Brian Wansink loaned me the title for this article. I borrowed it from his forthcoming book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More That We Think.
The book, which I read in galley proofs, is not only great research but also great writing. I hope that it will be a best-seller, and I have every expectation that it will be. Bantam Books will publish it as a hardcover on October 17 for $25, ISBN 978-0-553-80434-8. You can pre-order it now from Amazon.com.
Professor Wansink, the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, has spent 20 years studying the hidden cues that determine how we eat. He has worked on more that 250 studies and has written more than 100 journal articles about our eating behavior.
He told me about his new book when I corresponded with him about one of those studies. I reported on that study, “Size Matters,” here.
The book is every bit as useful and interesting as that study of the cues that we get from the size of the bowls and silverware that we use. That study is just one of the many that the book tells us about.
Dr. Wansink emphasizes the small adjustments that we can make to eat better. The key is better.
For example, he notes that he is a member of the American Dietetic Association, which has the goal of “eating right,” the organization’s very domain name.
“The problem is that [eating right is] just too daunting for most of us,” he writes. “It seems so absolute and so joyless. But the idea of eating better is do-able. Eating better entails small steps.”
This is a good application of the general principle that “The best is the enemy of the good,” which Voltaire enunciated in his 1772 poem, “La Bégueule.” As I remember, Voltaire’s English wasn’t so good, and he actually wrote “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” And Voltaire was just the pen name that François-Marie Arouet used, but the principle still holds today.
While I already knew some things about mindful eating, I learned a lot more from the book. Following M. Voltaire and Dr. Wansink, I have made at least four small but significant changes in the way that I eat:
1. One of Dr. Wansink’s studies reported that people who listened to a lunchtime radio mystery show ate 15 percent more than those who didn’t. I have now stopped listening to the radio at lunch to say nothing of watching a DVD or reading my email or looking at websites.
2. People who eat only at the kitchen or dining room table eat less. Until I read this, I made an exception for fruit. I would eat this summer’s wonderfully juicy Colorado peaches and plums at the kitchen sink. No more.
3. When we eat directly from a package we eat more. Until now, I made an exception for eating some of the plain non-fat yogurt that I love. No more.
4. The best part of a dessert is the first two bites, Dr. Wansink says. This summer my favorite dessert has been fresh, local, organic peaches, and some of them have been huge. From now on I am buying only the smaller ones.
There are so many great tips like these in the book that other people will undoubtedly find other ways to improve their eating habits in several small steps. This book is aimed at all Americans, not just those of us who have diabetes or are overweight.
I mentioned to Dr. Wansink that his book mentions diabetes only a few times and then just in passing. I wondered why.
“I indeed am very interested in helping with the diabetic cause,” he replied. “There were a number of other diabetes-related mentions in the original draft, but the decision was made to broaden the focus away from an exclusive one on weight loss.”
I also asked him if the subtitle of the book, “why we eat more than we think,” was deliberately ambiguous. It can mean both that we eat more than we think that we do AND that we eat more food than we think thoughts.
He did mean it to be ambiguous. “I was wondering if anyone would pick that up,” he told me.
Dr. Wansink’s research shows that we have to make more than 200 decisions about the food we eat every day. Mindful eating means that we need to think more – not less – about food.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.