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on May 9, 2007
Last November, 16 months after my son was born I was still carrying an extra 45 pounds. I bought this book just after Thanksgiving, read it, and took the author's advice to just try three of his suggestions.

Five months later I have lost 35 pounds. And I am still losing.

The author's point is that we don't monitor every calorie. We can't. Instead we work with cues to decide what to eat, and when to stop. Understand the cues, and you can change them to lower your daily calories.

I enjoyed the tales of diet research, but I think what worked for me was the practical suggestions -- instead of trying to rein in my "emotional eating," I just bought smaller plates and started covering half of the plate with veggies. Sounds dumb, but now I serve dinner off of the salad plates, and I eat less without thinking about it.

I especially like the insight that cutting 10 calories a day for a year equals one pound. I used to think of 50 calories here and 100 calories there as not really important, but now I realize they were adding up. I apply this insight to seconds and desserts and snacks. I pick up a 50 calorie cookie and I ask myself -- is this cookie, right now, worth 5 lbs in weight? Occasionally the answer is yes -- and I enjoy my cookie. But more often I realize I'm not really hungry, I'm just eating the cookie because it is there.

I think I was unusually ready to lose some serious weight. And my weight loss has definitely slowed in the last month. I've only lost about three pounds, instead of the 5-7 I had been averaging. But overall I have never had such good, quick results from a weight loss regimen. I can't recommend "Mindless Eating" highly enough.

P.S. I would think that the opposite of the advice in the book would also work if you were trying to gain weight -- buy big plates, eat many small snacks, and so forth.

Update: I wrote this original post in May of 2007. It is now August of 2007. I have lost another 10 pound, which means I have now lost the full 45 pounds of "baby fat" I gained during my pregnancy. I have gone from an "obese" BMI to the high end of "normal" BMI. Now it will be interesting to see if I keep losing weight (I would like to lose another ten pounds.) But even if I never lose another ounce, I am happy, proud, and grateful to Brian Wansink for writing "Mindless Eating."
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Dr. Wansink is a food psychologist who specializes in the investigation of the mental and emotional factors that cause us to eat. This book demonstrates that we can lose weight, simply by being more mindful of our eating habits. It contains interesting and humorous case studies that highlight those mindless activities that add 200 or 300 calories to our diet each day and which can add up to 20 or 30 excess pounds in the course of a year.

The author provides practical suggestions at the end of each chapter that will help you to make the simple changes that will allow you to lose 2 or 3 pounds per month without resorting to conventional diet techniques that are doomed to failure. Although this book is based upon scientific research and extensively end-noted, it is enjoyable to read, easy to understand and quite funny at times.

This book is a great value for the money and the five or six hours that it will take to read it.
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on September 12, 2007
At the beginning, I wasn't very surprised with the ideas in this book. Everyone knows a smaller plate means you eat less. But it is so much more than that. It had the feel of Freakonomics and The Tipping Point with innumerable studies to explain our relationship with food. After reading Mindless Eating I understand why Doritos just introduced "two-flavor" bags of chips. My high school children really enjoyed listening to the studies and we've been applying them in the kitchen. It turned out to be the best non-diet (but lose weight) book I've read.
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Brian Wanskik, who conducts eating research in a strange experimental restaurant lab, uses his findings well in this fun-to-read book about the subtle sensory cues that encourage us to eat more than we should. Using common sense and science, he debunks all fad diets as creating more harm than good and then proceeds to show that biologically speaking our optimum weight-loss rate should be no more than a half a pound a week so we don't short-circuit our metabolism. Throughout the book, he peppers his chapters with "Reengineering Strategies." If we follow these easy-to-follow strategies, we will cut our calories between 100-200 a day, an amount that Wansik argues it the best for losing weight while keeping our metabolism active. He also devotes time to "Diet Danger Zones," so that we can see the warning signs of destructive eating habits and bad eating environments. While he does debunk most diet books, he makes an exception with The Volumetrics Eating Plan by Dr. Barbara Rolls.
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on November 27, 2006
This book has gotten a lot of hype and has been excerpted in a number of publications, which I had read before I got the book from the library. In fact, a lot of what is new and useful in the book was in the magazine excerpts; the rest of the stuff is conventional diet wisdom that any longtime dieter has heard before. For example: use smaller plates; eat slowly; don't bring the food container to the table; pay attention to what you're eating and don't read, watch TV, drive or do anything else at the same time; if you buy in bulk, divide the package into smaller mini- packages; keep sinful foods out of sight (like, no candy jar on your desk); stop when you're full and don't feel compelled to finish everything. All good advice, but not worth the price of the book. Rent, don't buy!
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Are you ready to go on a diet that you don't even know you are on? Do you wanna know the secret to cutting down on the amount of calories you consume without even thinking about it? Have the diets you've tried felt too difficult to stay on with all their rules and counting? If so, then I've got some good news to share with you.

What if I told you the reason why you are fat had nothing to do with calories, carbs, or fat grams, but rather on the power of the human brain to persuade or dissuade you from eating even when you may not be hungry. Would you be interested in hearing more? Sure you would and that's exactly why Dr. Brian Wansink wrote the book "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think."

