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Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

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Title: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Dieting, Food, Sioux City, Iowa, Drake University, Wayne State College, List of Stanford University people, List of University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign people, List of people from Ithaca, New York, Brian Wansink
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
Author Brian Wansink
Country United States
Language English
Genre Psychology, Health & Nutrition, Diet, Social Trends
Publisher Bantam Dell
Publication date October 17, 2006
Media type Hardback & Audio CD Recording
Pages 276 p. (hardback edition), 304 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-553-80434-0 (Hardback), ISBN 0-553-38448-1 (Paperback), ISBN 0-7393-4037-9 (audio recording)
OCLC Number Dewey Decimal 616.85/260651 22
LC Classification RC552.C65 W36 2006

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think is a nonfiction book by Cornell University consumer behavior professor Brian Wansink. Based upon award-winning research discoveries at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, the book was cited by the National Action Against Obesity as being a 2006 hero in the fight against obesity.[1]

The book shows how food psychology and the food environment influence what, how much, and when people eat. It also shows how many of the cues in this environment can alter food choice, leading people to eat less and enjoy food more. The science is based on a series of studies in labs, restaurants, homes, movie theaters, diners, and malls that Wansink has conducted as director of the Food and Brand Lab.[2]

Chapter list

  1. The Mindless Margin
  2. The Forgotten Food
  3. Surveying the Tablescape
  4. The Hidden Persuaders
  5. Mindless Eating Scripts
  6. The Name Game
  7. Comfort Food for Thought
  8. Nutritional Gatekeepers
  9. Fast Food Fever
  10. Mindlessly Eating Better


The phrase "mindless eating" refers to the empirical finding that people make nearly 20 times more daily decisions about food than they are aware of (an average of around 250 each day).[3] As a result, they can be easily influenced by small cues around them such as "family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers."[4]

In contrast to a physiological understanding of hunger, Mindless Eating argues that much of one’s hunger is psychologically-determined. People are not well-enough calibrated to know when they are full and even when they are necessarily hungry.[5] As a result, they are subtly and unknowingly influenced by their environment when determining when to eat and how much to eat.


Instead of focusing on the macro-food environment (see Food Fight (Brownell & Horgen, 2003) and Food Politics (Nestle, 2002)), Mindless Eating focuses on the micro-environment – one’s home and one’s workplace. These are the environments that consumers directly influence on the daily basis by where they store food, where they place food, how they serve food, when they eat snacks.[6] The studies in the book show how seemingly inconsequential decisions, such as what cupboard a food comes from to the size of plate and lighting in the room will influence how much of that food is served and eaten.

The food industry

A number of the findings described in Mindless Eating, when originally published as academic articles, have been used by the food industry to develop packaging and serving options aimed at profitably encouraging segments of consumers to consume less.[7] The New York Times reported that the findings on how package size contributed to the introduction of the commonly found "100-calorie packs",[8] and his work on glass shape and alcohol pouring influenced bars to use taller glasses to limit overpouring.[9][10]

In contrast to viewpoints that are critical of the food industry (see Supersize Me and Fast Food Nation), Mindless Eating emphasizes the most immediate and effective changes that can be made to the obesigenic society are the changes people can make at home. Although the food industry, government, and even school lunch program has made food convenient and inexpensive, the Nutritional Gatekeeper in the home is still shown to influence an estimated 72% of what a family eats inside and outside the home.[11]

The solution

The encouraging premise behind Mindless Eating is that the obesigenic environment that people have set up for themselves in their homes and at work can be reversed. Just as this environment has led many people to slowly gain weight, it can be re-engineered to help them mindlessly lose weight. Consuming 200 fewer calories a day would lead a person to weigh approximately 9 kilograms (20 lbs) less in a year than they otherwise would. The first sentence and the last sentence of the book are, "The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on."

Instead of deprivation dieting, Mindless Eating recommends a person choose three small changes in their environment that would lead them to eat 200-300 fewer calories a day. These changes are best directed toward one the five "diet danger zones" that a person finds most problematic at that time. In addition to suggesting research-based changes that have been effective in these five areas, Mindless Eating also explains how individualized changes based on food trade-offs and food rules can be useful in helping a person mindlessly eat less, without feeling either psychologically or physiologically deprived.

Mindless Eating Challenge

The Mindless Eating Challenge was an online healthy eating and weight loss program that focused on small, concrete changes in eating habits and eating environment.[12] Originally launched in January 2007 as the National Mindless Eating Challenge because it was only available in English, the program was renamed simply the Mindless Eating Challenge after the program was gained significant international participation.[13] The program was partially based on Dr. Brian Wansink's book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think.[14] As one of a wide variety of online weight loss programs, the Mindless Eating Challenge was unique because it focused on small, concrete behavior changes instead of dieting.[15] Additionally, it was one of the first publicly availably online weight loss programs to publish weight loss results in a peer-reviewed medical journal.[16][17]

When the Mindless Eating Challenge first went online in January 2007,[13] participants were asked a series of questions about their habits, their willpower, and their behavior.[12] Based on their answers, participants were given three specific environmental or behavioral changes that were statistically correlated with weight loss for similar persons with their background.[14] After the month was over, they were resurveyed. Based on their answers and their success the prior month, three new change tips were provided for the next month.[18] Participants were provided a checklist [19] and encouraged to check off their adherence to the changes each day.

The purpose of the tips was to help people become aware of influences on their eating and establish new, healthier habits into their lifestyles without becoming overwhelmed.[18] The focus was on gradual lifestyle change process through small habit changes that could be maintained.


Weight loss outcomes were evaluated with a sub-sample of 2053 participants who signed up for the program between July 2007 and June 2009.[20] Although participant attrition was high (75% never returned to follow-up), those who stayed in the program at least three months and completed at least two follow-up surveys lost, on average, 1.8 lbs (1.0%) of their initial weight. Moreover, participants who reported consistent adherence (25+ days/month) to the suggested changes reported an average monthly weight loss of 2.0 lbs. The most commonly reported barriers for changes included holidays/vacations or other unusual circumstances, suggestions that were too situation-specific, overeating even with healthy foods, and emotional eating.[18]

The approach used by the Mindless Eating Challenge has been important in helping other programs evolve. Various insights have been incorporated in a wide range of other efforts to encourage weight loss and healthy eating. Some of these insights are currently the foundation of a 5-year grant by the National Institute of Health (SCALE—Small Changes and Large Effects) and a large scale community worksite intervention.[21]


External links

  • Official site
  • Brian Wansink
  • Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
  • New York Times review
  • Harvard Crimson review
  • Joplin Independent review
  • CalorieLab book review
  • Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
  • Wansink's official USDA bio sketch
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