To supplement my education, I am currently reading Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think by renown food psychologist Brian Wansink, PhD. Although I am only half way through the book, the things I have learned thus far have been eye opening. Mainly that people make over 200 decisions about food everyday and that most of these decisions are not influenced by hunger, but by lighting, music, the size of the food container and the company we keep.
One of the most interesting things I have read so far is how much people rely on external cues, such as the size of a dinner plate, to tell them when they are full. When same portion of food, such as a scoop of mashed potatoes, is placed on an 8-inch plate and a 12- inch plate, people eating off of the 8-inch plate will be more satisfied than those eating off of the 12-inch plate (p. 66). Even though the amount of food is exactly the same, the portion looks larger on the 8-inch plate, therefore people perceive that they are eating more food. I would guess that those with the 12-inch plate are more likely to ask for seconds than those with the 8-inch plate simply because they feel like they didn’t eat as much: the food didn’t take up as much room on their plates. The more we rely on external cues to tell us when we are done eating, the more likely we are to have trouble regulating our weight.
Not surprisingly, none of us are immune to the tricks our eyes play on us. Dr. Wansink and his team carried out a study in which the subjects were his colleagues from the Nutritional Science Division at Cornell University. The scientists were invited to an innocent ice cream party where some were given 17-ounce bowls, and some were given 34-ounce bowls. Even though the subjects were PhDs with loads of experience and insight, those with the 34-ounce bowls still ate 31% more ice cream than their 17-ounce bowl counterparts (p. 67). Basically, even if you are aware of the tricks your mind can play, it will still get the best of you.
It might seem like there’s no escape, but I believe that there is hope. Since I began reading this book, I’ve noticed that I have been paying much more attention to the reasons behind my eating and behind my stopping eating. In my opinion, being aware of all of these external distractions is the first step toward having control over my eating decisions. Now I question whether I’m eating that last piece of chicken because I’m physically hungry for it, or because the music/TV/lighting has distracted me into it. I’ve found that I’m eating less now that I’m better educated and more aware of how my eyes and surroundings can trick me.
Wansink, Brian. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think. New York: Bantam, 2007