Have you heard of the study where moviegoers were given 10 day-old stale popcorn in large buckets and ended up eating 45% more than people given fresh popcorn in smaller buckets? How about the study about the magic soup bowls that refilled as people slurped away not knowing how much they were really eating? If you’ve heard of either of these studies on consumer habits, they originated in the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. I recently had the pleasure of dining with Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of said lab. Brian authored the book, Mindless Eating, which is my current recommended read!
Brian is originally from Sioux City, Iowa, and attended Drake University for his master’s degree in psychology before heading to Stanford for his Ph.D. He was recently given a Drake Alumni Achievement Award and so a few of us from Drake took him and his family to dinner last week. During dinner we got to ask him all sorts of fun questions about his day job and get some insight into what really goes into these studies. For example, “Hey Brian, how do you get all this data about the habits of people who eat at buffets?” Well that’s pretty easy, he just hangs out in buffets inconspicuously taking notes here and there. Cornell also has a fun restaurant that is connected to the food lab where people get to dine in various settings, like the dark, so the researchers can determine if they’ll end up eating more because they can’t easily see how much they’ve eaten.
Here is a snippet is what you can expect from his book, which I recommend you read!
- We rarely notice when we eat 100 or 200 extra calories and likewise, it’s rare that we notice those same calories missing from our daily intake. Are you a mindless eater? Do you grab a handful of candy when you walk past your colleagues desk each morning? What about the taste testing you do when you’re preparing your kids lunches before work? Are you a sucker for the sample food displays at your supermarket? These little mindless habits add up and can contribute to gradual weight gain over the years.
- The first bite tastes the best! You know it’s true but I bet you’ve never thought about it, right? As I was eating a cookie this weekend I thought about this concept and turns out it’s true. The first bite was the best, the second still tasted good but by the end, the cookie didn’t taste all that great so I decided not to finish it.
- When you have too many options you’ll probably overeat. I can definitely relate to this one when I think about eating pizza at restaurants with a group of friends. If there are three varieties of pizza I’ll most likely try a piece of each. If there were one variety I’d probably only eat two slices. In the end I’ll be eating more just because I wanted to try them all.
- Distracted eaters eat more because they’re not paying attention to their internal cues to signal satiety. It’s hard enough to pay attention to these cues when you’re not distracted but adding television, driving, or eating while checking email at your desk in the mix and so much for eating until your 80% full. My husband and I have a little food rule we adhere to at home: we can only eat in front of the television when we eat pizza, which isn’t terribly often. It’s actually kind of exciting when we do have pizza because then it’s “Oh, should we watch Weeds, or Breaking Bad, or Dexter?”
The book Mindless Eating shares ideas to help you overcome these obstacles that you might not even realize are present in your life. If you’re a nerd for all things science and research, this book is definitely for you! It’s an easy and fun read and I recommend it for anyone looking to maintain their current weight or those looking to drop a few to several pounds. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, eating with Brian wasn’t nearly as stressful as it could have been. Beforehand I did wonder if maybe he’d be counting the pieces of bread I took from the bowl (just one!) but I can confidently say when he’s not at work, he’s not taking notes. Or maybe he’s just that sneaky; who knows.