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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.

Last Saturday, in Chapter Three, he began by discussing the Great (Big) American Kitchen, and how the added storage space leads us to buy larger quantities, which in turn encourage us to eat more at every meal or snack episode. He followed by discussing the surprising difference between tall, thin drinking glasses and short, wide tumblers. Finally, he discussed how a larger variety leads to larger consumption, followed by larger consumers. Surprisingly, even the appearance of variety (such as different colors of M&Ms) can lead us to eat more.

Chapter Four: The Hidden Persuaders Around Us
In Chapter Four, Wansink begins by returning again to the idea of visual cues. Wansink and a colleague performed a study on secretaries in an office building. Each was given a bowl of 30 Hershey's Kisses for Secretary's Week, and every evening for two weeks the experimenters counted how many candies were left in each bowl, then added candies to make the quota of 30. Half the secretaries received clear glass bowls, and the other half had opaque white glass bowls. If you've been following this diary series for the past couple of weeks, you know what they found -- the chocolate disappeared from the clear bowls over half again faster than the opaque ones.

In The End of Overeating, David Kessler defined "priming" as the phenomenon that occurs when a small "dose" of a tasty food triggers a desire for a larger helping. In my review, I noted that Kessler's usage is different from the Wikipedia definition of "priming":

Priming in psychology occurs when an earlier stimulus influences response to a later stimulus. For example, when a person reads a list of words including the word table, and is later asked to complete a word starting with tab, the probability that subject answers table is higher than for non-primed people.

In Mindless Eating, Wansink also refers to priming, but in the more conventional sense as found in Wikipedia. In his words:

Soup is a reasonably healthy food, and we wanted to see if making it really, really vivid to a person would make them more likely to eat it in the upcoming weeks. So we asked 93 people to write down a detailed description of the most recent time they ate soup--what had happened earlier that day, what type of soup they had, what they ate with it, how it tasted, how it made them feel when they were eating it, and what they thought of the meal after they finished. This was about a full page of writing about soup. Another 94 people were simply asked to write down their most recent experience with an unrelated product.

The results were dramatic. At the end of the study, the people who had thought about the last time they had eaten soup anticipated they would eat more than twice as much soup in the next month as the non-primed group told us.

Of course, priming can influence us to eat unhealthily as well. For example, restaurant advertising is intended to prime us to consume more in the future - we see the advertising at home, say, and choose the restaurant later that day or on another day. However, Wansink is more concerned with how influences within the home or workplace influence us to consume more than with how advertising affects us.

After discussing priming, Wansink looks at the effect of convenience. In a follow-up to the candy dish study, all the secretaries in an office building received an opaque "bottomless" (for a couple of weeks, anyway) candy bowl - but the bowls were rotated between the corner of the desk, in a desk drawer, and on top of a filing cabinet six feet away. Again, it's no surprise that when the candy dish was on top of the filing cabinet, the secretaries ate fewer Kisses. A number of secretaries said that when they had to get up from the desk, the couple of extra seconds it took gave them enough time to reconsider grabbing a piece of chocolate.

The effect of convenience on consumption has been tested in a number of settings. One such study found that cafeteria customers were more than twice as likely to serve themselves from a self-service ice cream freezer if the transparent glass lid was open than if they had to open the lid. A military mess hall study found that soldiers drank twice as much water from pitchers on each mess table than if the pitchers were stationed at side tables.

Reengineering strategy #4:
Make Overeating a Hassle, Not a Habit

As in the previous chapters, Wansink offers a couple of "reengineering" hints at the end of the chapter. Chapter Four's hints focus on convenience:
Reengineering convenience at the dinner table:
Leave the serving dishes for calorie-dense food like meat or fat-laden casseroles in the kitchen or on a sideboard. Put the salad bowl or vegetable serving dishes on the table.

Make high-calorie snack foods play "hard to get"
Rather than keeping the candy out in a candy dish, put the dish into a cupboard. In fact, put it in the back of the cupboard, on a high shelf.

Make snacking a ceremony
If you're going to snack, serve your snack on a plate, and eat it at the table - don't "grab and go."

Better yet, says Wansink, don't bring tempting snacks into the house in the first place.

Scheduled WHEE diaries:
April 4
  Sun AM - WHEE Open (Easter edition)
  Sun PM - WHEE Open

April 5
  Mon AM - NC Dem (Exercise of Month- Rows)
  Mon PM - WHEE Open

April 6
  Tues AM - WHEE Open
  Tues PM - WHEE Open

April 7
  Weds AM - WHEE Open
  Weds PM - Edward Spurlock (Kolata, Chap 6)

April 8
  Thur AM - WHEE Open
  Thur PM - WHEE Open

April 9
  Friday AM - WHEE Open
  Friday PM - Wee Mama (weekly diary)

April 10
  Sat AM - bloomin (?)
  Sat PM - Edward Spurlock (Wansink, Ch. 5)

Originally posted to Edward Spurlock on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 04:17 PM PDT.

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