Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think

Mindless food eating

Summary and book review of “Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think”: Drawing upon many scientific studies to avoid overeating food, Mindless Eating helps us to rethink our own nutritional environment, little by little, with concrete strategies found in each chapter that are easy to implement.

By Brian Wanskink, 2006, 256 pages.

Note: This review is a guest review written by Marie Boyé Becker of the nutrition blog “Secrets of the Nutritionist”

Book review and summary of “Mindless Eating”:


Most of us are not aware of all the external environmental influences that drive us to overeat.  Family and friends, packaging materials and plates, brand names, and promotions. Or even shapes and smells, cupboards and containers.Four research laboratories dedicated to nutrition in the United States are mainly cited as the source of Mindless Eating, including the one directed by author Brian Wansink. These are university laboratories that are interested in the psychological aspects of food.

Is it a diet book? No! Eating is one of the great pleasures of life. Mindless Eating actually exposes the subliminal incentives that encourage us to overeat. It also advises us on how to eliminate them. In Mindless Eating, there are no recipes but only scientific discoveries! Marketing experts already know most of what is written in Mindless Eating, and they use it continuously! If you eat too much without knowing it, you can also eat less without noticing it! The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on. This is what the author tries to demonstrate to us through numerous scientific studies.

Chapter 1: The Mindless Margin

By describing an experiment with stale popcorn offered in two buckets at the movie theater. A very big format and a means. The author begins by giving us a truth brought out by repeating multiple experiments. People eat more if the bucket is bigger. That’s the case even if the stale popcorn is not terrific tasting! This is one of the factors, but other signals influenced this consumption of stale popcorn. It’s not in our nature to pause between 2 mouthfuls to ask ourselves if we are full; it is our duty to finish the food.

Another experiment described later, where a simple wine bottle label has influenced diners to eat more and stay longer at the table, reveals the awesome power of these bad influences of which we are not aware.

Before revealing his key concept of “mindless margin,” the author first focuses on the restrictive diets that don’t work, because they’re based on deprivation, and it’s estimated that 95% of people who are on such diets regain weight afterward.

The 3 reasons for this are:

  • Our body struggles: it goes into reserve mode. But it seems possible to lose 250g per week without triggering this reserve mode.
  • Our brain struggles: the deprivation of our favorite food can only be temporary, and it is impossible to trust the “cognitive control or will” of the brain, due to millions of years of evolution and instinct of survival that tell us to eat often and as much as possible…
  • Our environment fights against restrictive diets and is set to entrap all our efforts (smells from the street, TV commercials, temptations at the checkout in stores, etc…)

The good news is that these levers that are almost invisible can also be used in the opposite way to make us gradually lose a few pounds. By eating a little less than necessary without realizing it and therefore being less frustrated. The key to this success is due to the mindless margin.

In fact, gaining (or losing) weight is so gradual that most people do not understand how it happened. The mindless margin is the small amount of food we eat (more of or less of) under the influence but without being aware of it. In an article in SCIENCE magazine, Dr. Jamie O. Hill and Dr. John C. Peters suggested that a reduction of 100kcal per day could prevent weight gain in most Americans.

The best way to cut out 100 to 200kcal a day is to do it without feeling deprived. By doing so, we can weigh 5kg less five months later, which means fitting back into your clothes. Taking action on the amount that you eat without noticing it is possible; that is the secret to this loss of weight.

At the end of each chapter, the author concludes with strategies to put in our daily life with the help of the results of the scientific studies outlined.

STRATEGY 1: 20% More, 20% Less

  • Follow the precept of the Okinawans, which refers to stopping to eat by “hara hachibunme”, that is, to eat until your stomach is 80% filled
  • Dish out 20% less on your plate: 20% is not noticeable, whereas 30% is.
  • Reduce pasta by 20% and replace it with vegetables

Chapter 2: No Sooner Eaten Than Forgotten

Our stomach cannot count

We are simply not designed to memorize precisely what we have eaten. If we could see everything we have already eaten, we would probably eat less. It is with the experiment of all-you-can-eat chicken wings during Super Bowl Sunday that the author demonstrates this. During the evening, the waitresses were directed to remove the leftover bones from only half of the tables. The people sitting at the continuously cleared tables had eaten… continuously 28% more.

