Last week, I re-read this really useful book on healthy eating.
|Title||Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think|
|Author(s)||Brian Wansink, PhD|
|Initially Published In||2007|
|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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ogsmh_czeY
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!