As the Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Dr. Wansink regularly conducts studies looking at human beings when they eat. While that sounds like a job about as exciting as watching paint dry on the wall, in actuality it is really quite fascinating work. You may think your understanding of how much you eat and why you do it are cut and dry, but Dr. Wansink causes you to give your dining habits a second look.

Through his variety of experiments, Dr. Wansink has uncovered some amazing behavioral traits regarding food that are absolutely astonishing:

- Did you know that removing the evidence of the actual amount of food you have eaten, such as the shells from nuts, chicken bones, or candy wrappers, subliminally tells your brain that you have eaten about one-third less than you have?

- Did you know that fancy-schmancy sounding menu item at your local upscale restaurant served on really nice dishes fools you into overindulging on it when you would likely eat less of that same piece of food at home?

- Did you know that nearly three-fourths of the food decisions made in most households is in the hands of the person why buys groceries and prepares meals?

- Did you know having an open candy dish in your home or office makes it more likely that you will snack on whatever you put in there even when you are not hungry?

- Did you know you tend to eat more food when there are guests at the table with you than if you ate by yourself or with your spouse?

- Did you know munching while watching an hour of television causes you to eat nearly one-third more food than if the program was only a half hour?

- Did you know there are five different kinds of eaters with varying solutions for breaking their mindless eating habits (check out Appendix B in the back of the book to see if you fit any or all of the categories and how to combat it)?

Perhaps you are only now beginning to understand how easy it is to slip into a lull when you are eating, especially at times when you are distracted in some way. We always hear about the dangers of distracted driving, but what about distracted eating? Could that be the culprit behind the obesity crisis we are going through? It certainly makes for a theory worth looking into further.

"Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" takes you through some truly remarkable statistics about what compels us to eat more and more and not even know it. Check this out:

- How many food decisions do you think you make daily? 10? 15? Would you believe the answer is over 200?!

- Eating out of bigger bowls causes even nutritional scientists to eat more than they otherwise would.

- Overweight and obese people aren't the only ones to underestimate the calories in the foods they eat--SKINNY PEOPLE DO, TOO! The only difference is heavy people eat more meals than skinny ones do.

- You know all those flashy "Low-Fat" marketing logos you see posted prominently on food packaging? Three different studies have all shown this leads people to eat 14 percent more calories than the regular fat version of that same food.

- Placing a brownie on a plate of fine china versus putting that same brownie on a napkin tricks the mind into thinking the brownie tastes better and is worth twice as much as the one on the napkin.

- Almost nine out of ten men on a date ate more food than they normally would to "impress their dates."

- Men crave comfort foods that give them a sense of being taken care of and special like steak, pasta, pizza and burgers. But women, on the other hand, are not attracted to those foods. Instead, they want convenience snacks such as cookies, chocolate, and ice cream (especially from the container since there is no cleanup required!).

Maybe this concept that Dr. Wansink has discovered really does have merit to it, huh? Examples like this run all through "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" in an extremely easy and fun book. Dr. Wansink's humor is as prevalent as his research and you can tell he enjoys what he does for a living. You will want to thoroughly absorb the important message his book has to offer anyone struggling with their weight or fascinated by the psychology behind the subject of eating. Dr. Wansink brings two decades of science to the table and we are the benefactors of his amazing experiments.

As much as I admire the work Dr. Wansink has done on this subject of mindless eating, I have a few concerns about some of the conclusions he draws based on his work. I have personally overcome my obesity problem as a former 410-pound man who lost nearly 200 pounds by becoming more conscious of what I ate. Here are a few examples of conclusions Dr. Wansink reveals in his book that may not necessarily be the right solutions:

1. EXAMPLE: Since people tend to eat less when presented 100-calorie food options, it's a good idea to have these single-serving food sizes available in your home.

WHY THIS IS THE WRONG SOLUTION: These 100-calorie foods are nothing more than a marketing gimmick by the food manufacturers because what is to stop someone from eating 2, 3 or more of these 100-calorie snacks, hmmm? If you are counting calories, then perhaps these food items would help, but they are not the be all, end all solution.

2. EXAMPLE: Eat a piece of fruit before having a snack.

WHY THIS IS THE WRONG SOLUTION: While this sounds noble, it may not be a good idea for people watching their carb intake. Instead, do what Dr. Jonny Bowden suggests in his audiobook "Change Your Body, Change Your Life": Eat a small, leafy green 100-calorie salad 30 minutes before your meal or snack to start satisfying your body with something healthy and nutritious. You'll avoid the unnecessary sugar rush that comes from the fruit (unless it's low-glycemic like berries!).

3. EXAMPLE: Go ahead and eat French fries as long as you exercised that day.

WHY THIS IS THE WRONG SOLUTION: Say what?! I'm sure Dr. Wansink means well with this tradeoff of fries for exercising, but why would you negate the positive benefits of a great cardiovascular workout by subjecting your body to such high-carb garbage junk food as French fries? Try this: Get in a 30-45 minute walk (which you should be doing daily) and then reward yourself with a delicious homemade low-carb/high-protein meal like grilled chicken, green beans, and mashed cauliflower. And if you're feeling especially proud of yourself, go ahead and have some low-carb ice cream or chocolate. Mmmmm!

