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Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think


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ISBN13: 9780553384482
ISBN10: 0553384481
Condition: Standard
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Author Q & A

Q: What inspired you to write Mindless Eating?

A: Twenty years of my research can be summarized in saying "People's tastes are not formed by accident." I wanted to make sure people knew this, so they can make small changes which will lead them to eat less and enjoy it more.

Q: What does it mean to mindlessly eat?

A: Most of us don't overeat because we're hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.

Our studies show that the average person makes around 250 decisions about food every day — breakfast or no breakfast? Pop-tart or bagel? Part of it or all of it? Kitchen or car? Yet out of these 200+ food decisions, most we cannot really explain. Mindless Eating shows what these decisions are and how to make them work for you rather than against you.

Q: In the book you discuss how your research is used by food companies, restaurants, and supermarkets. Explain.

A: Here are four examples.

  • We found in some of our studies that people tend eat less when given small packages with 100 calories or so. A number of companies are now introducing this single serving mini-packs.
  • We showed smells can make you either eat more or eat less than you normally would. The US Army is experimenting with our finding to see if Army rations can be scented in a way that makes soldiers eat more.
  • We discovered that making menu foods sound more descriptive — like Succulent Italian Seafood Filet — increased sales by 23% and made people think the food tasted a lot better. A wide number of restaurants are taking this to heart — unfortunately some menus are beginning to look more like novels than menus.
  • We showed that Philadelphia bartenders pour about 28% more alcohol into short wide glasses than into tall narrow glasses. After this study, a number of bars started using tall narrow glasses instead of short wide tumblers.
Q: Is Mindless Eating a diet book?

A: One reviewer called me the "Sherlock Holmes" of eating. I thought that was cool because Mindless Eating uses science to answer some of the puzzles as to why we eat like we do. But it also shows how we can make our environment work for us rather than against us. Bookstores classify it as being either psychology, diet, health, or self-help. I think they're all right, but I'm still hoping for one of them to list it as humor.

Q: How can everyday folks utilize your research findings to lose weight?

A: The key is to make three small monthly changes that will move you from mindless overeating to mindless better eating. The most common places to look are the five diet danger zones: Meal stuffing, snack grazing, party binging, restaurant indulging, and desktop dining. To find the three small changes, you can use basic diet tips, but a more personalized approach is to use 1) Food Trade-offs, or 2) Food policies. Mindless Eating shows that both give you a chance to eat some of what you want without making it a belabored decision.

Q: In the book, you discuss the science behind comfort food. Can you explain?

A: Twenty years of my research can be summarized by saying "Our tastes are not formed by accident." The fact we like comfort foods is predictable, but it is also somewhat predictable which foods we will like, when and why we like them, and when all of it backfires. For starters, we found that men prefer meal-related comfort foods like steak, pasta, pizza, burgers because they make them feel special and well-taken care of. Women, on the other hand, don't think of these as comfort foods. These foods reminded them of work — cooking and clean-up. Women much preferred the convenience of the snack foods, like cookies, chocolate, and ice cream. Eating ice cream from the container equals no cooking and no clean-up.

Q: Why do you think Americans have such a weight problem?

A: We're partly a victim of our own success. We want convenient, inexpensive, tasty food, and that's what we've been given. But we can't eat like a kid in a candy store. The key to the quickest way to eliminate mindless overeating is to start at home. We need to set up our daily environment and routine so we can eat the right amounts of food we enjoy.

Q: What does it mean to be the nutritional gatekeeper of the household?

A: The nutritional gatekeeper is the person in the house who buys food and prepares it. We estimate the Gatekeeper controls 72% of all of the food decisions of their children and spouse. They either control these decisions for the better or for the worse. But even if you aren't Martha Stewart or Emeril, there are a lot of ways you can condition your kids to be better eaters.

This study of over 1200 parents was the lead article in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Q: What are your top three MINDFUL eating tips?

A: The best Mindful Eating tips are personalized and tied to your diet danger zone. But here's what I would suggest: First, pick no more than three small changes to make each month. For instance,

  • I can have any snack I want as long as I first eat a piece of fruit before hand.
  • Keep the serving bowls on the stove and off the dinner table.
  • I can have French fries, but only if I’ve exercised that day.