Mindless food eating

Unless we weigh ourselves very often, we only realize weight gain when we can no longer fit into our pants, that’s about 5kg. That said, this comes after a relatively long time! A lot of people use this as kind of warning device.

However, it was noted that inmates, in the US, with a sentence of 6 months gained 10 to 12kg in weight. The main culprit was in fact the very large orange jumpsuit that made it hard for them to know that they were gaining about 500g a week.

Our eyes

In fact, a large number of Barbara Roll’s studies converge to conclude that we are more or less incapable of knowing when we have eaten enough. In fact, if a person THINKS to have eaten a smaller volume of food, she/he will still feel hungry. If she/he thinks she/he has eaten more, she/he will feel full. Because the volume seen by the eyes prevails over the calories. Generally, at meals, we always try to eat the same volume amount on our plate.

Hearty appetite

Stopping when your stomach is full? It’s not easy because it depends on different factors. In particular, the faster we eat, the greater the quantity we eat. The author shows us this figure to explain the 3 settings of the stomach and concludes that the zone, “there is room”, is very large.

A lot of research shows that it takes about 20 minutes for our body and our brain to signal to us that we are full and that we take it into account. In the US, there is less than 20 minutes between the start of the meal and the time of clearing the table.

To add to this, you can read Olivier Rolland’s review on the blog, Zen habits: 5 excellent reasons to eat slower

Most of us actually decide how much food we will eat BEFORE putting the first spoonful in our mouth. Then, having an empty plate is consistently the goal to achieve.  This is so because it saves us from having to constantly ask ourselves the same question, “have I eaten enough?”.

Bottomless bowls

So, the author asked himself: what happens if the plate is never empty? He then designed an experiment of a soup bowl connected to a tube that prevented the level dropping too much by refilling the bowl through the bottom without the knowledge of the person eating. The result is that those who had a single bowl of 50cl (without a tube) ate 25cl. The other people who had a bowl attached to a tube, ate 45cl, and some managed to eat 1 liter!

STRATEGY 2: Don’t Lose Sight of What You Eat

Our eyes are often much more effective than our stomach when it comes to telling us whether we have eaten the right amount to feel full:

  • Arrange everything you think you’ll eat on a platter before you start (from starter to dessert) instead of digging into the dish or package again and again
  • Leave on the table bones, empty bottles, etc… to visualize what has been eaten or drunk

Chapter 3: Examine Your Table

Each item on the table (dish, glass, plate, different foods, packaging) can have an influence (more or less) on the amounts consumed and we are not aware of their influence. Under these influences, we can eat 20% more or 20% less without realizing it.

Several studies with dozens of different ingredients show that when you use a larger package, you eat more (spaghetti, chocolate candies, etc…).

Our brain tends to focus on the height of objects and not their width. Thus, we will tend to drink 25 to 30% more in a short and wide glass, rather than in a tall and thin glass.  This difference is due solely to an optical illusion!

Another optical illusion: the size of the plate.

The visual will not at all be the same in serving 125g of mashed potatoes in a plate measuring 20cm and a plate measuring 30cm! In addition, generally, the larger the plate (or the ice cream bowl, or salad bowl…), the larger the served portions will be. A piece of pie served in a large plate will even be considered less caloric than if it is presented in a small dessert plate!

Antique shops in the United States know full well that Grandma’s plates were much smaller 50 years ago!

Another area studied: the greater the variety of the diet, the greater likelihood of eating more.  The author demonstrates this, which is called “sensory-specific satiety”, with an experiment where 3 yogurt flavors were offered and resulted in people eating 23% more than when only one yogurt flavor was offered. The advice of the author in front of a varied buffet is to only put 2 different food items on your plate, and to return to the buffet if you are still hungry. The lack of variety in the plate will make you eat less.

STRATEGY 3: Control Your Tablescape Before It Controls You

In the laboratory, a table set according to these principles makes it possible to easily reduce by 15% the daily consumption of a person.

