Diet and Nutrition

Are You a Mindless Eater?

Are you a Mindless Eater?

Mindless eating is the tendency to eat even when you're not even hungry. This phrase was coined by food psychologist Brian Wansink, PhD of Cornell University, to describe subconscious eating habits that may lead to weight gain. 

Wansink declared that many people, especially in the U.S., have "eyes bigger than their stomach". In one of his studies, Wansink asked 150 Parisians how they knew when they were finished eating dinner. All of them answered that they finish dinner “when they feel full”. When the same question was asked to 150 Chicago natives, most of them answered that they decide when they see that their plate is empty.

He designed another experiment that showed that the size of the dish influences the intake. About 168 moviegoers who had just finished dinner were provided fresh or stale popcorn in containers of different sizes. The results showed that when popcorn were served in extra-super-sized buckets in the place of regular large containers, they ate 34% to 45% more than the normal amount, even when it was stale.

In another test, he found that people tend to pour 37% more liquids, like juice, in short, wide glasses when compared to tall, skinny glasses that were of the same capacity. In a third experiment, soup was served in a bottomless, pressure-fed bowls that were refilled gradually without knowing. He found that people ate 73% more soup when compared to the situation where soup was served in normal bowls. The interesting part was that they did not rate themselves as more full than any of the participants who ate less. 

One of the best ways to control mindless eating is to avoid things in the immediate surroundings that may push you towards eating more.

Here are several tips to avoid mindless eating:

  • Avoid large dinner plates and have meals in small salad plates
  • Always keep healthy food in the eye level in the cupboard and refrigerator
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV and have it in the dining room

Jean Kristeller, PhD, professor of psychology at Indiana State University, also agrees that mindless eating can be controlled by mindful training. She suggests that one can start with a simple technique – have half the content from a 20-ounce glass of water and then concentrate on what it feels like in the stomach before pouring the rest. “Water stretches the stomach and helps to feel full. People who start with this technique can immediately feel the difference”, says Kristeller.