Mindless Eating

Mindless Eating
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think  
1. Mindless Eating Cover - Brian Wansink.jpg
Author(s) Brian Wansink
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Psychology, Health & Nutrition, Diet, Social Trends
Publisher Bantam Dell
Publication date October 17, 2006
Media type Hardback & Audio CD Recording
Pages 276 p. (hardback edition), 304 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-553-80434-0 (Hardback), ISBN 0-553-38448-1 (Paperback), ISBN 0-7393-4037-9 (audio recording)
OCLC Number 69734639
Dewey Decimal 616.85/260651 22
LC Classification RC552.C65 W36 2006

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think is a nonfiction book by Cornell University consumer behavior professor Brian Wansink. Based upon award-winning research discoveries at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, the book was cited by the National Action Against Obesity as being a 2006 hero in the fight against obesity.[1]

The book shows how food psychology and the food environment influence what, how much, and when people eat. It also shows how many of the cues in this environment can be altered to lead people to eat less and enjoy food more. The science is based on a series of studies in labs, restaurants, homes, movie theaters, diners, and malls that Wansink has conducted as director of the Food and Brand Lab[2].


Chapter list

  1. The Mindless Margin
  2. The Forgotten Food
  3. Surveying the Tablescape
  4. The Hidden Persuaders
  5. Mindless Eating Scripts
  6. The Name Game
  7. Comfort Food for Thought
  8. Nutritional Gatekeepers
  9. Fast Food Fever
  10. Mindlessly Eating Better


The phrase "mindless eating" refers to the empirical finding that people make nearly 20 times more daily decisions about food than they are aware of (an average of around 250 each day).[3] As a result, they can be easily influenced by small cues around them such as “family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”[4]

In contrast to a physiological understanding of hunger, Mindless Eating argues that much of one’s hunger is psychologically-determined. People are not well-enough calibrated to know when they are full and even when they are necessarily hungry.[5] As a result, they are subtly and unknowingly influenced by their environment when determining when to eat and how much to eat.


Instead of focusing on the macro-food environment (see Food Fight (Brownell & Horgen, 2003) and Food Politics (Nestle, 2002)), Mindless Eating focuses on the micro-environment – one’s home and one’s workplace. These are the environments that consumers directly influence on the daily basis by where they store food, where they place food, how they serve food, when they eat snacks.[6] The studies in the book show how seemingly inconsequential decisions, such as what cupboard a food comes from to the size of plate and lighting in the room will influence how much of that food is served and eaten.

The food industry

A number of the findings described in Mindless Eating, when originally published as academic articles, have been used by the food industry to develop packaging and serving options aimed at profitably encouraging segments of consumers to consume less.[7] The New York Times reported that the findings on how package size contributed to the introduction of the commonly found "100-calorie packs"[8], and his work on glass shape and alcohol pouring influenced bars to use taller glasses to limit overpouring.[9] [10]

In contrast to viewpoints that are critical of the food industry (see Supersize Me and Fast Food Nation), Mindless Eating emphasizes the most immediate and effective changes that can be made to our obesigenic society are the changes people can make at home. Although the food industry, government, and even school lunch program has made food convenient and inexpensive, the Nutritional Gatekeeper in the home is still shown to influence an estimated 72% of what a family eats inside and outside the home.[11]

The solution

The encouraging premise behind Mindless Eating is that the obesigenic environment that people have set up for themselves in their homes and at work can be reversed. Just as this environment has led many people to slowly gain weight, it can be re-engineered to help them mindlessly lose weight. Consuming 200 fewer calories a day would lead a person to weigh approximately 9 kilograms (20 lbs) less in a year than they otherwise would. The first sentence and the last sentence of the book are, “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”

Instead of deprivation dieting, Mindless Eating recommends a person choose three small changes in their environment that would lead them to eat 200-300 fewer calories a day. These changes are best directed toward one the five “diet danger zones” that a person finds most problematic at that time. In addition to suggesting research-based changes that have been effective in these five areas, Mindless Eating also explains how individualized changes based on food trade-offs and food rules can be useful in helping a person mindlessly eat less, without feeling either psychologically or physiologically deprived.


  1. ^ The NAAO Names 2006 Heroes and Villains in U.S. Fight Against Obesity
  2. ^ Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
  3. ^ “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Decisions We Unknowingly Make,” Brian Wansink and Jeffrey Sobal, Environment and Behavior (2007), 39:1, 106-123.
  4. ^ Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink, New York: Bantam Dell (2006), p. 1.
  5. ^ “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake,” Brian Wansink, James E. Painter, and Jill North, Obesity Research (2005), 13:1 (January), 93-100.
  6. ^ “Environmental Factors that Increase the Food Intake and Consumption Volume of Unknowing Consumers,” Brian Wansink, Annual Review of Nutrition (2004), Volume 24, 455-479.
  7. ^ “De-Marketing Obesity,” Brian Wansink and Mike Huckabee, California Management Review (2005), 47:4 (Summer), 6-18.
  8. ^ The New York Times
  9. ^ "Can Package Size Accelerate Usage Volume?" Brian Wansink, Journal of Marketing (1996), Vol. 60:3 (July), 1-14.
  10. ^ Shape of Glass and Amount of Alcohol Poured: Comparative Study of Effect of Practice and Concentration,” Brian Wansink and Keort van Ittersum, BMJ – British Medical Journal (2005), 331:7531 (December 24) 1512-1514.
  11. ^ “Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution,” Brian Wansink, Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2006), 106:9 (September), 1324-1327.

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