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Welcome to the continuing diary series, "Let's Read a WHEE Book Together!" (a shameless rip-off of plf515's weekly "Let's Read a Book Together!"). This week, we'll be continuing with the chapter-by-chapter review of Mindless Eating, the 2006 book by researcher Brian Wansink.

WHEE (Weight, Health, Eating and Exercise) is a community support diary for Kossacks who are currently or planning to start losing, gaining or maintaining their weight through diet and exercise or fitness. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are working on your weight or fitness, please -- join us! You can also click the WHEE tag to view all diary posts.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink
The story so far:

In Chapter One, Brian Wansink focused on why we overeat: "We overeat because there are signals and cues around us that tell us to eat." He then introduced what he calls the "mindless margin" - the idea that we can lose weight without feeling deprived by maintaining a calorie deficit of just a couple hundred calories, rather than trying to lose weight quickly from a large deficit. In his tips at the end of Chapter One, he advised a "mindless margin" of 20% - eat 20% less of energy-dense food like meat, cheese, oils and fats, and desserts. And eat 20% more of vegetables and fruits.

In Chapter Two, Wansink introduced the idea that we Americans typically use visual cues to decide how much to eat, rather than learning to judge how much is enough based on a feeling of fullness. In the tips at the end of Chapter Two, he advises us to maximize helpful visual cues, by pre-plating food (instead of having serving dishes at the table or eating directly from a larger container) and keeping the "empties" (such as chicken bones or empty drink glasses) in view while deciding whether to have more.

Chapter Three: Surveying the Tablescape
In Chapter Three, Wansink continues with the idea of visual cues and their effect on the amounts we eat. He begins by comparing American kitchens to European and Asian kitchens - our kitchens are larger, much larger. He contends that an American home with a foreign-sized kitchen would be unsellable.

How do our huge...tracts of tile affect our weight? Larger kitchens means more room for larger containers, and the larger the container, the larger the servings. For example, in one experiment Wansink invited Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) members to participate in a novel fund-raiser for their groups. Couples were asked to prepare a spaghetti dinner for themselves at the school's kitchens, and in return their PTA received a $20 donation from the researchers. The food was also supplied. Some of the couples received a medium-sized box of spaghetti, a medium-sized jar of sauce, and a pound of ground beef, while the other couples had a large box of dry pasta, a large jar of tomato sauce, and two pounds of ground beef. Wansink found that the couples who prepared their meal from the larger containers prepared a larger meal (about 25% larger) and consumed more calories as a result.

Wansink has performed and/or reviewed multiple studies, and consistently found that cooking from larger containers means cooking more and eating more. Similarly, eating snacks from larger containers means eating more. In another study, other PTA members were asked to watch a video and give their opinions. To "sweeten" the deal, the PTA members were each given either a 1/2 pound or 1 pound bag of M&Ms to eat while watching the movie. The ones who snacked from the pound bag ate almost twice as many M&Ms on average, 137 versus 71.

OK, so size matters (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) - but what about shape? It turns out that the shape of drinking glasses can lead us to consume more or less. For example, bartenders were asked to pour drinks straight from the bottle (using no shot glasses or pour spouts) into tall, thin glasses or short, wide glasses. The bartenders pouring into the tall, thin glasses poured 1.6 ounces on average, just a tenth of an ounce more than the target 1 1/2 ounces. However, the bartenders pouring into the short, wide glasses poured an average of 2.1 ounces, 37% more than they were told to pour. The moral of the story is, if you want to be thin rather than wide, use tall, thin drinking glasses rather than short, wide ones.

After detailing additional research showing that larger serving containers leads to larger consumption, Wansink goes on to discuss variety. He points to lack of variety as a reason for the (temporary) success of low-carb diets. Restrict the variety of foods offered, he says, and we restrict our consumption without even being aware of it.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the idea that greater variety leads to greater consumption makes perfect sense. For our protohuman ancestors, maximizing the variety of food would have increased the chances of consuming needed vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, this adaptation doesn't serve us modern humans as well when our hunting ground is the local buffet restaurant.

We eat more even if we're only exposed to the perception of variety. As an example, Wansink presents an experiment on MBA grad students using jelly beans. One group was offered a tray with six varieties of jelly beans, and invited to help themselves from the six different sections of the tray. The other group was offered a tray containing the same amount of the same six flavors and colors of jelly beans, but all six flavors were mixed in a single large compartment. The second group took almost twice as many jelly beans on average.