  • Decrease the size of your bowls, plates, boxes
  • Give the illusion of a little plate being full
  • Use the illusion of a tall, thin glass that’s not filled rather than using a small and wide glass
  • Do not accumulate leftovers that encourage eating. If there are leftovers, it’s because you’re preparing too much to begin with

Chapter 4: The Hidden Persuaders Around Us

Several studies show that if you have food around you / in front of you, it encourages eating. For example, the author describes experiments that demonstrate this principle with donuts but also with soup. In the United States, on eBay, there is a pig-shaped candy dish that squeals when one reaches for a piece of candy…

The author suggests rather to move the food out of sight, or if that’s not possible, to take an alternative route to not pass in front of it!

You can read the article on my blog “7 things to do to avoid snacking”

Professor Stenley Schachter has done thousands of hours of research to prove that the factors that make rats fat do the same to humans. His book could be summed up in one line: the more effort it requires to eat, the less we eat!

The author himself conducted an experiment with chocolates that were offered to secretaries. When the chocolates were on their desk, they ate 9 per day; in their drawer 6, and on top of a cabinet 2 meters from them: 4. It required from them a little more effort and also provided the opportunity for them to think about a real craving.

Similarly, to cope with the plague of dehydration of American soldiers, it was proven that they would drink 81% more water if a pitcher was placed on each table, rather than on a piece of furniture at the end of the room.

The author also warns us about the curse of promotional sales in bulk packs or in large lots in supermarkets. According to the studies, these purchases in large quantities mostly do damage the first week following the purchase. Then what follows is either a big waste in quantity, because, after a while, weariness takes over and we throw things away, or we eat them to finish them off even when we don’t actually want to (because the food is stale, etc…). And then, it’s a shame to put on weight with something that doesn’t bring us pleasure!

STRATEGY 4: Making Overeating a Hassle

  • Leave the dishes in the kitchen, and at least 2 meters from the table. And place vegetables on the table
  • Put the most tempting foods deep in the basement or in a difficult to access corner of the closet.
  • Close tightly the boxes and packages, pack the food well
  • Snack while sitting at the table, with a plate. It’s harder, more inconvenient and it even requires doing the dishes afterward.
  • Do your shopping after eating, make a list, always take the same path in the store. This is to avoid impulsive food purchases

Chapter 5: Food Scenarios

At the table, as in a store, the longer you stay, the more you consume

As soon as we are with people we enjoy (family, friends), we lose track of how much we’re eating; we eat longer and at a pace that is not ours. The solutions can then be:

  • To try to be the last to start eating
  • To keep pace with the guest who eats the slowest
  • Leave a little on your plate so that you are not given more to eat
  • To decide how much you will eat before the meal, and not during it

On average, in a group of 7 or more guests, you will eat 96% more. On the other hand, the group effect has a different effect depending on the person. The heavy eaters, when alone, will then eat less in a group. The lighter eaters, when alone, will eat more in a group. The exceptions to this are business lunches or romantic dinners where some people restrict themselves to make a good impression. Another effect is a somewhat macho behavior of those who think that a ravenous appetite is more manly and therefore eat more in these circumstances. These types of results were notably observed during a survey at the exit of a movie theater.

The less people watch TV, the slimmer they are

Mindless food eating

Those who watch television do less physical activity and eat more. On the other hand, when we eat in front of the television, our mind is concentrated on the screen, and since our stomach cannot count…

Indeed, anything that diverts our concentration of food during the meal may cause us to overeat involuntarily (television but also reading, listening to the radio, eating while driving, in front of the computer at work, etc…)

The author also tells us an experiment conducted with a hidden camera in a room where the clock was moving faster than normal (at 10 o’clock it indicated noon, etc…). Normal-weight individuals tended to rely on their internal clock and ate when they were hungry. Obese people tended to go off the wall clock.

Restaurant Golden Rules: Enjoy More and Eat Less

Experiments were also conducted in a gentle and cozy atmosphere with music. When we stay longer at the restaurant, we eat and / or drink more (unless we are aware, and we remain vigilant!). The experiment in an atmosphere of bright colors and loud music has shown that you can eat very fast and therefore too much as well.

Some tips for eating less at the restaurant:

  • Remove the breadbasket or ask the waiter to remove it
  • The dishes served in the restaurant are often large: order two starters instead, or eat half of your dish and take the other half home, if possible
  • If you want a dessert, find someone to share it with, often the first two bites are the best
  • Follow the rule of “pick-two”: the main course with either an appetizer, a dessert or a drink


Smells also play a big role in making us appreciate one dish or another. As proof, when you have a cold, you can’t find the taste you love so much.

