Book: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

Last week, I re-read this really useful book on healthy eating.Mindless Eating - Cover


Title Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
Author(s) Brian Wansink, PhD
Initially Published In 2007
Publisher Hay House
Formats Available Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

10 calories a day equals one pound in the year

— That is, 100 calories a day means 10 pounds more/ less on your body in a year.

This is a book that will help you improve your eating habits (it is not a diet plan book). It provides insights into how we eat (mostly mindlessly) and how we are highly influenced in the quantities that we eat by our surroundings and other things on which we have no control.

According to the author, each of us takes around 200 food related decisions every day. And if we really spent time to ‘mindfully’ take each of these 200 decisions, we may not have time to do anything else.

So, our ‘mindless’ decision making has an impact on how much we eat. For example:

  • The size of your plate / bowl/ glass determines how much you will serve and eat
  • The size of the packaging determines the quantity that you will eat
  • The sight of your own dirty plates/ leftovers will influence you to eat less
  • A higher distance between you and the food/ snack will make you eat less
  • Anything with labels like ‘low-oil’, ‘low-cal’, ‘healthy’, ‘low-sugar’, ‘zero-cholesterol’ makes us eat more
  • Multi-tasking other activities (with eating) increases the amount we eat
  • Fancy, esoteric names and descriptions of dishes makes us eat more
  • Ambiance, colors, and lighting have an impact
  • We eat more calories when there are more dishes available
  • And many more such…

All these insights are backed by data from controlled research experiments. Another important aspect that this book highlights is that we have no intuitive feel of the amount we eat. We, including experts in the field, typically underestimate the amount we are eating or have eaten. And overweight and obese people underestimate this more than others.

Here is a random passage from the book (this one highlights the impact of visual illusion):

“All of the distinguished professors from the Nutritional Science Division and all of the hardworking PhD students were invited…

… Those who were given huge bowls dished out huge amounts. In fact, they dished out about 37 percent more – 127 more calories worth of ice-cream. It only makes things worse if you give them a big scoop. People with a large bowl and a three-ounce scoop dished out 57 percent more ice-cream than those with a smaller bowl and smaller scoop.”

So, if nutritional experts can fall prey to this illusion, what chance do mere mortals have?

All these insights are followed by tips on re-engineering things around yourself when you are ‘mindful’, so that when you eat, you can eat mindlessly in a healthy way.

  • Have smaller dishes, plates, ladles, spoons, scoops, glasses and bowls
  • Take a seat away from the buffet spread
  • At a buffet, take a look around, decide which 2-3 dishes are the most interesting, and serve only those – do not try to taste everything
  • Serve your plate just once
  • You will eat less if you can see what you have already eaten – keep dirty plates, glasses and leftovers visible
  • Re-pack snacks from large packaging into smaller packets, and keep them ready
  • Do not keep unhealthy snacks at home. If they are there for others, ask the others to keep such snacks somewhere else
  • Keep healthy snacks (fruits, green salads) more accessible and in a ready-to-eat form
  • Fill your plate with healthy food (salads) before you fill it with other items
  • Do not multi-task with eating (do not read newspaper, watch TV, drive, etc.)
  • At home, while eating, do not bring the serving dishes to the table, leave them in the kitchen. We may not feel adequately motivated to go back to the kitchen for another serving…
  • Be the last person to start eating while in a group
  • While snacking, do not eat directly from the packaging, serve it out in a bowl or plate or cup or glass
  • Eat only at one place at home, do not snack all over the house
  • Do not snack at your workplace
  • Make the healthy food look good and appealing. Give the healthy dishes fancy names
  • And many more tips…

The book is extremely useful, because it provides solutions based on common-sense understanding of human behavior in the context of eating. It is also absolutely easy to read, grasp and remember. I highly recommend it.

About the author

Brian Wansink (Ph.D. Stanford 1990) is the John Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He has authored over 100 academic articles and books on eating behavior.

Between 2007-2009 Wansink was the Executive Director of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. During that stint, he was named ABC World News Person of the Week.

Wansink’s award-winning academic research on understanding and changing eating behaviors has been published in the top journals. He has been a driver to the introduction of smaller “100 calorie” packages, the use of differently shaped glasses in some bars, and the use of fancy names and descriptions of dishes in restaurants.

His books include the best-selling Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2006), Marketing Nutrition (2005), Asking Questions (2004), and Consumer Panels (2002).

You can also view this TEDx video where the Brian Wansink talks about mindless eating and how to use that feature to eat healthy (uploaded on youtube):

If the clip does not load click here

If you are trying to eat healthy, go ahead and get a copy of this book and read it! Your time and money spent is likely to give returns (multiple times) – much more than the next muffin and milk-shake in a coffee shop! 🙂

Your comments are welcome!


Author: Rajesh Naik

I'm Rajesh Naik, and this is my personal website If you are interested in contacting me, I am also available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite.

13 thoughts on “Book: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink”

  1. Every thing mentioned is so relevant. I can tick mark many of the “mindless” things I personally do and what subconsciously influences my eating behaviours.

    Of-late though, after the stint at naturopathy at Ujire (which I would strongly recommend to all readers of your blog), I have begun doing many things with “mindfulness”; also take a pause before deciding to take a bite beyond regular meals.

    Taking breakfast, lunch, dinner at a regular time each day plus drinking adequate quantity of H2O throughout the day may also help control the urge to indulge in those wild eating impulses.

