Thursday, September 12, 2013

354 (2013 #38). Mindless Eating

by Brian Wansink

This is NOT a diet book, and the advice it gives really isn't anything new.  What is fascinating about this book is reading about all the scientific studies author Brian Wansink and his Cornell University Food and Brand Lab have done on the psychology of our eating habits (and how marketing affects them).

For example:  they did a “bottomless soup bowl” test. When a bowl was secretly refilled with tomato soup — using a tube hidden beneath a table — people ate far more of the soup than usual. That is because people use the amount left in the bowl as a measure of how much they have already eaten.

In another experiment, they found that office workers sitting near clear (see-through) dishes filled with Hershey’s Kisses ate 71 percent — or 77 calories — more a day than those sitting near white (opaque) dishes of the candy. Over a year, that would be more than five pounds of extra weight. Also, they found people ate less from dishes located even as little as six feet away as opposed to candy dishes on or in their desks.

In the first nine chapters of the book, Wasnick concludes summaries of his research with a number of related "reengineering" strategies to help eating move from mindless to mindful.  For example, simply using smaller plates - 9.5 to 10 inches in diameter, rather than 12 inches - results in less overserving and consumption of food.  Even the color of the dishes can make a difference - higher contrast between the plate and the food results in you noticing the size of the serving more.

The tenth and final chapter has Wasnick's plan for mindful eating.  Most diets don't work (in the long rung) because the body recognizes ti's being deprived when you drop your daily intake down to 1500 calories or less.  But, a daily reduction of 100 to 200 calories isn't noticed by the metabolism, and the weight will come off, albeit very slowly.  He calls this 100-200 calories the "mindless margin."

Next, he says to focus on reengineering small behaviors that will move you from mindless overeating to mindless better eating. Common "diet danger zones" include
  • Meal Stuffing (eat fast, cleaning the plate, second helpings) 
  • Snack Grazing (eat whatever’s available, often out of nervous habit)
  • Party Binging (easy to lose track)
  • Restaurant Indulging (ditto)
  • Desk/Dashboard Dining (convenience, eat fast, multi-tasking)

Food trade-offs ("I can eat X if I do/don’t do/eat/don’t eat Y") and food policies, like many of those described at the ends of the previous chapters, can help you eat some of what you want without a belabored decision. 

Finally, he recommends picking just three behavioral changes to start with (for example, drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, chew gum when you want to snack, eat fruit when you want something sweet) and track them on a simple calendar, as it typically takes about 28 days to develop a habit.

Wasnick concludes the book with the statement, "The best diet is the one you don't know you're on," and that's certainly true.  I will be trying some of the recommendations in this book!

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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