The 'Freakonomics of food'
The good news behind our mindless eating
Do you hate Brussels sprouts because your mother did" Does the size of your plate determine how hungry you feel" Why do you actually overeat at healthy restaurants"
"You can ask your smartest friend why he or she just ate what they ate, and you won’t get an answer any deeper than, 'It sounded good,'" says Brian Wansink, Ph.D.), author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," and Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.
Dubbed the "Freakonomics of food" by the Canadian Broadcasting Commission, Mindless Eating, uses hidden cameras, two-way mirrors, and hundreds of studies to show why we eat what and how much we eat. "The unique thing about his work is that it cleverly answers everyday questions about food and shows translates them into Good News – how we can improve it," said Seth Roberts, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Take how much we eat. Wansink claims we typically don’t overeat because we are hungry or because the food tastes good. Instead we overeat because of the cues around us – family and friends, packages and plates, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.
Consider your holiday ice cream bowl. If you spoon 3 ounces of ice cream onto a small bowl, it will look like a lot more than if you had spooned it into a large bowl. Even if you intended to carefully follow your diet, the larger bowl would likely influence you to serve more. This tricks even the pros.
During one holiday party, Wansink and his Lab put this to the test by inviting 63 distinguished nutritional science professors at a leading university to an holiday ice cream social. When they arrived, they were given either medium-size 17-ounce bowls or large-size 34-ounce bowls. "Even though these people think, sleep, lecture and study nutrition," Wansink said, "They still served themselves and ate 31 percent more ice cream (106 more calories) if they had been given a big bowl."
If experts can’t control mindless eating, what help is there for the rest of us" Here’s the good news reassures Wansink, "As Mindless Eating shows, what we eat and how much we eat – is so automatic, the easiest changes are those that are smallest."
At a holiday buffet" Use a smaller plate, or put only two items on your plate during any given trip to the table. Return as many times as you like, but only take two items each time.
Meticulous studies outline why we are consistently influenced, but they also provide the silver lining. If we know that we tend to pour 28% more into short wide glasses than in tall thin ones, the secret is simply getting rid of the short glasses.
More on the topic can be found at www.MindlessEating.org, which also shows photos of studies and top tips for the holidays – and beyond.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.