The author mentions the pastry retail chain, Cinnabon, which spreads its scent of cinnamon in malls in the US in order to increase its turnover.

A study was done for the US Army Research Laboratory in Natick, Massachusetts. The study aimed to increase the appetite of the troops on the ground because their appetite was altered by the smells of gas oil or by wearing a mask. The author tested 3 different bowls of oatmeal: a normal bowl, a bowl containing artificial scents of grapes and cinnamon, and a bowl containing artificial aroma of macaroni cheese (which had nothing to do with the oatmeal that it was served in). In the laboratory, it was obvious that the conflicting scents put a serious damper on appetite because of the confusion between the senses of smell and taste. On the other hand, the oatmeal with cinnamon and grape aroma created an incentive to eat more. The actual impacts on the appetite of the soldiers remained “classified”.

The weather

Most of us lose a few kilos in the summer and gain them back in the winter. In summer, we are more active during nice days, but also because we drink more water and eat less due to the temperature of the air. During the winter, our body needs more energy to get warm and raise our body temperature. It speeds up our metabolism to make us hungry more often!

But what happens in spring and autumn? It is the “evolutionary psychology” that the author invokes to explain to us that we tend to eat more in autumn than in spring. This is so because previously in the spring the lack of food was often felt (empty granaries, emaciated game at the end of the winter), and that in the autumn it was the end of the harvests, the granaries were full, and the game very stout.

STRATEGY 5: Create Specific Food Scenarios

Yes, television, friends, and the weather have a strong influence on our food scenarios.

  • Appendix B of the book precisely describes 5 eater profiles (The Meal Stuffer, The Snack Grazer, The Party Binger, The Restaurant Indulger, The Desktop Diner) and describes favorable scenarios with tips for each of them.
  • Do not become distracted when you eat
  • Serve yourself before starting: the desired portion, and do not eat directly from the package or the dish

Chapter 6: Everything Is in the Name

Our perception of taste depends as much on the brain as on the palate!

Eating in the dark

The author describes an experiment conducted for the army. When soldiers are in a combat zone, they are often exhausted and stressed and do not eat enough and lose weight; some research on colors, packaging or wrapping is designed to trick soldiers into eating more. Eating in the dark is common for a soldier. The study conducted in 2004 at Natick’s US Army research laboratory on 32 civilians is presented as follows: they’re told that they will be eating strawberry yogurt, then the lights are turned off, they are actually given chocolate yogurt. 19 found a good strawberry taste! Except in special cases, we perceive the taste we expect to find!

Psychologists call this the “confirmation bias”: our taste buds are influenced by our imagination; that works both ways, if you think the dish is bad, it will be.

The French say that we first taste with our eyes; this principle is widely used in large restaurants with gold-trimmed plates, chocolate shavings on dessert, drizzles of sauce of garnish are all stimuli to make us think that the food will be delicious. An experiment in a cafeteria selling 12,000 brownies a year also revealed that it was better to present them in a porcelain plate because the customer would find it better and would be willing to pay more than if it was simply wrapped in a paper towel.

The magic of the menu

The titles of descriptive and tasty dishes work in two ways. Tempting names:

  • Entice us to order the dish,
  • Program our taste buds to expect a good taste

An experiment in a cafeteria, where just a few names of dishes had been changed, but where the quality was nothing exceptional, revealed that the dishes were found to be more appealing and tastier.

The descriptive adjectives used are often:

  • Geography: Cantonese rice, far Breton, etc…
  • Nostalgia: granny-style cake, old fashioned, …
  • Senses: melting mousse, crispy cod…
  • Brands: desserts garnished with candy of fast-food brands, or the name of the caviar brand in luxury restaurants

The psychosis with brands

A number of studies have compared well-known brand products with their counterparts of small brands or distributors. Especially when it comes to a famous brand of chips, even purists have not managed to find their favorite brand. So why are people buying more expensive brands? Because we like to remind ourselves and others that we are not at the bottom of the social ladder. In fact, we are convinced that the brand products are the best because of the brand, the price, the advertising.

Experiments show that for products such as vodka or wine the price influences the taste!

