the subject to exhaustion.

Increasing the variety of food increases how much everyone eats. Dr. Barbara Roll’s team at Penn State has shoed that if people are offered an assortment with three different flavors of yogurt, they’re likely to consume an average of 23 percent more than if offered only one flavor.

We not only eat more when there is more variety, we also eat more if we simply think there is more. That is, if our eyes lead us to believed we have more choices, we serve ourselves more, and we dutifully clean our plates.

The grad students faced with the organized try took about 12 jelly beans and headed off to enjoy the movie. But those people presented with the disorganized assortment took an average of 23 jelly beans, nearly twice as many. In both cases, the number and flavors of jelly beans are identical, yet mixing them up nearly doubles how many a person takes and eats.

The person with 10 colors will eat 43 more M&M’s (99 vs 56) than his friend with 7 colors. He does so because he thinks there’s more variety, which increased how much he thinks he’ll like the M&M’s and how much he thinks is normal to eat.

Mini-size your boxes and bowls: the bigger package you pour from—be it cereal boxes on the table or spaghetti in the kitchen—the more you will eat: 20 to 30 percent more for most foods.

Become an illusionist: six ounces of goulash on an 8-inch plate is a nice-serving. Six ounces on a 12 inch plate looks like a tiny appetizer.

Beware of the double dangers of leftovers: the more side dishes and little bowls of leftovers you bring out of the refrigerator, the more you will eat.

We eat more of these visible “see-foods” because we think about them more.

Out of sight, in mind. Out of sight, out of mind.

There are two basic tactics for avoiding the temptation of the see-food diet: 1) move visible food, and 2) if it can’t be moved, move around it.

The typical secretary ate about nine chocolates a day if they were sitting on her desk staring right at her. That’s about 225 extra calories a day. If she had to go the effort of opening the desk drawer, she did so only six times a day. If she had to get up and walk six feet to get a chocolate, she at only four.

You’ll eat less if you eat with chopsticks over silver wear.

In one mess-hall study, soldiers drank almost twice as much water (81 percent more) when water pitchers were put on each drinking table than when they were put on a side table. They drank 42 percent more milk when the milk machine was 12 feet away than when it was 25 feet away.

Leave serving dishes in the kitchen or on a sideboard

De-convenience tempting foods

Snack only at the table and on a clean plate.

On average, if you eat with one person, you’ll eat about 35 percent more than you otherwise would. If you eat with a group of seven or more, you’ll eat nearly twice as much—96 percent more—than you would if you were eating alone at the Thanksgiving card table in the other room.

For males, a healthy appetite—or, as one put it, being “insatiable”—was a sign of being manly.

Big Food companies scent frozen food to prime you to enjoy the food better.

If it doesn’t look like strawberry, it doesn’t taste like strawberry. But another important cue is the name of a food. If we can’t see the food and someone tells us we’re going to taste strawberry, we taste strawberry, even if it’s really chocolate.

Consider two pieces of day-old chocolate cake. If one is name “chocolate cake,” and the other is named Belgian Black Forest Cake,” people will buy the second. What’s more interesting is that after trying it, people will rate it as tasting better than an identical piece of “plain old cake.”

Foods with descriptive names sold 27 percent more. And even though they were priced exactly the same, the customers who ate them consistently rated them as a better value than did the people who ate the same dishes with the boring old names.

The foods with descriptive names were rated as more appealing and tastier than the identical foods with the less attractive labels, Furthermore, when asked what they thought about the foods, the diners eating the descriptive foods tended to claim that they were “fantastic” or “great recipes.”

{{{ Thirty years ago, almost none of us would’ve eaten something called an “unflavored bioactive dairy-based culture (soy). But if we stirred in some fruit, sugar, flavoring, innovation, and marketing, our tastes would change.}}} —MARKETING RED FLAG

Create expectations that make you a better cook: i.e. lemon jello that is cherry colored or cheap liquor with a more expensive price tag, or descriptive naming.

Tell them what’s for dinner: any two words as long as they are positive and descriptive, will give the impression of better cooking ability.

Fix the atmosphere when you fix the food: soft lights, soft music, soft colors / nice plates, etc.

Aside from ice cream, men rated hot foods and meal-like foods much higher than women did. The way to a man’s heart appears to be more through the kitchen than through a prepackaged snack.

They, 1,004 North Americans surveyed, were more likely to seek out comfort foods when they were happy (86 percent) or when they wanted to celebrate or reward themselves (74 percent) than when they were depressed (39 percent), bored (52 percent) or lonely (39 percent). Happy moods = comfort foods.

Past associations are the most common reason a food becomes a comfort food.

Rewire your comfort foods: the key is to start pairing healthier foods with positive events. Instead of celebrating a personal victory or smothering a defeat with the “death by chocolate” ice cream sundae, try a small bowl of ice cream with fresh strawberries. It’s not a big sacrifice, and before long it will inch up your “favorites list.”

For better or worse, the nutritional gatekeeper controls around 72 percent of what your family eats.

Offer variety: some of our early findings suggest that the more foods you expose your child to, the more nutritionally well-rounded he or she will become.

Burgers, Fries, and Mexican Food are the top 3 restaurant food.

We typically don’t want to spend much time reading labels or thinking about them. Instead, we come up with a general idea about whether the product is good for us, and everything follows from that. Soy is good for us, so this soy bar must have all sorts of magical, curative properties. (we believe what we want to believe)

We are either too busy or too distracted to read packages, or we are too preoccupied or hungry to care that we should eat a carrot stick rather than a handful of Doritos.

–Most research shows that—outside of an artificial lab situation—labeling influences only a small minority of consumers.

Raising prices within a reasonable free-market range doesn’t change behavior, it penalizes the people with the least money. –it makes them go to the competitor and eat the same food that is cheaper.

Better eating means different things to different people. It can mean eating less, eating without guilt, eating more nutritiously, or eating with greater enjoyment. This is the good type of mindless eating.

Food Trade Offs: food trade-offs state, “I can eat X if I do Y.” For example, I can eat dessert if I’ve worked out; I can have chips if I don’t have a morning snack.

Food Policies: the low-carb diet was initially successful because people didn’t have to make repeated decision in the face of temptation. Many summarized the diet in one sentence: “Eat meat and vegetables, but nothing else.” This was a food policy. No need for “just this once” decision-making, it was a personal rule. No exceptions.