ABOUT THIS BOOK
In this illuminating and groundbreaking new book, food psychologist Brian Wansink shows why you may not realize how much you're eating, what you're eating-or why you're even eating at all.
. Does food with a brand name really taste better?
. Do you hate brussels sprouts because your mother did?
. Does the size of your plate determine how hungry you feel?
. How much would you eat if your soup bowl secretly refilled itself?
. What does your favorite comfort food really say about you?
. Why do you overeat so much at healthy restaurants?
Brian Wansink is a Stanford Ph.D. and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. He's spent a lifetime studying what we don't notice: the hidden cues that determine how much and why people eat. Using ingenious, fun, and sometimes downright fiendishly clever experiments like the "bottomless soup bowl," Wansink takes us on a fascinating tour of the secret dynamics behind our dietary habits. How does packaging influence how much we eat? Which movies make us eat faster? How does music or the color of the room influence how much we eat? How can we recognize the "hidden persuaders" used by restaurants and supermarkets to get us to mindlessly eat? What are the real reasons most diets are doomed to fail? And how can we use the "mindless margin" to lose-instead of gain-ten to twenty pounds in the coming year?
According to Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, the mind makes food-related decisions, more than 200 a day, and many of them without pause for actual thought. This peppy, somewhat pop-psych book argues that we don't have to change what we eat as much as how, and that by making more mindful food-related decisions we can start to eat and live better. The author's approach isn't so much a diet book as a how-to on better facilitating the interaction between the feed-me messages of our stomachs and the controls in our heads. In their particulars, the research summaries are entertaining, like an experiment that measured how people ate when their plates were literally "bottomless," but the cumulative message and even the approach feels familiar and not especially fresh. Wansink examines popular diets like the South Beach and Atkins regimes, and offers a number of his own strategies to help focus on what you eat: at a dinner party, "try to be the last person to start eating." Whether readers take time to weigh their decisions and their fruits and vegetables remains to be seen. (Oct.)
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October 17, 2006
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Excerpt from Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.
The Mindless Margin
Did you ever eat the last piece of crusty, dried-out chocolate cake even though it tasted like chocolate-scented cardboard? Ever finish eating a bag of French fries even though they were cold, limp, and soggy? It hurts to answer questions like these.
Why do we overeat food that doesn't even taste good?
We overeat because there are signals and cues around us that tell us to eat. It's simply not in our nature to pause after every bite and contemplate whether we're full. As we eat, we unknowingly-mindlessly-look for signals or cues that we've had enough. For instance, if there's nothing remaining on the table, that's a cue that it's time to stop. If everyone else has left the table, turned off the lights, and we're sitting alone in the dark, that's another cue. For many of us, as long as there are still a few milk-soaked Fruit Loops left in the bottom of the cereal bowl, there is still work to be done. It doesn't matter if we're full, and it doesn't matter if we don't even really like Fruit Loops. We eat as if it is our mission to finish them.
Stale Popcorn and Frail Willpower
Take movie popcorn, for instance. There is no "right" amount of popcorn to eat during a movie. There are no rules of thumb or FDA guidelines. People eat however much they want depending on how hungry they are and how good it tastes. At least that's what they say.
My graduate students and I think different. We think that the cues around us-like the size of a popcorn bucket-can provide subtle but powerful suggestions about how much one should eat. These cues can short-circuit a person's hunger and taste signals, leading them to eat even if they're not hungry and even if the food doesn't taste very good.
If you were living in Chicago a few years back, you might have been our guest at a suburban theater matinee. If you lined up to see the 1:05 p.m. Saturday showing of Mel Gibson's new action movie, Payback, you would have had a surprise waiting for you: a free bucket of popcorn.