The Maintenance Library - Mindless Eating

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11-17-2006, 01:47 PM
I just finished reading Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, and have a review. I really enjoyed this book. I found it funny, insightful, and helpful. I took 5 pages of notes for my own use.

This book is about the pychology of the food choices we make, and what influences them. It is not a book about nutrition or exercise, so should not be considered a stand-alone weight loss program. Even so, it covers a portion of the weight management equation that isn't usually discussed, and after reading it you will see why the 'diet rules,' e.g. drink lots of water or put the fork down, that get bandied about work (or don't).

The book is full of studies that show why we eat the way we do, and human nature being what it is, most of them are quite amusing. The descriptions really make the points hit home, and stand out in memory. There are never-emptying soup bowls, huge containers of bad popcorn, sorted vs unsorted jelly beans.

The average person makes 200 decisions a day about food, way more than the 10-15 we are aware of. The stomach doesn't really tell us to stop (or we choose to ignore its signals), so we rely on other cues to tell us what and how much to eat. In a rather dry list of my take-aways from the book, Wansink describes in great and amusing detail these things that make us eat more:

Expected portion size: big plates, big glasses, big containers
Distraction: TV, dining companions, work
Expectation of good food: price, atmosphere, food names (tender grilled chicken vs grilled chicken), smells (sometimes in the packaging!), and expectation that something is healthy and we can go wild (the old nonfat cookies effect)
Convenience: The easier it is to get at (less packaging, closer) the more we eat
Variety: more colors, more choices available (even if we only take one choice)
Habits: eating because we always do

One very important point is that education and awareness of these effects is only moderately helpful. Even after being given a lecture on the effect, the subjects still put more food on large plates than small ones, and ate more. One very funny story deals with his own research staff being tested during an ice cream party. This is their entire job, and still those with large bowls took and ate more ice cream.

A couple other findings that are important. Comfort foods come from positive emotional associations and they can be reprogrammed even into adulthood. One suggestion is to have some healthy food the next few times there is a celebratory dinner and eventually those associations will form.

Wansink discusses the concept of the 'nutritional gatekeeper' for the family, the person doing the shopping and cooking, who makes approximately 70% of the food decisions for the family. This person can get the family to eat better by using the strategies in the list above to 'trick' kids into eating more good stuff. E.g. offer more variety of veggies, serve 'power peas' or 'dinosaur trees' (broccoli).

The book ends with a couple of appendices comparing a list of diets and offering specific tips for people with different eating issues (snacking, overdoing at parties, etc).

The book does not recommend a one size fits all approach to 'reengineering' your enviroment to make it easier to eat better, and so if you want to get good use out of the book it will require some thought and planning relevant to your specific situation. It advocates a slow approach to changing habits and weight loss (the "Mindless Margin" of 100 cal/day or 10 lb/year). In the end, its suggestions are not that different from the standard diet advice that is readily available out there, but its strength is that you will understand, appreciate, and remember (because of the funny stories) these tips and can figure out which ones apply to you. It also contains extensive references so you can go to the original sources if you have questions or want more info.

I love this book! It is now one of my top 3 weight management references. Highly recommend it without hesitation.


11-17-2006, 03:25 PM
Thankyou thankyou thankyou for this great review Anne! I'm adding it to my list. Interestingly, I always used to pooh-pooh the idea of using smaller plates and bowls until one day when I absent-mindedly grabbed a small glass bowl for some ice cream. The bowl in question only holds 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of anything, so it's virtually impossible to go overboard. I ate my ice cream and washed the bowl and felt perfectly satisfied. Now, I purposefully reach for those bowls when I'm having any kind of a treat. Once again, great review!

11-17-2006, 03:44 PM
Ah, I just bought this book for the library - and it has several holds on it so it may be awhile before I get to read it. :) I did see an article about it, I think in Parade of all places. Thanks for the review, Anne. I'll add my name to the hold list.

11-17-2006, 04:59 PM
Once again there is a website with lots of good info and a link to exerpts from the first chapter. I'm not posting the link in honor of the link policy, but google the title of the book and the author and you'll find it.


