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A Mindless Diet

Many of us like food. Some of us just like eating and don’t know it yet. So, what happens when we try to eat better, or less, is that we mind, very very much. And unless we have an iron willpower, we cave in, and our bellies cave out. The diet fails. Diets are unfashionable these days and taking their place are eating plans. In his book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, author and food psychologist Brian Wansink proposes one such eating plan that can be adopted to counteract mindless eating (often overeating) – mindless better eating.

We might not be aware of it while we are (over)eating, but we do notice it at some point, much before our neck finally disappears. It’s when we feel the need to loosen our belts, or perhaps wear a bulky wrap so the folds of our jolly belly won’t show. We are even more intensely aware of what we eat, when we undereat deliberately.

Our body and mind fight against deprivation diets that cut our daily calorie intake from 2,000 to 1,200 calories a day. But they don’t really notice a 100-200 calorie difference because they’re not as sensitive within this range – it doesn’t ring the starvation alarm in our body’s mechanism. We can trim this calories out of our day relatively better. They key is to do it unknowingly. To mindlessly eat better. To reach this goal, we need to reengineer our mindless margin.

The mindless margin that Wansink introduces in this book is a calorie range (100-200) that we are able to add or remove painlessly from our diet. And that means it only takes an extra glass of milk every day to add 10-20 lbs a year. Or, more importantly,it is just as easy, in principle, to knock the same weight off in a year. And this is exactly what Wansink prescribes.

All diets eating plans are some variations of ‘eat less, burn more’, and the Mindless Eating Plan focuses on eating less food, but not by a lot. The reason eating plans often times fail is that we are keenly aware of the suffering that results when we don’t eat as much as we want to. Eating less food is also difficult because there is no instant gratification – eating one less doughnut does not magically transform our chunky thighs into more slender parts. The mindless eating plan certainly does not claim to produce fast results, in fact it’s non-drastic approach promises as much as a year to see noticeable difference. But the key is that it is not accompanied by the agony that often go hand in hand with other eating plans, heck, diets.

Wansink devotes much of the book to reengineering the mindless margin, i.e., how we can trick ourselves into eating a tiny bit lesser every day. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before: stop when you don’t feel hungry anymore, eat more fruits and vegetables, make’ bad’ food invisible and ‘good’ food more visible, don’t go back for seconds; together with some interesting theories, such as how health claims on food labels can result in overeating and how baggy clothes can indirectly lead to weight gain:

At a Midwestern jail, inmates with an average sentence of six months, were mysteriously gaining 20-25 “prison pounds” during the course of their “visit”. Upon release…”they blamed their jailhouse fat on the baggy orange jumpsuits they had to wear for six months. Because these orange coveralls were so ill-fitting, most of them didn’t realize they had progressively gained weight – about a pound a week – until they were released and had to try and squeeze back into their own clothes.”

After using up around 200 pages telling us how to eat better (which, well, most of us know quite a bit about, although Wansink does pepper his advice with interesting research stories), he spends just nine pages talking about setting goals and sticking to them. He suggests that we personalize changes and draft our own ‘food policies’, just three of them in fact, and maintain a daily checklist that will help us track our progress. This is where most people stumble – sticking to the goals – and although this is a vast topic in itself, I wish he had dedicated some more pages on how to be accountable and not give in to temptation.

It’s certainly easy reading, and while you may learn a thing or two, nothing is going to shake those lbs off if you don’t persevere.

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