Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Review: Mindless Eating

Since I'm still a bookworm, I've read "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" by Brian Wansink.

It's an interesting read, but when I think of mindfulness, it implies a connection between all things - myself, the environment, other people, and so on. This book seems to be focused strictly on how we mindlessly eat too much and how this leads to people being overweight. So I guess it's not really an ecologically focused book. It seemed like it could (and should) be from the title, but that was my big disapointment.

The research is still very interesting, and just because the author doesn't focus on the relationship between mindless eating for an individual and the impact that has on the world at large, doesn't mean I couldn't think about those issues as I was reading.

I have to question some of his research (I know, I'm not the one with the PhD, but still, bear with me). A lot of the research had to do with participants estimating caloric content of different foods. Maybe I'm an exception here, but I have no IDEA how many calories are in anything. I know what foods are good for me and which aren't, but I really don't know or care how many calories they contain. I care about whether they contain iron, protein, calcium, and other vitamins, but even then, I couldn't tell you how many of each of these are in any given fruit or veggie. So calories? Couldn't be less interested. Does this make me an anomaly? Can most Americans tell you how many calories are in a slice of pizza or an apple?

One very interesting point that he discusses is consumption norms - basically the idea is that when a product is in a larger package (and this applies to non-food items like shampoo, as well) we use or eat more because the packaging prompts us to. I think it's worth considering transferring some food items to smaller containers with this in mind. I actually purposely, for some time now, have purchased walnuts from the bulk bin in fairly small quantities (they're expensive, for one thing - about $10/lb.) and I find that I use less when I have less of them on hand - but it's still enough to make my salad plenty tasty.

There were a few things that I thought were pretty bad in this book, like his suggestion that if you're going to eat at McDonalds, throw half the fries in the trash before you get to the table. The idea is that we'll mindlessly eat whatever is served to us. Sorry, I can't sign up for this about realizing that McDonalds isn't exactly a great diet choice in the first place, but since you've chosen it, eat the fries, and enjoy them? Or order a smaller size? Being wasteful isn't, in my opinion, an acceptable response to the realization that we are mindless.

He has done a lot of research that shows that people do make mindless food choices all the time, but I guess the part that I didn't really like was the acceptance that we have to continue being mindless. It was an interesting look at how we make some of the choices we make regarding food, and it was an interesting subject to ponder, but I was underwhelmed and wouldn't consider this a must-read unless you're looking for suggestions on how to control your eating.

Next up on my bookworm reading list will be "The End of Nature" by Bill McKibben. If you haven't yet checked out the Bookworm Blog - thanks to everyone who organized that, it's great! Happy reading!


Grey said...

That reminds me of a book I'd considered getting sometime ago, Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food, which has a more Buddhist perspective. Because of that aspect, I tend to think it might have more of an ecological approach to mindfulness, but I haven't read it yet.

Melissa said...

Let me know if you get a chance to read it - I'd love to hear your thoughts! You might want to check out the Blogging Bookworm too; Green Bean has found some friends to help her transform her book challenge into a book blog - there are tons of reviews and suggestions of books there; it's at:

Green Bean said...

Interesting. From the title, it sounded like such a good idea. I do believe that we are inclined to consume more when things come in bigger packages - though I'd never thought of it before.

Thanks also for mentioning The Blogging Bookworm. I'm hoping this site becomes a real resource.

Heather @ SGF said...

That's weird. I left a comment earlier and it's not here. Then I looked on some of the other blogs I left comments on and my comments aren't there either. Blogger must be messing with me....

Anyway, I remember reading about this book when it first came out and wanted to read it. I had forgotten all about it until your review. You have me curious now, so I peddled down to the library today to pick it up. Can't wait to read it. Mindfulness in eating is a real weakness of mine.

Melissa said...

green bean, I think the bookworm blog will continue to be awesome - there were some great suggestions in the comments there!

heather - I found it to be a nice quick read, but watch out, he talks about food so much it made me want to eat MORE!