Book Review: Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating

Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating explores the relationship between food intake, psychology/behavior and marketing. This book addresses the psychology of overeating in our culture: How our emotions, and most importantly our environment tend to control what and how much we eat. This is not a diet book, but Wansink offers several ideas for changing your mindset to encourage eating less.

A few facts: we tend to want to eat the same amount of volume of food to feel full. If air or water is added to make the food appear larger, we will eat the same amount and feel just as full. Three year olds will eat until they are sated. Five year olds will eat the amount of food put upon their plate because they assume that it is the appropriate amount. If we are eating with 2 people, we will eat 50% more food than if we were eating alone and 96% more food with 7 or more people. We eat more M&Ms in a bowl with 10 colors than with 7 colors. We eat something just because it's there, even if it doesn't even taste good.
These are just a few examples culled from his behavioral studies.

Wansink says if we add or subtract 100 calories a day to our diet, our body won't really notice, but it will mean the difference between gaining or losing a half pound a week.

Because Wansink has established that culturally, overeating is encouraged by:
-The destructuration of meals (snacking, eating-on-the-go, eating at the desk, TV room dining…)
-The power of food and beverage marketing
-External cues, such as:
o Plates, containers, shopping carts, cupboard sizes
o Packages and food descriptions
o Immediate surroundings (people, lighting, music, etc.)
o Distance to food available, and the downside of convenience,

he offers manageable strategies to work with our American lifestyle, uncover the hidden persuaders that lead to overeating, and eliminate them painlessly: Use smaller plates; eat slowly; don't bring the food container to the table; pay attention to what you're eating and don't read, watch TV, drive or do anything else at the same time; if you buy in bulk, divide the package into smaller mini- packages; keep sinful foods out of sight (like, no candy jar on your desk); stop when you're full and don't feel compelled to finish everything, etc.
In the paperback postscript, he targets personalized strategies to 5 types of overeaters: The Meals Stuffers, the Snack Grazers, the Party Bingers, the Restaurant Indulgers, and the Desktop Diners.

We do have some reservations:
-Calorie and portion size reduction isn't necessarily the answer to rising obesity rates. It does help to cut back on our subliminal eating, but does not look into diet/calories quality. Switching to a healthier lifestyle does require more than painless tricks to control portions. It means weaning from processed convenience foods, among other things. A good, practical, family-oriented book we recommend to step up to better eating is Dr. Ludwig’s Ending The Food Fight.

-In the paperback postscript, Wansink touches the subject of school lunches. While there are definitively some groundbreaking ideas explored about reengineering lunchrooms to help our children make healthier choices, we were shocked to read that school lunches should be put in perspective, as they make only 5 out of 21 weekly meals. We are sorry, Mr. Wansink, but we think that the sound perspective on school lunches is to acknowledge that they happen … at school. School is as important an education place as home. If not more, considering the power of peer pressure in our culture. Besides, food eaten throughout the day by our children goes beyond the lunch room. Think vending machines, open campuses policies, etc…And Junk Food providers sneaking their reward systems within the very classrooms. 5 meals out 21 are just misleading statistics, and in no way account for the larger picture, and all the stakes involved. The entire school food system does need a complete makeover, in order to help educate our children to proper nutrition, instead of sending mixed, confusing messages. Hopefully, Mr. Brian Wansink will get deeper into this problem in his new position as executive director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

-Our last reservation concerns Wansink’s follow-up book Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology and Obesity. While the idea that reversing the damages done by junk food marketing by promoting healthy foods marketing has universal appeal, We disagree with Wansink’s definition for healthy foods: Slapping some fractioned, genetically modified soy into more processed foods does not make them healthy: It just enables the food industry to make health claims for what is really healthy-sounding junk food. The same goes for any processed, so-called functional foods. We do hope FDA will be given the means to protect us, consumers, from all these misleading, abusive industry claims.


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