11-17-2006, 08:38 PM
Wow, what timing. Just happened upon this author today on MSNBC when I read an article he wrote: "Warning! Your diet is in danger - Strategies for avoiding the trap of mindless eating during the holidays." The book is mentioned in the article (which can be found in their health section if you're interested). Thanks for the thorough review, Anne. It's on my list now! :)

12-08-2006, 03:24 PM
I read this book this week, and really enjoyed it! Not only is it full of information, he's a very entertaining writer. I did find a few things I could use to help me. First, the smaller plate thing. I've actually been doing this since I read an article about the book, and Anne's review. Second, is writing down 3 food-related behaviors you want to change and track them for a month. And finally, in this season of eating, a strategy for parties. If you encounter a buffet, take only 2 items (other than salads or raw veggies). That way you'll stop to consider before you go back for more. We tend to eat what's on our plate, even if we're full. Another is to put your plate/glass down if you're in an interesting conversation, or you're watching a movie, etc. You'll spread your eating out and consequently eat less. He's great on little changes that can save you 100-200 calories of "mindless eating" a day.

04-03-2008, 02:07 PM
I just finished reading this book (got it off a hold at my library, LOL Pat). I really enjoyed it and I think I may recommend it to my sister, who is just starting out with trying to improve her lifestyle. It contains a whole lot of helpful tips that I have learned from 3FC over the years, plus some more that I didn't think of.

Particular things I liked:
* The idea of "food policies" and "food trade-offs." A food policy is something like, "I will not eat bagels on Tuesdays and Thursdays," or "I will only buy lite salad dressing." A food trade-off is something like, "I can't eat dessert unless I went to the gym," or "I can only eat my main course after I eat my salad." He recommends having three food policies or food trade-offs (or a combination) to keep yourself in check.
* Renaming foods makes them taste better. So for example I make a dish called "southwest pinto bean skillet chili." Sounds a whole lot better than "beans and peppers with chili powder." Or alternatively, if you're serving a salad to your family and you want them to want to eat more, say it's "mixed baby spring greens with heirloom tomatoes and a raspberry reduction vinaigrette."
* It's okay to buy big packages of food, but you will eat less if you portion it into individual serving ziplock baggies and throw away the big box/bag.
* Insert "pause points" when you are going for food. If you had to wash your plate before you were allowed to have seconds, you might be less likely to take seconds.

One thing I found particularly interesting in the studies he did was that when people were given the same granola, but one was labeled "low-fat" and the other was labeled "regular," the people with the "low-fat" granola at a lot more. Even if they had actually been eating low-fat granola, they still would have ended up with more calories.

I really like that his approach involves making slightly better choices, rather than radical diet changes. Mostly I like that it helps you understand when you are "mindlessly" eating and how to catch those situations and turn them to your advantage.

11-24-2008, 06:57 AM
Thanks for the review - just ordered it.

The mind boggler for me is that the research staff itself - who thoroughly knew the impact - ate more ice cream from larger bowls. Just amazing. So the trick will be not just to read the book, but to incorporate some strategies into my life to make the info work for me - duh!!!

11-24-2008, 12:54 PM
One thing I found particularly interesting in the studies he did was that when people were given the same granola, but one was labeled "low-fat" and the other was labeled "regular," the people with the "low-fat" granola at a lot more. Even if they had actually been eating low-fat granola, they still would have ended up with more calories.

How to tell when you're officially over the low-fat craze: You automatically eat less of food labelled "low-fat" because you think there must be extra sugar or ... stuff ... in it. :D

Thanks for the review Anne! I know it takes time to write long and thoughtful posts.

11-24-2008, 02:41 PM
Great Review! You might also like Inituitive Eating!!! I'm reading that one now.

12-26-2008, 01:19 AM
Thanks for the very thorough review. Looks like a pretty good book. I am about to purchase it on amazon, especially after my huge Christmas dinner, hehe.