Mindless Eating has lots of tips, but to really personalize them, it's good to use food trade-offs and food policies. Instead of giving you a prescription diet plan to follow, Mindless Eating shows you why you overeat so that you can make small, stylized changes that fit with your life. It shows how you can mindlessly eat better, instead of obsessively eat right. It starts with only three changes.

Q: Which results from your research have you found to be particularly shocking?

A: After conducting hundreds of food studies, I'm increasingly convinced that our stomach has only three settings: 1) We either feel like we're starving, 2) we feel like we're stuffed, or 3) we feel like we can eat more. Most of the time we're in the middle, we're neither hungry nor full, but if something's put in front of us, we'll eat it. I all but guarantee people would lose 30 pounds in a year if every time they had a craving they would announce — out loud — "I'm not hungry, but I'm going to eat this anyway." Having to make that declaration either prevents you for eating, or if you do indulge, it prevents you from overindulging.

A second result is that most people think they are too smart to be influenced by candy dishes, television, or the shape of a glass. When showing someone that they ate 30% more because we gave them a large scoop at the ice cream social, they will deny it. That's what is so astonishing. No one wants to admit they were tricked by something as mundane as the size of a scoop or the shape of a glass. That's what makes these so dangerous to our diets.

Q: Can the television programs you watch determine what you eat?

A: Watching TV can be a triple threat: People who watch a lot of TV exercise less, eat more, and weigh more than those who do not watch much TV. In one of our studies, we showed people who watched 60 minutes of TV at 28% more than those watching 30 minutes.

Q: Are you ever guilty of Mindless Eating? What are your favorite foods?

A: Almost every does it at one time or another. It's more important how frequently you do it. For instance, I love Southern food. Every time I'm in the South I pretty much spend the first day binging on Soul food. That's fine because I'm only there once or twice a year. I also mindlessly eat from the veggie trays at parties. That's a free food that you can eat all you want.

I have a shocking range of favorites: gourmet food, fast food, and bizarre food. I love the galette de crabe at Le Bec Fin, the Cini-minis at Burger King, and the braised duck tongue at the night market in Taipei.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

A: Most people believe they are Master and Commander of their food choices. I want them to see that they aren't. But I also want them to see that they can make small changes that can put them back in the driver's seat. I want people to see that making small changes in their kitchens and routines will make all the difference with no real sacrifice.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 5 comments:

Matt Mapes, September 23, 2011 (view all comments by Matt Mapes)
Terrific book! Eating right and losing weight is not some fad. The author gives you realistic goals to shoot for, but you have to realize that there are no quick fixes. He delves into how our whole culture is out to make us fat and we have to be on the ball and aware of our surroundings and all the input our body and brain receives to understand our eating impulses. This work definitely makes you think and could change your life!
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
Pamela Ager, November 7, 2008 (view all comments by Pamela Ager)
I read this almost a year ago, and it changed my eating habits. Not really a "diet" book, it's profoundly effective because it's our eating habits that put on weight and keep it on. For the first time in a long time I'm at an optimal weight for me, and although sometimes I don't eat that bowl of ice cream or 20 chicken wings when I want to, it's not that hard after changing some basic habits. It may be true that Americans are the only people on the planet who want to eat to lose weight, but even so, this book will help you if you seriously want to keep the lid on your weight gain. Or like me, you may find yourself eating differently just from reading this book!
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(5 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)
Edward, February 23, 2008 (view all comments by Edward)
All hail Charles Shaw!
Long live the 2 Buck Chuck!
Can wine from North Dakota and California really taste that differently?
Does that stick of sugarless gum that you chew everyday equal 1 pound per year?
Do you want to know what I am talking about?
Read this marvelous book!
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(5 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Wansink, Brian
Brian Wansink, PhD
Wansink, Brian Phd
Sports and Fitness-Medicine Nutrition and Psychology
Healthy Living
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.20x6.06x.66 in. .57 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Cooking and Food » Diet and Nutrition » General
Cooking and Food » Diet and Nutrition » Nutrition
Health and Self-Help » Diet » General
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Diet and Nutrition
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Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » General
Sports and Outdoors » Sports and Fitness » Medicine Nutrition and Psychology

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Bantam Books - English 9780553384482 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Wansink's dual approach emphasizing food knowledge and self-knowledge offers a sensible route to permanent weight loss."
"Review" by , "[Mindless Eating] does more than just chastise those of us guilty of stuffing our faces. It also examines the effectiveness of such popular diets as South Beach or Atkins, and offers useful tips to consciously eat nutritiously."
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