Book notes: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink book summary.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink Ph.D.


Synopsis: “In this illuminating and groundbreaking new book, food psychologist Brian Wansink shows why you may not realize how much you’re eating, what you’re eating, or why you’re even eating at all.

  • Does food with a brand name really taste better?
  • Do you hate brussels sprouts because your mother did?
  • Does the size of your plate determine how hungry you feel?
  • How much would you eat if your soup bowl secretly refilled itself?
  • What does your favorite comfort food really say about you?
  • Why do you overeat so much at healthy restaurants?

Mindless Eating will change the way you look at food, and it will give you the facts you need to easily make smarter, healthier, more mindful, and enjoyable choices at the dinner table, in the supermarket, in restaurants, at the office, and even at a vending machine – wherever you decide to satisfy your appetite.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

This is one of the few books that I know for sure where I got it recommended from. Remit Sethi from IWT had this on one of his book lists or he might have also mentioned it in a podcast. I’m not sure exactly what it is about, but I’m sure it has something to do with psychology as he is really big on that.

Key notes:

  • We eat what we eat largely because of what’s around us, whether that be family, environment, food availability, etc
  • The author is interested in food, psychology, and marketing
  • This book is about re-engineering your environment so that you can eat what you want without guilt and without gaining weight
    • It is about re-engineering your food life so it is more enjoyable and mindful
  • The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on
  • Their studies show that people eat more when you give them a bigger container
  • It’s easier to change our environment than our mind
  • We can burn half a pound of fat per week without a metabolism slowdown
  • Any diet that denies you the foods you like is going to be temporary
  • Our brains and body fight against food deprivation
    • To make it worse, our environment day to day is filled with traps for any halfhearted effort
  • The mindless margin: The margin or zone in which we can either slightly over eat or slightly under eat without being aware of it
    • Eating 20% less than you think you want it’s not noticeable. Anything above that will be noticeable, so this 20% is a “mindless margin”
  • Just like we can’t tell if we’ve gained weight by internal cues, we can’t really tell how much we’ve gained or lost without some external benchmark
    • We typically eat the same volume of food each day. If we think we ate less, we will feel hungry
  • Volume trumps calories. We eat the volume we want, not the calories we want
  • Increasing the variety of the food to eat increases the amount eaten
  • Most of us are on the “see-food diet” where we eat food we see
    • The principle “out of sight out of mind” applies here
    • Simply thinking about food makes is hungry
    • Tactics to avoid the seafood diet:
      1. move the food
      2. move around it
  • The more hassle it is to eat, the less we eat
  • When we are with others we tend to mimic the speed at which they eat and the amount they eat
  •  TV is a triple eating threat. Aside from leading you to eat, it leads you to not paying attention to how much you eat, and it leads you to eat for too long
    • Anything that takes our focus off the food makes us more likely to overeat without knowing it
  •  In restaurant environments, soft lighting and relaxing music makes us more comfortable and makes us want to linger longer, which translates to be more likely to order more food than expected
    • Faster music and brighter lights made people stay for shorter and turned tables faster
  • Confirmation bias: if you expect a good to taste good, it will
  • Past associations are the most common reason a food becomes a comfort food
    • Keep the comfort foods, but eat them in smaller amounts
  • We are hardwired to love the taste of fat, salt, and sugar
    • Fat gave our ancestors the calorie reserves they needed
    • Salt help them retain water and avoid dehydration
    • Sugar helped them distinguish sweet edible berries from the sour poisonous ones
  • Our caveman genetics prefers variety because the more types of food we ate, the more likely we would get the wide range of nutrients we needed
  • Convenience and the path of least effort was a survival mechanism for humans so that they can minimize the amount of time spent with other dangerous predators while searching for food
  • People tend to underestimate how many calories they ate at Subway by over 30% due to a false halo effect thinking they ate healthier than they really did
  • 10/20 rule: for soft drinks, estimate 10 cals per ounce drink. For heavier drinks like smoothies and meal replacements, estimate 20 cals per ounce
    • If you add ice, your body will burn 1 cal for every ounce to drink of a cold drink
  • One small health claim on the packaging creates a halo effect making consumers believe it has multiple health benefits
    • We end up overeating what we think is healthy regardless of the serving size
  • All food sellers have this in common:
    1. They don’t care if you eat the food as long as you repeatedly buy it
    2. They want to make a profit. They are not trying to make us fat and they really don’t care. They only care that we buy it from them and not from someone else
  • We can re-engineer our personal food environment to help us and our families eat better
  • Food trade-offs: “I can eat X if I do Y”
  • Making a positive change in the right direction that becomes mindless is the goal
    • Small changes that add up over time
  • The only thing that can beat the tyranny of the moment decisions is habit

Closing thoughts:

Such an eye-opening book. I really enjoy reading about books like this that have a very unique topic (like food psychology), and it’s extremely relevant to almost anyone who reads it. Many of the concepts and ideas presented in this book really made me stop and think about not only my own food choices but the food choices that people around me make all of the time.

For example, I definitely brought up to my coworkers about how concepts in this book apply to how we act during lunchtime, why we snack because everyone else around us is snacking (social cues), and why we eat more than we think just because someone says its “health” without realizing that the amount you eat is what matters.

Overall, would highly recommend to anyone interested in food or in general wants to understand why they make certain decisions. Also great for people who probably want to lose weight but don’t know where to start.

Nutshell: Making better food choices depends heavily on the environment you put yourself in. Small, positive changes in the right direction can make a big difference.

Rating: 4/5

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7 thoughts on “Book notes: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink”

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