    Eating temptations are all around us and adopting a proportionate “calorie oriented” response would require a high sense of self awareness (mindfulness as mentioned by the author) at all times.

    However, I am always perplexed at the conflicts that life situations throw at us and it seems that the laws of nature and the need for peaceful co-habitation between consumers and suppliers are arraigned against the ideals of “measured eating behaviours”. Listing out the few that come to mind:

    1. Food items deemed “healthy” are generally bland, if not bitter in taste; they never seem to gratify the taste buds.

    2. Mood swings- when one feels high or very low in a day, these moments tend to lend themselves to uncontrolled eating impulses.

    3. The harder you try to maintain a decent distance between yourself and food, the lesser seem your chances of maintaining the great divide. By some unexplained combination of circumstances (loving family and clients and work places), yummy looking food seems to walk right up to you seeking urgent attention.

    4. Junk food seem to always win over healthy food in its ability to seduce your senses. The foreplay seems to be the differentiator; the impending sense of arrival through smells, a first time impact made through their pleasing appearances. Junk food is dressed to kill. Healthy food looks so plain and ordinary.

    5. Consuming junk food and then downing healthy bites do not seem to have compensatory effects on calories and the middle & bottom lines.

    6. Socially conscious folk tend to worry about the impact on the livelihood of the entire ecosystem, if they restrict their consumption habits to only healthier ones (this is what I meant by harmony of co-habitation).

    7. There are conflicting social commentaries and expert opinions on what constitutes healthy food. While one takes on a certain path recommended by a set of experts, an exactly opposite opinion may be round the corner. Leaving one confused about choices.

    I will mull over the key points that you have highlighted in your book review summary. These actions hopefully will help me to sustain the benefits I have had from my naturopathy at Ujire. If not, one more trip to Ujire will surely help get rid of the excesses.


    1. Hi Prakash,

      Thanks for the detailed comments.

      Reading your comments, I somehow get the feeling that you have decided that periodic trips to Ujire are inevitable.

      Pray, describe to us in detail, all the naturopathy “rides” that you experienced in your last visit to Ujire. You may inspire others to take the path (and maybe you will also have company for the exciting naturopathy “rides” next time you go there). I, for one, prefer not to reach a state where I have to get ‘Ujire-ed’.

    2. Prakash,

      By the way, you should get a copy of the book – there are many more insights and tips than the ones listed in my review.

  2. Here are the Naturopathy rides I have undertaken at Ujire, Dharmasthala:

    1. Frolicking in the mystical turmeric bath with strangers
    2. Not batting an eyelid with the meditative eye pack
    3. Near soul releasing sensations with a Steaming adventure inside a coffin
    4. Pleasures of an enema purgatory
    5. Soothing the elements in the organic mud bath
    6. Turning front, back and sides on a ferocious, alternate hot and cold water spray
    7. Messaging the body with mythical oils
    8. The Rhythmic sensation inside a water tub(hydrotherapy)
    9. Exploring the nasal canals with salt water
    10.Twisting your features and releasing the rigidity within, with hour long yoga postures
    11.The enthralling experience of body baking inside a sauna
    12.The detoxification encounters with bland vegetable dishes
    13. The Respiratory healing with fresh air baths
    14.The Masochistic Joy with body piercing needles in acupuncture
    15. Re-configuring your elements with magnetotherapy
    16. Dumbing the mind and Igniting your soul through Dhyana (meditation)
    17. Re-discovering your vital force with Reikipranic Healing
    18. Levitating yourself on the mean weighing machine to get to your desired count
    19. Enjoying the sheer bliss of a vegetative state with cucumber packs

    And the ultimate ride:

    Irrigating your system with colonoscopy (ethnic cleansing of toxins)


    1. Thanks, Prakash.
      That will be useful to those who may be interested.

      Some it sounds like torture to me.
      Are you sure all these rides are legal and have a safety approval?


      1. Rajesh, every one of the exciting rides is “handled” by experienced staff. Treated with care and courtesy with non intrusive looks.

        If any mishap occurs, you are given a free entry coupon to the nearby Dharmasthala temple to seek divine interventions.

      2. Divine interventions – well, it may be argued that, notwithstanding, given the context, the construct of spirituality cannot be made subservient to the need of the obese material to align itself to some low-hanging fruits that may invigorate the divinity in cataclysmic proportions. However, having said the said as well as the unsaid, there is nothing more to say other than that the concatenated wishes of the multitudes will congregate to drive the cosmic vibrations towards the universality of gender-neutral motherhood of consciousness, for the creatures of all dimension to operate in sync. Also, I am hungry and tired, so I come to a halt. Period. Roger. Copy That.

  3. Really insightful. Consciously or unconsciously we keep on hogging healthy or unhealthy food items based on our limited knowledge, food habits & availability of food items in the house.

    Eating adequate (in small portion), healthy and at right hours of the day is very essential. I think, if we keenly observe our body’s energy needs & its response to various food items what we eat regularly then we can have better control on our metabolism and better control on weight too.

    I think I should read this book. Thanks for sharing the book review.

    Regards…Ashwini Kumar

    1. Hi Ashwini,

      Thank you for sharing your view. Yes, I think the book deserves at least one reading.


  4. Rajesh,

    Your response to my mail reminded me of the BS generator software that you had given us the link to.


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