Mindless eating refers to a book written by Professor Brian Wansink called “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We think”. According to his book, food psychology and the food environment have an impact on when and how much we eat. His book is based on experiments carried out in laboratories, restaurants, people’s homes, diners, shopping malls and movie theaters. His award-winning book was cited by the National Action Against Obesity in 2006.

The term mindless eating refers to findings from scientific experiments that showed that people make almost 20 times more daily decision about food than they realize – approximately 250 decisions each day. Consequently, we are easily driven by tiny cues around us, such as family, friends, packages, names, labels lights, colors, smells, shapes, distances, containers, cupboards and distractions.

Mindless Eating suggests that a considerable part of our hunger is psychologically-driven. We are not calibrated well enough to know when we are full. In fact, we often do not really know when we are hungry.

Wansink says that our eyes really do determine how much we eat. Wansink and team, from Cornell University, set out to find out whether his assumption was right. They worked with two groups of volunteers:

  • Endless bowl group – participants ate from a bowl that automatically refilled from the bottom. The participants did not know this was happening.
  • Normal bowl group – participants ate from a bowl that did not automatically refill. As they ate, they could see there was less food left on the bowl.

Those in the endless bowl group ate 73% more food until they thought they were full, compared to those in the normal bowl group. This confirmed Wansink’s hypothesis – that your eyes are the main factors in determining when we think we are full.

Wansink says that mindless eating can lead to unhealthy habits and weight gain. However, mindless eating can also be used to your favor, so that your habits become healthier. You can get smaller plates and bowls, and reduce the number of times you look at unhealthy snacks by either not stocking up on them or keeping them out of sight. You can move healthier foods to eye-level in the refrigerator or pantry. Food can be eaten in the kitchen, rather than in front of the TV.

Wansink, who presented his findings at the Annual convention of the American Psychological Association, said:

“Most of us have too much chaos going on in our lives to consciously focus on every bite we eat, and then ask ourselves if we’re full. The secret is to change your environment so it works for you rather than against you.”

Even fresh and stale popcorn consumption is influenced by size of containers, he found. In another experiment, involving 168 people who went to the movie theater – the participants were given fresh or stale popcorn in different sized containers. Those with the extra-large containers ate 45% more fresh popcorn than those with fresh popcorn in large containers. However, the stale-popcorn eaters who ate from the extra-large containers ate 34% more than those who ate fresh popcorn from the large containers.

Wansink said that people just don’t realize they are doing it. He said the same applies to drinking. If you have two glasses of the same volume, but one is short and wide and the other is long and thin, people pour 37% more drink into the short-wide ones.

Wansink says it really is wishful thinking to expect dieters to know when they are full and to stop before they eat too much.

Wansink said:

“These simple strategies are far more likely to succeed than willpower alone. It’s easier to change your environment than to change your mind.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist