If you’re interested in the psychology of eating, how companies market to consumers to eat more or less, portion sizes and control, and what can influence our eating decisions, this is the book for you. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. (published in 2006) explores these topics and more. The most important thing to take note of about this book, however, is that it is not a diet book, telling you how to lose weight and keep it off. Rather, it is “about reengineering your food life so that it is enjoyable and mindful.”
As it is stated in the introduction,
The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.
(Interestingly, and especially of note for those who live on a restricted diet because of food allergies, intolerances, or diseases, it is noted that the word “diet” comes from the Latin word, dieta, meaning “a way of life”. Indeed for many, living with food allergies et al and becoming creative within those boundaries no longer becomes a diet but a lifestyle. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “diet” in a restrictive sense has only been used since the fourteenth century. I studied Latin, so my passions for language and food temporarily collided.)
Some of the topics were baffling to me, such as how changing the colour of a food can change people’s perception – and even trick them into thinking that they’re tasting something else! This was examplified with a story about a World War II Navy cook (in this book, named Billy) who once accidentally ordered twice the amount of lemon Jell-O but no cherry Jell-O. In a stroke of genius, he made the lemon Jell-O as usual but added red food colouring. Although it was still lemon flavoured, it looked like cherry Jell-O. The sailors, when they tried it, didn’t know the difference – some even complimented him on having found cherry Jell-O. This is explained as having worked because the sailors expected it was cherry and tasted it as such.
After reading about a study included in the book about people’s eating habits and how our eating habits are influenced – loud music, bright colours, eating alone or with family and friends – I became acutely aware of my own eating habits. For example, normally I eat fairly lightly. Most of the time I eat until I feel satisfied, just before I’m full. (This is known as eating until you’re just eighty percent full.) When I eat with a group of people, though, I tend to eat more and graze even when I may not be hungry – especially during conversation – because, I’ve realized, I feel like I’m going to miss out on something if I don’t have it now. Afterward, it takes me a little while to resume my normal eating habits. The only time this does not happen in that kind of social situation is when I make it a conscious discipline.
In addition to being informed and the self realization that can come with it, people who pick up this book might be interested in the tips included at the end of each chapter called Reengineering Strategies and other tips sprinkled throughout such as cues for physical hunger versus emotional hunger, i.e. physical hunger builds gradually and strikes below the neck, such as a growling stomach, whereas emotional hunger happens suddenly – such as a sudden craving and you can taste it (these tips are from a book called Think Thin, Be Thin, which I’ve not read and hadn’t known about before, but are useful to anyone wanting to be more in tune with their body and be mindful). It is not a diet book, but it does offer some invaluable tips to be more aware of what you’re eating and how you’re eating. Plus, it provides some topics that might prove interesting discussion points at the dinner table.
Brian Wansink has a website, Mindless Eating, as well that further explores and expands upon the topics introduced in the book.