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Mindless Eating

We make more than 200 food-related decisions per day. We are unaware of 90 percent of them. In Mindless Eating (2006), Brian Wansink, PhD takes an in-depth look at food psychology and how environmental cues influence eating behavior.

Hidden persuaders — including items such as food presentation, advertising, packaging, kitchen design, utensil size and others’ eating behaviors — are all around us. These persuaders often have a big impact on our eating behaviors. Wansink discusses many of them in detail. He pulls his information from a large body of research, and presents it in a manner that is easy to comprehend, even for people who have minimal nutrition knowledge.

Diet comes from a Latin word which means “way of life.” Mindless Eating is not about extreme dieting, according to Wansink. “It’s about reengineering your environment so that you can eat what you want without guilt and without gaining weight. It’s about reengineering your food life so that it is enjoyable and mindful.” Wansink points out that the best diet is the one you don’t need to think really hard about. And by setting up your environment in an appropriate manner, it is possible to limit the cognitive strain.

Key Findings of Mindless Eating

  • People eat more when they eat from large containers.
  • A product’s label and packaging influences taste and flavor perception. Individuals rate wine believed to be from California higher than wine believed to be from North Dakota, even when there is no difference besides the label.
  • Most people are horrible at estimating calories. The larger a meal, the less accurate the calorie estimation.
  • On average, people eat 20 to 25 percent more from larger packages. Big packages imply a consumption norm (normal amount to eat).
  • Drinking from tall, thin glasses results in drinking less than drinking from short, wide glasses. We tend to overfocus on an object’s height while underemphasizing the width.
  • Eating from large bowls increases consumption because relative to the bowl the food looks so small. (It doesn’t appear that we are actually getting as much food as we are.) When a dessert is placed on a large plate, people estimate it has fewer calories than when it is placed on a smaller plate.
  • Will people generally eat more if presented with 12 bowls containing food or 3 bowls containing food? Even though the amount of food was the same with 12 bowls as it was with 3 bowls, people ate 18 percent more when presented the 12 bowls.
  • The less effort required to eat, the more likely one is to overeat. Consider the following mess-hall study: Soldiers ingested almost twice as much water (81 percent more) when water pitchers were put on each dining table versus when they were put on a side table. Soldiers drank 42 percent more milk when the milk machine was 12 feet away versus when it was 25 feet away.
  • Eating with groups influences how much we eat. Most of the time the amount eaten by the group sets the stage for how much we think we should eat.

Those are just a few of the gems of information presented in the book.

Wansink warns us to be cautious of the “Health Halo.” Just because a food is good for us doesn’t mean we can eat an unlimited amount or include too many extras (high-calorie salad dressing, dessert, calorie-laden additives).

In the final chapter, Wansink lays out basic suggestions to making dieting easier. Wansink believes that small, moderate changes will be the most successful plan for most people. Losing weight should not be agonizing. By removing unwanted cues and organizing your home and office in an appropriate manner, dieting doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Making use of the book’s practical tips and suggestions can help you ease into a diet, change your views on eating and the environment in which you eat. If you are looking for a complex, rapid weight-loss system, this book is not for you. It is about moderation and learning about events or objects that have a radical influence on how much you eat.

Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (December 28, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0345526880

ISBN-13: 978-0345526885

Mindless Eating

Psych Central's Recommendation:
Worth Your Time! +++

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Jamie Hale, M.S.

Jamie Hale, MS., is a researcher specializing in eating behavior, cognitive science (various aspects) and scientific reasoning. Jamie has written seven books and co-authored one. He is a member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame (recognition of my strength and conditioning work with martial artists), college instructor, learning / memory consultant and board member of Kentucky Council Against Health Fraud. Visit Jamie's site at

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our
scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
Published on Psych All rights reserved.