A good way to boost sales is to carefully select the names of dishes and labels.

That said, at the time the author wrote the book, Americans were very reluctant to consume soy. Nothing could be done about it… unless they were blindly tested without being told that there was soy in it.

STRATEGY 6: Create Expectations that Will Make You a Better Cook

  • The guest will taste what he/she expects to taste: describe the menu accurately and positively
  • Fine-tune the atmosphere: light, music, colors, tablecloth aesthetics, plates, glasses

Chapter 7: Comfort Foods

Mindless food eating

First, the 3 most common myths about comfort foods are:

Myth # 1: Comfort foods are generally bad for your health

To debunk this myth, the author conducted an experiment on 1,004 Americans. Although chips topped the list, 40% of comfort foods that people mentioned were still healthy products(pasta, meat, soup…). Furthermore, the surprise comes from different responses between men and women when they are offered a long list of comfort foods. Women chose ice cream first, then chocolate and then cookies, while men mentioned ice cream, pizza and pasta.

Myth # 2: People turn to comfort foods when they are sad, stressed or bored.

The survey of those 1,004 same Americans showed that they were nearly twice as likely to buy comfort food when they were happy than when they were sad. In contrast, the mood did seem to influence the nature of the chosen food (less healthy if in a bad mood or when watching a sad movie)

Myth # 3: The choice of comfort foods takes place during childhood

Our relationship to comfort food is almost always unconscious.

The association with a memory is the most common reason for a food to become comforting, concludes the author thanks to his thorough interview technique that he teaches to students. The second reason for the attraction is, according to this technique, the identification with the food that people perceive as matching their personality (a “sweet and soft” sponge cake, a “warm and nourishing” soup).

At any time in life, one can adopt a new comfort food!

The true nature of your hunger, from the book:

A survey of soldiers who fought in the South Pacific and their eating habits, to know whether or not they had kept Asian cuisine in their daily lives, leads the author to conclude that the state of mind in which we find ourselves at the moment we taste a food for the first time can leave a mark for the rest of our lives.

Do you save the best for last?

One experiment concluded that those who start with the best were often either the youngest of their siblings or belonged to a large family (where competition is rampant); while those who tend to save the best for last were often single children or the oldest in their family (the food would still be waiting for them at the end of the meal as a child).

An observation of the author’s students who participated in the distribution of meals to the Salvation Army, where people are hungry and are afraid to miss their meal, is that a large part of them eat the high-calorie dishes before the salads and fruits, which were either eaten last or not at all.

STRATEGY 7: Make Comfort Foods More Comforting

They help us to appreciate life!

  • Do not deprive yourself: keep your comfort foods but eat them in smaller amounts
  • Change comfort foods: for example, by combining a healthy food with a positive event, or instead of a bowl of triple chocolate ice cream, have a smaller bowl with strawberries

Chapter 8: Nutritional Gatekeepers

The nutritional gatekeeper

For the most part, we believe we are masters of our food choices, but Mindless Eating will undoubtedly have convinced you that it is only an illusion. The nutritional gatekeeper of the household is the one who exerts the greatest influence on the way their family feeds itself (they do most of the shopping and prepare the main meals). According to 1 interview of 800 dietitians, nurses and doctors, the nutritional guardian controls 72% of the dietary decisions of their children and their spouse.

The author then talks about an interview of 317 good cooks, apparently a mysterious breed in the USA. These good cooks clearly enabled their families to eat healthier because of the variety of foods they served.

He then calls to imitate them by giving 5 tips:

  • Buying different foods
  • Trying new recipes (including ethnic ones)
  • Replacing some ingredients in your favorite recipes with vegetables or spices
  • Going shopping with the kids and letting them choose healthy food
  • Visiting authentic ethnic restaurants

Food inheritance: like mother, like daughter

It is clear that the child adopts certain tastes of their mother while they’re sleeping away in the womb.

In addition, seeing someone grimace while eating can make a very young child dislike a certain food. Even if it is delicious, kindness and smiling will have the opposite effect. From an early age, children perceive the anxiety and food obsessions of their parents.

