It doesn’t take long to realize that nutrition is a core part of your health, and thus, success in life. Good nutrition affects your appearance and performance, which can lead to career success, dating success, and wealth. Yet, it’s scary how much an issue health and fitness continue to be in the USA. We’re still one of the most unhealthy, overweight nations.
Moreover, I kept stumbling into occasional wealthy individuals who were ignoring things and straight up eating junk food. Did they know something I didn’t?
After some research and contemplation, I’ve concluded that people succeed in spite of these mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect. Yet if they could do it again, they’d change their nutrition.
Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook and Asana explains in the photo below (which comes from this article) that these things are important, and he would have gotten to where he was faster if he ate and slept better.
I wish I had slept more hours, and exercised regularly. I wish I had made better decisions about what to eat or drink — at times I consumed more soda and energy drinks than water. I wish I had made more time for other experiences that helped me grow incredibly quickly once I gave them a chance.
Working very hard and “having no time” is an easy excuse to eat poorly, skip exercise, and sleep less. But doing those things rather than neglecting them could get you to your end goal faster.
Anyhow, this article is a book summary of Mindless Eating, my favorite science-based nutrition book on all time. This book rocks because it works. The book has tons of food psychology research. And food psychology is the core behind why we don’t do what we do even if we know it’s the right thing to do.
The book reveals a lot of shocking discoveries about our human behavior. A lot of the irrational behavior we do to our bodies happens unconsciously. Everything from the size of your bowls, the smell in the air, the music playing, where you buy your food from, and how much your peers are eating has an effect.
Without further ado, here’s my summary.
- We eat more food if we have larger containers even if we’re not hungry and the food doesn’t taste good. We don’t believe we can be influenced by something like this, even though we are.
- Studies were done on movie attendees with two types of 5-day old stale popcorn: attendees were given either a free normal bag or a large bag. Those with the larger bag ate more and kept returning to the popcorn throughout the movie even though it was stale. When they were explained the intent of the experiment afterwards, the attendees voted that they didn’t believe such a thing would influence them. The same results occurred when the studies were conducts in different states in the U.S. with different types of films.
- Along a similar vein as the last point, we’re influenced by how premium we perceive a product to be even if the quality is the same. And we don’t believe we are influenced by this when we are.
- The same bottle of cheap wine was re-branded with two types of packaging. One had North Dakota packaging and the other had California well-designed packaging. Some groups at a restaurant got one brand, and the other group got the other. Those who got the California brand (which is where a lot of premium wine comes from — no good win comes from North Dakota) spent more time at the restaurant and enjoyed the experience more. The customers had decided at the start of their dinner that the experience they’d have that night would be good or bad based on the wine. When the intention by the experiment was revealed after that night to the participants and they were asked if they believed the brand of wine would have an influence, they claimed it wouldn’t have an impact.
- Shoppers anchor themselves to the first number they see. Those who see a number on a sale sign at a grocery store buy 200% to 300% more of the same product.
- Marketers who use these techniques aren’t evil. They’re sometimes the same techniques that a mother may use to get their child to eat more.
- Deprivation diets, which is when you starve yourself for a short period of time, don’t influence weight loss in the long run because your body’s metabolism adjusts by burning less calories.
- There’s a “mindless margin” of about 100 to 300 calories a day where you don’t notice a certain range of more or less calories that you eat everyday. This range can cause weight gain if you’re unaware of it and eat too much or it can be used for weight loss if used intentionally to eat a little less. Trimming 100 to 200 calories a day is unnoticeable, but that can lead to 10 to 20 pounds lost in a year.
- The book mentions a couple times when experts, including the author himself, fell prey to these influences even when they’re aware of them (or did the research). He suggests the best way to avoid this influence is to change your environment rather than relying on willpower. His research has found that we make over 200 decisions on food alone every day (should we eat breakfast? should I eat bananas? Should I get dessert?). These influencing factors are strong and your willpower is limited, so change your environment and plate sizes so you don’t have to fight anything.
- When we eat faster, we don’t feel as full.
- There are only three modes for the stomach: hungry, I’m full but I could eat more, and I’m stuffed.
- We depend on external cues to tell us we’re overweight or full.
- An experiment was done comparing people who ate chicken wings with a waitress who emptied the bones occasionally versus a group who had to keep their bones on the table. The group who could see the bones at 28% less (5 wings per person versus 7).
- An empty plate is a great cue to tell you when to finish eating.
- As long as the volume of the food is the same, we feel just as full even if the calories are less.
- A study found that people felt just as full as eating a half-pound burger as eating a quarter pound burger that was filled with lettuce and tomatoes to the same size.
- You can emulate this in different ways by adding water and air to a meal. For example, blending a smoothie for longer increases the volume without adding calories.
- The author conducted a very elaborate never ending Super Bowl experiment which had a tube of soup feeding into a bowl. The people who got the never ending soup drank three times more soup and never stopped drinking from the soup bowl the entire experiment compared to those who got a regular bowl. The crazy part was that both groups, wind surveyed, said they thought that they ate a normal serving of soup, nothing more. The group that eight from the never ending ball actually ate three times more calories than they thought they did. The crazy part was that both groups, win surveyed, said they thought that they ate a normal serving of soup, nothing more. The group that ate from the never ending ball actually ate three times more calories than they thought they did. This experiment reveals the fact that people who depend on external cues for when they feel for can often drastically underestimate how much they eat.
