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Think you might be influenced by a pretty label on a package? Nah... not me!
Dr. Brian Wansink says that you are, and the subtle clues that contribute to not just what we consume but how we view it make a tremendous difference in how we eat. In a study that substituted a stylish wine label on $2.00 bottles of wine, people reacted in wildly different ways when half of them were told that the "new" wine was from California. The kicker? The other half who thought that the wine was from North Dakota didn't have as good a time, ate less and ate faster than those graced with the very same wine bearing a California label.
I have reported on Dr. Wansink's work in Dr. Gourmet columns previously and will admit to being something of a fan of his. As director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Dr. Wansink and his colleagues spend time doing elegantly designed studies to determine exactly what motivates our eating patterns. They have studied everything from the size of ice cream bowls to people's reaction to stale popcorn. The research is reported with a wonderful attitude that is at once clearly serious research while still being fun and informative.
For the most part his research has been reported in the most prestigious of journals, but Dr. Wansink has collected his work in a wonderful book published this month, Mindless Eating. The premise of this lovely book is that the issue for people surrounding what and how much they eat comes from subtle clues in everything from packaging to portion size to our emotional attachments to food.
Unlike most such works, Mindless Eating backs up such assertions with solid research which is something pretty rare in bookstores these days. (Kudos to the folks at Bantam Books for publishing a work based on science as opposed to the amazingly silly works on many bestseller lists.) And fascinating research this is. Some of my favorites are the ones that center on portion control. For instance, there is the study where they rigged up a bottomless bowl of tomato soup. As participants ate from the bowl it automatically refilled itself via a tube from below the table.
Those eating from the never empty bowl ate about 50% more than those with a standard serving of soup. Some actually ate more than a quart of soup before stopping!
The book is chock full of such hilarious stories and all of them will make you think, "I wouldn't be fooled by such tricks," but time and again Dr. Wansink shows us how vulnerable we are to the subtle clues that are often invisible to us. At the same time he offers practical tips for making changes based on his research that could save you the small number of calories needed to make a major difference in your life.
One of the best sections in the book considers recommendations for the food industry. While some of the lessons from his research that he applies to food manufacturers can be translated to our own pantries, this serves as a brilliant road map for the companies creating the products that fill grocery store shelves.
Buy this book? You bet. It's really fun and my sense is that like Dr. Wansink's very thoughtful experiments, the very nature of his writing and convincing research will change your habits without you even being aware of it.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
November 6, 2006