Food conditioning

In the same vein as Pavlov’s experience of ringing a bell every time he fed his dogs, the author persuades us with the help of well-chosen examples that we can effectively condition our children with our words and our healthy eating behavior. Thus, during one experiment, ‘the power peas’ and ‘rain forest smoothies’ (vegetable juice) were a great success. Moreover, these associations can also be used inversely by creating negative associations with unhealthy foods.

Serving sizes for Life

The author draws on the studies of Leann Birch and Jennifer Fisher to state that eating habits causing overweight take hold between ages 3 and 5. A 3-year-old child will stop eating until they are no longer hungry, regardless of the serving size,whereas a 5-year-old child can consume a huge amount of food if you give it to them. Most people, including adults, assume that the packaged (individually) or served portion is the right one. Therefore, the more things we have on our plate, the more we eat.

STRATEGY 8: Assume the Role of the Nutritional Gatekeeper

The nutritional gatekeeper controls 72% of what their family eats. However, children eat what seems good for them, which is practical, and in portions that they consider appropriate. This provides them with a positive lifetime food behavior:

  • Know how to sell your product: healthy foods can be fresh, crunchy, thirst-quenching, make you strong, smart… be convincing!
  • Offer them variety: try new recipes, new ingredients, exotic dishes, restaurants of ethnic cuisine, …
  • Follow the half-plate rule filled with vegetables and fruits
  • Normalize portions: prepare everyone’s share to snack on, do not leave food out in the open

Chapter 9: Fast Food Fever

Less effort

Fast food conquers the world because it was designed to offer us the three tastes that centuries of evolution have led us to crave: fat, salt, and sugar. In addition, there are two more advantages: they are fast and of good value. Since our tendency is to favor the least amount of effort, we have made it possible to buy almost any food ready to heat, to eat fast food on every corner, and even without getting out of the car thanks to the drive-thru and even… with home delivery pizzas.

The illusory impact of nutritional information

The wrath of fast food detractors focuses on what they neglect to provide: nutritional information. The author focuses on Subway (chain of sandwiches) which bombarded his customers with nutritional information in their restaurants, and on McDonald’s, which provides them in a very subtle way. But what do the customers of these two fast-food restaurants remember? The author tried to find out by questioning 250 customers after their meal at both places. In other results, Subway customers retained, on average, more nutritional information and ate less than at McDonalds (677kcal vs. 1,093kcal), but everyone underestimated what they had eaten (495 kcal against 876 kcal).

Of all the studies on drinks, consumers underestimate, by about 30%, the number of calories they take in. In his lab, the author has developed a 10/20 rule of thumb to teach people how to estimate the calories of a drink:

Mindless food eating

  • Thin drinks: 10kcal for 3cl
  • Thick drinks: 20kcal for 3cl

Furthermore, he calculated that by drinking two liters of ice water, we spend 70kcal to warm it to our body temperature, a figure close to the mindless margin.

Do low-fat products make you fat?

We are surrounded by fat-free, carb-free, sugar-free products. But is a low-fat food healthy? Often a low-fat food is not much less caloric than the standard product. And often the consumer, careless and guilt-free, tends to eat more of it!

Health halos and nutritional information

Using an experiment on nutrition bars labeled with a health claim or not, the author shows us that the health claim has such a beneficial halo that consumers, in the questionnaire they were given, attributed to it many more qualities than it actually had.

Thus, we end up overeating products that we consider good for our health, regardless of the portion.

Fighting obesity: reduce portions and stop blaming brands

All agribusiness companies are looking to make a profit. They do not care if you eat the products or not, as long as you continue to buy them! They are not there to make us obese but to sell their products! The author makes us aware that it is the consumer who, by his acts of purchase, will guide which products are to be sold by the manufacturers. If, for example, tomorrow we were all to go to fast-food restaurants to eat salads, we would soon find Mc Salads Bar or Broccoli King on every street corner! Because nobody can motivate us more to change our eating habits and our physical activity than ourselves! However, well-intentioned marketing can help us take the first step!

