2014 Reading

Reading 2014: Mindless Eating

January 30, 2014


My interest in this book came after my husband told me he was about to read it, and as soon as I heard the title, I thought, “mindless eating–I know about that!”

Following the birth of our second child, I found myself gaining a lot of weight, fast. We were in one of the most stressful seasons of our lives (hopefully ever), and by the time I was fifty pounds overweight, I realized I was gaining weight rapidly. I began to evaluate how I’d gotten to that point and what I could change. Stress itself is capable of creating hormonal imbalances that keep one overweight, but I also realized that I was doing a lot of mindless eating. (Some may say that to do that I must have “made food my God,” but most of the time I didn’t even notice I was eating (and therefore, wasn’t enjoying it).) It was as though my hands needed something to do, and putting food into my mouth was one thing I could do. I ate lots and in a hurry at mealtimes, and rarely noticed how frequently I ate during the day. Part of this was stress, part of this was life with two babies, and part was just not noticing my portion sizes at meals…not to mention that my body’s metabolism had drastically changed due to motherhood and stress.

That was my personal experience with mindless eating, but in Brian Wansinki’s exploration of overeating in Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,he covers a lot more than the type of mindless eating I explained above.

From plate size, to packaging size, and portion size; from Costco or Sam’s Club to the food’s appearance; from food names to food labels and more, these are all elements that affect how much, when, and what we choose to eat. Much of this seems like common sense, but what is interesting is that even those who were aware of such research findings or were skilled in careful food planning fell for these traps to eat more than they planned. Most of us think that these are factors that have potential to influence others, but consider ourselves “smart enough” not to fall for it. But the studies in the book remind us all to think again.

Regardless of how one feels about one’s own relationship with food, this is a fascinating study on how subtle changes and factors can psychologically drive us to eat much more than we think we are eating. This isn’t a diet book, but it is likely that many of the findings would be helpful to implement for anyone who understand that their primary weight-gain issue is overeating.

While this book is both fascinating and practical, one weakness is that it often equates weight with health. Similarly, it conflates overeating as unhealthy eating and eating smaller portions as healthy eating. Recent articles have also been making rounds across the Internet: men who limit their portion sizes, but are able to eat at McDonald’s without gaining weight. I think this is a confusing message about what healthy eating truly is, and this book does not do much to delineate between not overeating and eating healthy. America is certainly in a health crisis, and particularly when it comes to diet and nutrition. Portion sizes may help some, but it does not address the underlying issue of faulty nutrition.

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  • Lewis January 30, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Keren, great article. I know I do a lot of mindless eating. Also, I learned a new word. Conflate. I guess I had been in the dark about this one for a long time.

    • Keren February 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks, Lewis. I think most of us do…even when we realize that it happens. Also, conflate is a very important word. Maybe not, but I use it a lot! 🙂

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