you're reading...
Diet & Nutrition, On My Bookshelf, Weight Loss

On My Bookshelf: Mindless Eating

How much free, stale popcorn would you eat in a movie theater? Does it depend if it’s served in a medium-sized bag or a jumbo tub? And what about candy: how much would you eat if it was sitting on your desk? Would it matter if the glass dish was opaque or clear? If it had a lid? 

Well, the person who knows the answers to all those questions, and more, is Brian Wansink, Ph.D. And he compiled all those answers in a fantastic book called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

This is a man who has made a career studying the feeding and foraging habits of the species knows as…well, us. And, quite frankly, it’s pretty shocking. And perhaps a little depressing. Turns out we are sheep, people, spineless sheep when it comes to being suckered into eating more. Give us bigger containers, we’ll gobble more. Move those containers closer to us, we’ll scarf down more. Sit us in front of a television? Yep, more.

But the point isn’t to be entertained with tales of secretly refillable soup bowls (yes–you will mindlessly eat more soup if your bowl magically refills) and sneaky wine bottle labels (yes–you will linger in a restaurant and eat more food if you think it’s a more prestigious vintage). The point is to learn how to harness these psychological phenomena for good rather than evil.

As Wansink says: “our stomachs are bad at math”. We are terrible at keeping track of how much we’ve eaten. Was it 30 french fries or 20? The thing is, over time, it makes a difference.

What’s scary: nobody seems immune to the things that trick us into overeating. Some of Wansink’s sneakiest studies were done on people who should have known better. Like graduate students who just attended a lecture on this stuff. Turns out they will shovel more Chex Mix into their faces if served from larger bowls than from smaller bowls, just like the rest of us would.

But the good news is that you can actually use this information to improve your eating habits. Wansink talks about the Mindless Margin:

If we eat way too little, we know it. If we eat way too much, we know it. But there is a calorie range–a mindless margin–where we feel fine and are unaware of small differences.

Over the course of a year, the mindless margin can cause us to lose 10 lbs or gain 10 lbs. Totally unaware. For example, when people pre-plate their food, they eat about 14% less than when they take smaller amounts and then go back for seconds or thirds. So, make a habit of pre-plating!

This book is brilliant. There are so many fascinating tidbits and ideas–more than I can describe here. Personally, I’m always a fan of a good jedi-mind trick that helps you lose or maintain weight without feeling the pain of deprivation. As Wansink says: “the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on”.

Hear, hear.

Get the newsletter!

If you enjoyed reading this post, why not sign up for Dr. Kim’s free newsletter? Get fresh health advice delivered directly to your email inbox (starting with Dr.Kim’s special report, Health Architecture: Blueprint for a Healthier Life).




About Kim Foster

Dr. Kim Foster is a writer, family doctor, and mom.


8 thoughts on “On My Bookshelf: Mindless Eating

  1. Unless you’re eating calorie-sparse, nutrient-rich foods – exactly the opposite of the type of foods that get us all into trouble – you always have to remain vigilant about both calories and serving size. Both are incredibly deceptive and it’s not hard to significantly over consume calories if you are not. In addition, most of us really don’t have any idea of the caloric value of the foods we are eating, nor a “mental image” of what an appropriate sized serving even looks like.

    That doesn’t help.

    Note to Dr. Kim to be deleted from this post: Really like this blog, and have added a link to my resource page here…

    And a fellow Canadian at that! 😉


    Posted by Paul | September 21, 2011, 9:27 am
  2. I find it hard to not overeat as well. I think when I come in after a run, I tend to imagine that I’m much hungrier than I really am. It helps me to remember that even though I want to eat forever, my 5 mile run really only burned 500 calories. And those 500 calories get piled back in easier than I think.

    Posted by ceri | September 21, 2011, 10:58 am
  3. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would
    really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my visitors would appreciate your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.

    Posted by damp cigaret | June 27, 2013, 3:33 am


  1. Pingback: Comfort Food & Emotional Eating: How To Be The Boss « savvy health - October 27, 2011

  2. Pingback: Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World « savvy health - February 29, 2012

  3. Pingback: Emotional Eating: How To Be The Boss « savvy health - October 14, 2012

  4. Pingback: 9 Non-Medication Ways To Extinguish Heartburn « savvy health - November 8, 2012

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

Enter your email address to follow my blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,218 other followers

Follow DrKimFoster on Twitter

My brand spanking new Facebook Page…

Blog Stats

I Blog @ YMC
Proud Member of the EmpowHER Blogger Network


The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. It is not a substitute for seeking medical advice or counseling. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. You should seek medical attention before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health program described on this website.
%d bloggers like this: