Nov. 1, 2006

How to cut down on high-fat 'mindless eating' is focus of Cornell professor's new book

The average person makes more than 200 food-related decisions every day, day in and day out -- yet isn't aware of 90 percent of them, says Cornell marketing professor Brian Wansink in his new book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" (Bantam Books).

We eat not to satisfy hunger so much, he says, but as a mindless response to cues and signals to eat.

Huge portions, oversized plates, all-night restaurants, bowls of tempting foods in full view, eating on the run or at the desk while multitasking are just a few of the mindless-eating pitfalls detailed in the book.

"We overeat because there are signals and cues around us that tell us to eat. It's simply not in our nature to pause after every bite and contemplate whether we're full," Wansink writes in his first chapter, noting that if the cues are right, we'll even eat cold, limp, soggy and stale food.

"For many of us, as long as there are still a few milk-soaked Froot Loops left at the bottom of the cereal bowl, there is still work to be done. It doesn't matter if we're full, and it doesn't matter if we don't really like what we're eating. We eat as if it is our mission to finish them."

Wansink is the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing in the Department of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, staffed by interdisciplinary researchers who have conducted more than 200 studies on the psychology behind what people eat and how often they eat it.

His book, written for the lay audience, not only features numerous drawings, charts and boxes but also a multitude of tips on how to become a more mindful eater, which should automatically help consumers slim down without dieting.

Among his many suggestions:

After all, "The best diet is the one you don't know you're on," says Wansink, emphasizing that making small changes can reap big results in the long term.