09 April 2012

Book Review

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

The main thesis of the book is that humans have a tendency to gain weight because they eat mindlessly.  They don’t pay too much attention to what they eat, or how much they eat, or the healthiness of what they eat.

Wansink first makes the case that people often rely on many cues to tell them when they’ve had enough.  Common cues include empty containers and serving dishes.  Once the food runs out, we tell ourselves we’re full.  In many ways, it’s amazing how easily we fool ourselves when it comes to food.  Instead of paying attention to the cues our stomach sends our brains, we often rely on our environments to tell us when we’ve had enough.

Also, humans are terrible at tracking caloric intake.  We often underestimate how much we eat.  One main reason for this is simply due to how easy it is to forget food that we acquire conveniently.  Wansink also points out that we can set in place a variety of terrible eating habits, like using unhealthy foods (think ice cream) as positive reinforcements for special occasions (like getting an A on a report card), which biases our eating habits later in life.

Fortunately, Wansink proposes simple dietary solutions to the problems that he identifies and explains throughout the book.  Most of his solutions don’t require impossibly demanding deprivation, but rather restructuring the habits that we form around food so that one starts to thoughtlessly eat less instead of thoughtlessly eating more.

The book is short, fast-paced, and somewhat action- oriented.  It does drag at a couple of points, but it picks up the pace quickly, and moves on to fascinating things.  The book is centered more on behavioral psychology and neurology than on nutrition, which sets it apart from many other diet books.  Better yet, the advice does not require radical lifestyle changes as much as it requires a couple of tweaks.
There’s more to the book besides this, obviously, and it is very much worth a read.


  1. Look at paleo eating. Not all calories are the same and different foods cause different physiological effects.

  2. I'm through with the paleo diet after several years of mod-carb, low-carb, high-carb and just feeling plain "off" all the time. I follow more of a whole-foods, eat with the seasons and cook for yourself plan. And I have a much lower stress level now so I don't overeat like I used too.

    I agree that our satiety cues are more environmental than internal. We live in an environment saturated with food. It is available to us all of the time, constantly signalling "eat!" even when we don't need to. There is also something to Guyenet's food reward hypothesis - that much of our commercial food is so synthesized and flavor enhanced by food scientists that hyperpalatability occurs and we just crave more and more with each passing meal.

    As with so many other aspects of modern life, the way we eat is not in line with natural law.

  3. @Anon.- The book addresses Paleo dieting to a limited extent in the book (albeit indirectly). I have considered paleo dieting, which led me to mostly eliminating processed foods from diet. Since the book primarily concerns itself with behavioral psychology and not nutrition (as clearly noted in my review), nutrition is not particularly germane to the discussion. When I finally get around to reading The Primal Blueprint, I will discuss nutrition in more depth.

    @Jennifer- Thanks! Your comments are always appreciated.

    @Cranberry- I suspect that proper nutrition is relative, which is why nutrition-based diets are so hit-and-miss. Behavior is a better approach because human behavior is more universal.