Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Thinkby Brian Wansink is a fascinating (and quick) read. The basic premise of the book is that there are cues in our environment that control what and how much we stuff our faces with and that by being keyed into them, we can mindlessly lose weight. Many of the studies in the book rang a bell with me–because I had already read about them on Wansink’s Web site: Mindless Eating.
Wansink is the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand lab. The lab’s experiments (and those of similar labs) illuminate that clever marketing and sly environmental cues can drive us to eat a lot more than we think we are. For example, they constructed a special table with an “endless” soup bowl, and found that people did not stop when satiated. Those with endless supplies of soup kept eating more soup. How a food is described on a menu and our expectations of how a food will taste are almost as important as how it tastes. He uses the example of a WWII Navy cook who substituted red colored lemon Jello when he ran out of cherry. Hint: the diners never suspected a thing.
I was discussing the book with my cousin Jennifer who originally recommended it to me, and she said it helped her realize that gaining weight wasn’t just genetics, that there were things you could change about what you do. It also greatly impacted my view of eating better, but for me, it was revolutionary to realize that it’s NOT just willpower. So many times, fat people are told to exhibit self-control and viewed as just having a lack of self-discipline. To me, the book says “hey, there’s a reason you eat the entire quart of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.” Knowing is half the battle. Now, I’ve stopped pretending to myself that I can (or should) be able to just have one slice of cake and save the rest for later or something ridiculous. Now, I buy smaller portions and engineer my environment somewhat with awareness of the things talked about in the book. Small changes, but they make a big difference!