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Messing with people? I love this guy!

Posted Jul 01 2009 6:38pm

I've been meaning to talk about this author and book for a while now, and when I heard him being interviewed on MPR this morning ( you can listen to it here ) I took it as a sign to make it my next entry.  

This is another one of my favorite books: " Mindless Eating - Why We Eat More Thank We Think" and I love it because not only is it about nutrition, it's also about messing with people's minds.  (I can be a little diabolical that way)  It's written by Brain Wansink, who earned his doctorate at Stanford and is currently the Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  The book is really a collection of experiments done on people to look at how much and why people eat - namely the little things we mindlessly do every day that add up to major weight gain over time.  Which movies make us eat faster?  How much soup will someone consume when the bowl is secretly being refilled?  Does plate size affect how much food is eaten?  

Here are a couple of my favorite experiments:

Eating in the Dark:  Participants were brought in to do some taste testing of strawberry yogurt.  They were told it was being designed for soldiers to eat while in combat situations so it needed to be easy to eat - especially if it was dark outside - and it needed to taste good.  They put them in a dark room and gave them yogurt to sample.  Nineteen of the thirty-two participants rated it as having good strawberry taste.  One even said the strawberry yogurt was her favorite and that this was her new favorite brand.  Here's the kicker:  THEY WERE GIVEN CHOCOLATE FLAVORED YOGURT.   Moral of the story:  We taste what we think we should taste.  

Stale Movie Popcorn:  Every person entering the movie theater was given free popcorn - either a large or medium size bucket - both of which were selected to be big enough that nobody could finish all the popcorn.  Unbeknownst to them, the popcorn in the buckets was 5 days old.  Totally nasty and stale.  At the end of the movie they asked everyone to bring their popcorn container with them.  The people with the large buckets ate an average of 173 more calories of popcorn than the people with the medium size buckets.  Of stale popcorn!.   Moral of the story:  The quality of food is not what led them to eat.  Once they started eating, the taste didn't matter.  They ate out of habit, and if they had a lot of food to eat from, they ate more.

Why French Women Don't Get Fat:  They had 282 Parisians and Chicagoans fill out questionnaires asking them how they decided it was time to stop eating a meal.  Parisians reported that they usually stopped eating with they no longer felt hungry.  Chicagoans reported stopping after they ran out of a beverage, or when their plate was empty, or when the television show they were watching was over.   Moral of the story:  Rely on internal cues to stop eating rather than external cues.

The book is a quick and easy read, made up of intriguing and entertaining experiments.  The final chapter of the book takes everything they learned through their experiments and puts them into strategies to make sure you don't eat more than you need to.   In effect, MINDLESS WAYS TO UNDER EATinstead of mindlessly over eating.  

You will love this book.  You can read it one experiment at a time or devour it in one sitting.  Kind of like that bag of chips......

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