In fact, color alone is enough variety to cue our evolutionary drive to consume more. In another experiment, two groups of students were offered bowls containing M&Ms to snack on while watching a video. As most of us know, all M&Ms taste alike - the color is just in the candy shell, and doesn't affect the flavor enough for the difference to be perceptible in taste. However, the students who were offered bowls containing 11 "flavors" of M&Ms ate over 40% more than students whose serving bowls contained a paltry 7 "flavors."

Reengineering Strategy # 3:
Be Your Own Tablescaper

Wansink offers three hints at the end of Chapter Three:

Subdivide your storage containers.
If you purchase food in large containers (for example, to say money), subdivide it into smaller containers before putting it away. This will help keep you from unconsciously being cued by that larger package to serve yourself more when preparing a meal or grabbing a snack.

Think "smaller" and "taller."
Trade in your large dinner plates for smaller ones, or serve dinner on your saucers instead of your dinner plates. Replace your short, wide drinking glasses with tall, thin ones.

Leftovers can be double trouble.
Leftovers can be a "double danger." On one hand, making a meal of several different leftover foods can lead you to consume more (due to the greater variety). On the other hand, having leftovers can indicate that you prepared too much when you prepared the original meal -- and that may well mean that you ate too much then too (even though you managed to save something for later). Making only what you need to eat in your original meal is better for you - and more sustainable, too.

Scheduled WHEE diaries:
March 21
  Sun AM - louisev (weekly diary)
  Sun PM - WHEE Open

March 22
  Mon AM - NC Dem
  Mon PM - WHEE Open

March 23
  Tues AM - WHEE Open
  Tues PM - WHEE Open

March 24
  Weds AM - WHEE Open
  Weds PM - Edward Spurlock (Kolata, Ch. 5)

March 25  
  Thur AM - WHEE Open
  Thur PM - WHEE Open

March 26
  Friday AM - WHEE Open
  Friday PM - Wee mama back from hiatus?

March 27
  Sat AM - bloomin (weekly diary)
  Sat PM - Edward Spurlock (Wansink, Ch. 4)

Originally posted to Edward Spurlock on Sat Mar 20, 2010 at 08:55 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Short, wide Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    Please pour in a variety of Recommends - it's evolutionary, my dear WHEEbles!

    And please reply to this Tip Jar if you'd like to sign up for a WHEE diary.

  •  Thank you for this. This book is wait listed at (7+ / 0-)

    the library,,,, I've been waiting a while and am unlikely to buy it. Lot's of helpful info.

  •  Something I've been doing (5+ / 0-)

    is buying my fresh foods in smaller amounts, and buying more frequently. We're eating a lot of salads now that the weather is warming up (we're in Tucson, AZ), and I tend to overbuy produce, and it goes bad before we can eat it.

    As far as bulk foods, I do try to repackage, but I'm not consistent enough. With meats, I'm pretty consistent, but not as much with dry foods. We split boneless skinless chicken breasts, so that we share one instead of having one each. They're pretty large.

    •  Oddly enough, it makes a difference... (5+ / 0-)

        in how you divide/cut the chicken breast. Most people would simply cut it vertically from the top and the result might be 3-4" long but about 2" wide and still the same thickness. We often carefully cut the thickness down to about 1" yet it remains 3-4" long but 3-4" wide as well. The simple reason we do this is that it appears to be just the same size as a full breast but only less thick. Since it has the almost the same surface area, we can actually increase the flavor of the breast with herbs and spices.

        Thus perception wins on two fronts. It looks the same size and it is more flavorful yet you have only 1/2 the calories.

      "Training is simply a stimulus being applied to the body with the purpose of getting a specific adaptation." Craig Ballantyne

      by NC Dem on Sun Mar 21, 2010 at 05:29:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I question the leftover theory. (4+ / 0-)

    I adore leftovers.  It means that I don't have to cook.  It also means that I have something more nutritious than dry snack to eat.  Does it mean I made too much?  Maybe - but I'm feeding four people who may not be hungry or may decide they'd rather eat cold cereal and milk instead.  

    When we eat out (probably Panera), I order with an eye to sharing the total food between all of us.  If we do have leftovers, they are packed home and eaten later.  A bag of chips split three ways allows everyone a taste of salty crisps without anyone consuming all of the calories.