Even still, I agree with Dr. Wansink that we are not the masters of our domain when it comes to eating and making small changes in our habits can keep our weight in check. Just a tweak here and there really could make a difference in the amount of food we eat. That's a lesson that all of us could stand to learn.

Interestingly, in Appendix A located in the back of the book, Dr. Wansink does a comparison of the various popular weight loss plans highlighting what they are along with the advantages and disadvantages of each, including The South Beach Diet, The Sugar Busters Diet, The Weight Watchers Points Diet, The Zone Diet, and The Atkins Diet. Considering four out of five of these diets are low-carb, it shouldn't be surprising that Dr. Wansink believes these options are "too restrictive," "not suitable for vegetarians," "too expensive," and "cuts out many valuable nutrients." Sigh. While he certainly has the right to believe these things about livin' la vida low-carb, my personal experience has shown otherwise.

Nevertheless, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" is one of the most thought-provoking books on the subject of diet that I have seen in a very long time. While calorie and portion size reduction isn't necessarily the answer to rising obesity rates, I certainly agree that we all could probably stand to cut back on the subliminal eating we are doing.

In fact, as I was thinking about the lessons from this book for this review, my wife and I went to the local theater to watch a movie. My wife wanted to get the large popcorn at the concession stand, but I encouraged her to get the medium instead even though they offered a free refill on the large popcorn. Predictably, she ate the whole bag. Can you guess what would have happened if she got the large? Thanks to Dr. Wansink, I think you know the answer to that question.

With this book still fresh on my mind, I have one final thought: I wonder if Dr. Wansink has tested his theories out on any blind people. I'd be fascinated to see how his principles apply to a group of people without any concept of portion size, plate appearance, or the other factors that seem to run throughout his experiments. Maybe we'll see those in his sequel! THANKS for sharing your wealth of wisdom with us, Dr. Wansink!
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on November 23, 2007
Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink is a scientific view at why we eat the way we do and how we can change it to be healthier. I read some of Wansink's work in a recent TIME Magazine article, and I was hooked. I know that our emotions tend to control what and how much we eat, but I had no idea just how much our environment affects it. This is not a diet book, but Wansink offers several ideas for changing your mindset to encourage healthy weight loss. A few facts: we tend to want to eat the same amount of volume of food to feel full. If air or water is added to make the food appear larger, we will eat the same amount and feel just as full. Three year olds will eat until they are sated. Five year olds will eat the amount of food put upon their plate because they assume that it is the appropriate amount. If you are eating with 2 people, you will eat 50% more food than if you were eating alone. If you are eating with 7 or more people, you'll eat 96% more food than if alone. You'll eat more M&Ms in a bowl with 10 colors than with 7 colors. Wansink has done the most amazing experiments to determine why we eat the way we do, and it's a fascinating read. I couldn't put it down, and ended up reading much of it out loud to my husband. Wansink says if we add or subtract 100 calories a day to our diet, our body won't really notice, but it will mean the difference between gaining or losing a half pound a week. If we up the weight loss too much, our metabolism slows down making it harder to lose weight. Great ideas are included to change our eating habits and lose weight without noticing it. 50/50 plating of food: half of the plate should be protein and starch, the other half should be fruits or vegetables. Use smaller plates and taller glasses. I love this one: put ice in your drinking water. Your body has to work to warm up the water so if you drink 8-8 oz glasses of ice water a day, you'll burn 70 calories just from burning up the ice, and you won't even notice it! This is an idea even I can implement! Wansink writes like someone you'd love to invite to dinner for his scintillating conversation, as long as he wasn't watching what you ate!
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on October 21, 2006
I am distributing Mindless Eating as a gift to colleagues, relatives and Baby Boomer friends. Not many books come along with such broad appeal. Briank Wansink relates dozens of experiments in food consumption behavior. Each is (apparently) simple, but when they are all woven together the complex fabric of our behaviors emerges: why we overeat without intending to. Wansink doesn't scold us, but instead shows how we might turn our new understanding into mindful eating. The book is written with wit, humor, and pop culture references that make reading a pleasure. But never is the reader left to wonder if there is science behind the story and the lifestyle advice.
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on October 17, 2006
This is an absolutely terrific book--well-written ,with nice touches of humor and very specific, practical steps to take that absolutely should help you lower your weight without your wanting to slit your wrists. I've sent a dozen e-mails to friends recommending "Mindless Eating."
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VINE VOICEon October 1, 2007
Most researchers seem to tend toward the dry and ominous. Not here! This book is an engaging read that's full of fascinating information about food and psychology. This is one of those books where you say "Of course! That explains it!"

Each chapter covers actual studies of different aspects of eating behaviors and attitudes. At the end of each chapter are real-world strategies anyone can easily and immediately apply to what they've read. (My only quibble is that many studies center around college students, and I'd like to see more stratification among broad age groups.)
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