Mindless Eating, A book summary

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Mindless Eating has been on my “to-read” shelf for a long time. It wasn’t until I heard Ramit Sethi suggest it to Tim Ferriss that I finally purchased it. I’m glad I did. Many of the ideas of psychology, situations and circumstances, and cognitive biases were in this book. Not only that, but they were presented solely as they relate to food, giving me a chance to reflect on how these ideas could be expanded.

Some parts of this book I was already familiar with, like the idea that we eat more off larger plates. I had heard this suggestion on some morning show. What I didn’t know though, was why we did this. I needed to dive deep and better apply the five elements of understanding to what I had just read.

Why do we eat less when served food in and on smaller cups and containers?

The secret is that we take the vessel size as a clue for how much to eat. I have no idea how hungry I truly am and I’m not alone. Louis CK says we have “first world hunger.” We poorly gauge how hungry we are and how much we’ve eaten. We then rely on the next best thing, the context.

If things appear large, because they are in a smaller package for example, then we eat less. There is an implicit message that if you eat everything that was on or in something, you are done. The book shows evidence of this from everything from stale movie popcorn to refillable bowls of soup. In fact, the book is worth reading just to see the creativity of some experiments.

Another confirmed bias the book shares is expectation assimilation. This occurs when our experiences are what we expect them to be. The book explains a study of two groups of restaurant patrons, some who had a Californian wine from a new vineyard and some who had a North Dakotan wine. In reality it was the same $10 bottle, the old labels removed. What happened? The people drinking what they thought was from California ate more, stayed longer, and said it was a nicer dining experience than their peers in the other part of the restaurant. Same food, same wine, same night, but different wine.

Shakespeare was prudent in asking if a rose (wine) by any other name does taste different.

My own anecdotal experience was this summer when we went to Hershey Park. It was a nice park, but not quite a Disney park. It wasn’t quite as clean, thoughtfully laid out, or themed the same way. I probably had some expectation assimilation as we went through the parks and while I would return to Hershey, it wasn’t Disney.

If you like reading about psychology or food (or both like me!) then run out and get it. Or better yet, sign in to Amazon and order it now.

One side note, as I was reading this book I was writing in the margins and my oldest daughter was stunned that you were allowed to do this. I explained that it helped me understand. She walked away, not convinced of my answer, and I realized the other places we include implicit messages. Don’t’ write in that book her teacher at school might say, but what’s the inherent meaning in that? Signals to mindlessly eat and many others are all around us. This book brings some of them front and center.

Have you read Mindless Eating or have a question for me? Let me know on Twitter, @MikeDariano.


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