    I also am perfectly comfortable with "special orders".  I order my son's sandwich: no cheese, no lettuce, no tomato.  He was picking those items off and putting them on my plate. Gee, thanks.  By special ordering his sandwich, we threw away less food and the restaurant saved a little money.  Don't worry about confusing the staff - the computerized ordering systems take care of most of it.  My other son's order is a children's grilled cheese ordered this way: no grill, substitute swiss cheese, substitute Asiago demi.  I'm a pro at ordering it now and if it gets punched in correctly, it's almost certain to be prepared correctly.

    Do NOT be afraid to order food the way you want it.  If you aren't going to eat a pickle, tell them to skip it.  If you only want a half portion of fries, ask for it.

    Show me the POLICY!

    by Fabian on Sun Mar 21, 2010 at 01:52:02 AM PDT

    •  The key to leftovers for me.... (4+ / 0-)

         is that I must assign everything to leftovers once I load my plate/saucer the first time. I mentally think to myself once I have arranged the food on the plate that with what we prepared, it is going to last 2 or more meals. I often will divide some of the leftovers and freeze (where appropriate) a portion and place a serving in the fridge for eating the next day or two.

      "Training is simply a stimulus being applied to the body with the purpose of getting a specific adaptation." Craig Ballantyne

      by NC Dem on Sun Mar 21, 2010 at 05:36:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think Wansink would say... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fabian, debbieleft

      ...that's it's all in the way the leftovers get eaten. If you wind up feeding them to growing boys like your son, or eating them instead of making a "new" meal, that's fine. It's when you eat them in addition to a new meal that they become problematical.

      Also, the idea of ordering a single "regular" (i.e., LARGE) restaurant food item and splitting it two or three ways is one Wansink himself espouses in a later chapter.

      •  I used to be squeamish (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        debbieleft, Edward Spurlock

        about sharing food or eating something from someone else's plate.  That evaporated when I spent time feeding toddlers.  I'd go to the trouble of giving them a varied and healthy meal, they'd eat half of it and I'd eat the rest.  Heck, I was hungry, it was good food and a real shame to waste it.

        It takes a real effort to get yourself out of the Way Things Are.  You can go into a restaurant and it's like walking into a trap.  Restaurants are set up mostly to guide consumers into buying more and buying what is most profitable for the business to sell.  There's a science to this - from the seating to the layout and wording of the menu.  

        Too bad no one has ever put this to good use creating a dining experience that encourages us to make healthy choices and eat less.  Salads are usually served in individual portions, but high fat foods like spinach dip and nachos are served in large portions - to share!  And the desserts....don't get me started on desserts.  A small scoop of fruity sorbet would be a reasonable indulgence, but you are more likely to find a brownie sundae or a flourless torte.  (The flourless torte is almost but not quite fudge - sugar/butter/eggs instead of sugar/butter.)

        I end up getting my sweets at home - at least eating them as a junky snack is a better strategy than tacking them on to a full meal.

        Maybe that's why my favorite full service restaurant is a Japanese place that serves a small salad and miso soup with all of its entrees and has few desserts.   My favorite appetizers are spinach, tofu and eggplant.  No dips!  No heaping platter of fried, fatty food to share!

        Show me the POLICY!

        by Fabian on Sun Mar 21, 2010 at 07:44:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Excuse me? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Fabian

          Too bad no one has ever put this to good use creating a dining experience that encourages us to make healthy choices and eat less.

          No one? Really? What do you call this recent marketing effort? Or this one?

          •  Oh, that's just a few items on the menu. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Edward Spurlock

            Which I do appreciate - even if I never eat there.

            On The Splendid Table, they had a guest on talking about how the menus are carefully set up to guide your decision making process - for the benefit of the business, not the customer.  Those Heart Healthy and Under 550 menu items are there for the people who least likely to be swayed by the usual suspects and probably most likely to special order their meals.   In addition, if those menu choices become popular, the businesses will probably raise the prices on those items.  (Hey - whatcha gonna do - order the cheeseburger and fries?)

            I do find the Under 550 name a bit alarming.  Exactly how many calories are in the other items?  I remember eating out with my husband and once you add up the drink(s), appetizer, entree and possibly desert - exactly how many calories could you put away?  How does anyone who eats out regularly manage to stay on a diet?  The answer probably is very, very carefully.

            Show me the POLICY!

            by Fabian on Sun Mar 21, 2010 at 01:44:00 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  another leftover lover here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fabian, debbieleft, Edward Spurlock

    but it gets packaged or frozen - truly small amounts of extra food go on the dogs' kibble.

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