He then gives five tips to marketing managers to give us healthy food while continuing to get something out of it. These tips are related to the strategies given at the end of each chapter:

  • Offer large packages but also small ones
  • Package the food so that it provides the consumer with a pause time
  • Change recipes, while making sure they remain good
  • Provide simple labeling but without having any illusions
  • Maintain an affordable price

STRATEGY 9: Limit Portions

  • Be wary of the health halo: the healthier the food, the more of it we eat (experiment with people who ate low-fat granola and who consumed 21% more)
  • Think smaller even if the large container is cheaper or share with another person (more cost-effective solution)

Chapter 10: Eating Better Without Thinking About It

The author concludes that all of his research suggests that the key to change lies midway between:

  • Eliminating all the factors of the consumer society: low prices, overabundance of food, government subsidies to farmers, but also agribusinesses that increase the size of packages and inactivity. It would be extremely long and difficult to implement
  • The full accountability of the individual who must count his calories, wander from diet to diet, pay attention to every bite of the 200 food decisions he/she has to make a day: it is exhausting, and it is subject to relapses.

So, he compiled these many scientific studies to convince us to re-arrange our own nutritional environment, with the goal of eating better and avoiding overeating under the influence of the hidden persuaders.

Eating better, however, has a different meaning for everyone: eating less, or eating more balanced, without guilt or with more pleasure. It’s about finding the right way. Our body and mind rebel against the restrictive diets that include 1,200kcal daily instead of 200. On the other hand, our body and mind don’t notice a reduction of 100 to 200kcal per day. We can easily cut out this number of calories each day, and, to do so without thinking about it (named in Mindless Eating, “concept of mindless margin”)

The strategies listed in each chapter allow small adjustments to the nutritional environment. Therefore, we can choose the ones that are the most judicious and the most motivating for us and adapt them to fit our unique situation, by making compromises and by establishing food policies that can be followed.

The power of 3

To get started, the author suggests choosing 3 100kcal changes to your diet that can easily be made.  He calculated that 3100 kcal changes equals 15kg lost in one year. Even if we only choose 1 or 2, that is 5 to 10kg less on the scale.

To change an old habit to a new one, experts say it takes about 28 days (or a month), then it becomes easy.

So, to respect these 3 changes over at least 28 days, the recommended technique is to write down on a sheet of paper noting it in table form: the 3 changes on 3 lines and make 28 opposite columns. Then every day, check off the commitments that you kept. The author goes as far as to promise that one will lose 500g for 32 checks! Once these habits become automatic, you can implement other changes.

And after a difficult day, how do you hold up? The author warns not to fall into the trap of giving in to temptation by exception (it’s a difficult day, so I’ll reward myself…). By making a habit of filling your table with checks every day, you can avoid this.

There is no point in running. Strung together, these simple steps will get rid of a kilo a month, the author promises. He concludes with his favorite sentence: “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”.

Book critique of Mindless Eating”:

Many studies highlight important points that I fully adhere to as a nutritionist, Including the theory of the mindless margin. Perhaps a better name for this could be ‘baby steps theory’; that is to say, cutting out a few calories a day to not cause the body to resist. After a few months, very good weight loss results are observed.

However, I do not agree with doing it “mindlessly” because filling out one’s chart for 28 days does take a lot of effort to think about! Changes can only be made if we think about them during mealtimes!

The author, perhaps entangled in these American habits, overlooks eating slowly. He considers as an inevitability that, in the USA, one eats quickly. Unless there are many people at the table, we stay there longer, and as a result, we eat too much. He does not include what I find as a crucial point in these strategies: slow down!  (or he hardly does by mentioning to keep the same pace as the guest who eats the slowest!)

Strong points of the book Mindless Eating:

  • Many experiments, conducted in laboratories, that speak to us and that demonstrate the point
  • At the end of each chapter, there is advice in the form of concrete strategies that can be applied from your home
  • A lot of strategies that are small adjustments to our food environment, which can yield great weight loss results

Weak points of the book Mindless Eating:

  • Since the book was written in the United States by an American, the food environment is not quite the same as in France
  • The author makes it clear that eating better has a different meaning for everyone. However, he forgets to mention that the road is full of pitfalls and relapses when one takes up good habits.
  • Concerning the final advice to choose only 3 changes from all the strategies mentioned: how should one choose them? One can find him/herself lost in wanting to follow this advice, which requires a lot of autonomy and insight into one’s specific situation

My rating : Mindless food eating Mindless food eating Mindless food eatingMindless food eatingMindless food eatingMindless food eatingMindless food eatingMindless food eatingMindless food eating

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