I have been fascinated by mindful eating and food psychology for a long time. Back when I first began my weight loss journey at Thanksgiving of 2009, I started with only two ideas in mind: eat only when I was hungry, and exercise more. Eventually that bloomed into a few more guidelines, but the general principles of my weight loss journey remained constant: eat healthier-but-reasonable food only when my body needed fuel, and spend some time up off my butt every day. I never saw any reason to eliminate foods from my diet completely, or to cut my calories so much that I was perpetually hungry, and that has enabled me to keep going for over two years.
Mindless Eating is based on those same general principles. It doesn’t talk about how to diet, but instead tries to make people aware of how our environment affects how much we eat. People are fooled into eating larger portions by all sorts of things: short glasses, big bowls, big boxes, label wording, etc. We may think we aren’t fooled, but time and time again, studies have shown that even people who know and study this material for a living can be fooled into eating more by specific cues.
Brian Wansink walks us through study after study of all the ways people can be fooled, and then offers tips to help us redesign our personal food environment so that we can eliminate those cues. His book is not designed to help people lose 100 lbs in a year, but instead to help reverse the obesity trend. Most people do not gain weight in giant bursts, but in a slow trend over many years by overeating in what Wansink calls the mindless margin. A person can eat a couple hundred calories more or less than what their body requires to maintain its weight without noticing it by hunger or feeling too full. If you’re overeating those couple hundred calories every day, you may add 10-20 lbs in a year. If you undereat those couple hundred calories, you may lose the same, without ever feeling like you’ve been on a diet. This is what Wansink stresses.
One of the most interesting things in the book to me was a fact that he puts out near the beginning of Mindless Eating. Since I listened to this on audio and don’t have a print copy in front of me, I can’t give the exact quote, but to paraphrase: If you lose more than about half a pound per week, your metabolism will go into some form of conservation mode. This blew me away. I’ve always known my body was sensitive to starvation mode. If I try to lose more than about a pound a week, I start holding steady instead, or gaining, despite eating less or exercising more. I figured about a pound per week was okay to hold off starvation mode, but apparently, even losing at that rate can mess with your metabolism, at least according to studies. Of course, most people who need to lose a lot of weight aren’t going to be interested in losing roughly 26 lbs per year. At the same time, painlessly losing half a pound a week by making a few tweaks to your eating habits is better than making major overhauls to your diet that you’ll give up on after a month, which is how many people approach weight loss.
There is a lot of really good information in this book, both about food psychology in general and in practical tips for helping people reverse the trend of slow, mindless weight gain. There is not a lot of information about mindful eating, which is one of the things I’d hoped for when I began it. Instead, it focuses on turning mindless eating to our advantage, and helping us to lose weight without ever realizing we’re losing it.
Performance: This audiobook is narrated Marc Cashman, who does a great job with the reading. I do wish I’d read the print version of this, however, because there seems to be a lot of tables, charts, and visual representations in the book that were read out to me. I would have preferred to see them, and I’m thinking about getting my hands on a print copy just for those parts.