|When we eat we’re hungry, right? And we stop eating when we’re full, right? We probably wouldn’t be asking such rhetorical questions if the answers were true. But just how untrue the answers are might surprise you…
Food psychologist Brian Wansink, Ph.D, introduces his book, “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think,” with the statement that “Everyone eats how much we eat largely because of what’s around us.”
Wansink’s research shows that the average person makes well over 200 decisions about food every day, but we’re not aware of what outside influences impact what we choose and how much we eat. On a daily basis we’re confronted with a myriad of things that can cause us to reach out and eat mindlessly.
Wansink tested a group of movie patrons at a matinee. Each received a free soft drink and a medium or large bucket of popcorn. The popcorn, prepared days earlier, was stale
Each bucket was weighed after the movie. Even given that the popcorn was stale, the big-bucket group ate an average of 53% more than those with medium-size buckets. When the volunteers were asked if they ate more because of the bucket size, responses included: “Things like that don’t trick me,” and “I’m good at knowing when I’m full.” The cues that encouraged the eating in this case weren’t hunger-related, but rather what we all expect when we go to the movies— snacks.
So how do we counteract the bad influences and gain control over our diets and our health? Awareness is key.
Making small adjustments to your eating environment will help. It takes about 28 days to break an old habit and replace it with a good one.
Some “mindful” suggestions include:
• Making three 100 to 200 calorie changes in daily food intake that can be “mindlessly” made without much sacrifice.
• Focusing on changing the small behaviors that move us from “mindless overeating” to “mindless better eating.” Be aware of our danger zones, such as parties, snacks, restaurants and maybe sitting too long at a desk or in the car.
• Keeping a checklist to log the changes we accomplish every day as we build good habits.
Brian Wansink is a professor of Marketing and Applied Economics at Cornell, and director of the school’s Food and Brand Lab.