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:
Sun AM - louisev (weekly diary)
Sun PM - WHEE Open
Mon AM - NC Dem
Mon PM - WHEE Open
Tues AM - WHEE Open
Tues PM - WHEE Open
Weds AM - WHEE Open
Weds PM - Edward Spurlock (Kolata, Ch. 5)
Thur AM - WHEE Open
Thur PM - WHEE Open
Friday AM - WHEE Open
Friday PM - Wee mama back from hiatus?
Sat AM - bloomin (weekly diary)
Sat PM - Edward Spurlock (Wansink, Ch. 4)