- People who weighed more, when surveyed, tended to mention a lot more external cues for what they use to tell remind them to stop eating (when the plate is empty) tell them to stop eating versus internal cues (when I feel full).
- People falsely assume that obese individuals are deliberately lying to themselves and others about how much they think they eat. Research shows that obese people will underestimate what they eat by 30%. However, further studies revealed that there is no difference in level of accuracy about how much people think they’re eating between skinny and obese people. The truth is that research shows that your level of an accuracy in predicting how many calories you consume increases based on the size of the meal. The larger than me or, the more you will underestimate how much you eat. Obese people tend to eat larger meals more frequently, so that’s why they underestimate things more often.
- They found that people who pre-plate their food eat 14% less than those who get smaller portions initially and then go back for refills. Put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating, including snacks and desserts.
- We eat more when we perceive more variety, partially because we believe a serving size is larger. People will eat a portion more M&M’s when they see ten colors versus seven colors. People will eat more M&M’s when the colors are disorganized versus organized.
- Bigger kitchens and fridges may help you buy and store more food to save you money. However, they call you to cook and eat more. The author has done many studies on quantities of food available to cook and how much you consume. He has found that you eat 20 to 25% more when you have a larger package size. He has found any type of big package suggests a larger degree of consumption. People pour more laundry detergent with larger containers, they pour more plant fertilizer with larger fertilizer bags, and they eat more candy from larger candy bags.
- We tend to measure things by their height rather than their width, which leads to over-consumption. People tended to significantly under-estimate how much of a drink they poured into a wide, short glass compared to tall, skinny glass.
- The danger with these biases is that everyone thinks that they won’t fall for it. They think it’s so obvious that average people would fall for it, but not them because they’re smaller — and that’s not true.
- The author has conducted experiments on bartenders, nutrition grad students, and nutrition researchers (all people who have spent years in their field and should know better about measuring their food and overeating). They all failed and over-poured and over-ate when given different sized spoons, cups, and plates. They over-ate their estimations by up to 50% when given bigger plates and spoons.
- The more we see something, the more likely we will eat more. For example, a candy tray out on a public table will get seen dozens of times per day and will more likely to get eaten than something that is out of sight and out of mind. Additionally, the more we think about something that we want to eat later on, the more of it we’ll eat.
- Convenience reigns supreme. The more of a hassle it is to get food, less we eat. Experiments with mice find that the more activities that they have to do to get food, they will cope with less food. Work on reducing the convenience of accessing food. Make it so that you have to walk to get food rather than just reach out your hand. Take a different route home from work if it means you don’t have to see the fast food signs that usually tempt you to buy. Make healthier foods more convenient and closer to you in your kitchen and home. Even something as simple as having the lid of an ice cream carton open noticeably affects how much people eat. And experiment found that having the i e cream lid open lead to 30% of observers eating ice cream versus 14% with the lid closed.
- Wholesale clubs like Costco are not good for limiting consumption because of the large quantities. Plus, you’re likely to get tired of the food, so you’re probably going to throw away or not use all that you buy, eroding saw some of the savings. If you must buy from these places, we package the food into smaller containers so you don’t eat as much or as frequently.
- If you eat with another person, you will eat 30% more than you would if you were alone. If you eat with seven or more people, you eat 96% more. Decide how much you eat before you start eating. Leave something on your plate so that you can refuse the temptation to get one more refill.
- We pace off the people we eat next to. The more a person nearest eats, the more we eat. Select someone who eats slowly to sit next to. It’s best to pace yourself with the slowest eater of the group.
- Marketing is about associated odors and ambience. Cinnabon deliberately only set up shop at malls next to stores that don’t have competing orders. Research has shown that restaurants with relaxed, soothing environment with candles and low lights lead to a more pleasant feeling and higher rating of the food compared to a loud, busy environment. The environment you see at restaurants and fast food places are deliberate. They cater to what the restaurant wants the customers to feel.
- The authors research on the military discovered that if you’re induced to like a food by the smell of the bowl or repelled by that smell, it will influence the taste of the food itself even if the bowl isn’t affecting the taste. People ate less of an oatmeal when they both smell like macaroni and cheese and more of the oatmeal win the ball smelled like cinnamon.
- We taste what we think we will taste. If you expect a food to taste good, it would taste better. If you’re expected to taste bad, it would taste worse. If you expect a food to taste good, it would taste better. If you’re expected to taste bad, it would taste worse. Even if the flavors aren’t actually there in the food, if we believe they are, we are offering very much influenced.
- Lemon Jell-O that was color to red was mistaken for cherry Jell-O in experiments and everyone enjoyed the taste of the cherry even though it actually wasn’t there.
- This effect is especially prominent when it comes to beer, liquor, alcohol, and soda. Blind tests prove that the brand names often do not taste any different from the generic store brands. However, customers believe them to taste different because they expect them to test different, which is partially why many customers continue to spend a lot more money on the brand names. The author asserts another part of the reason, go to a smaller degree, is that consumers want to prove that they aren’t too poor to afford brand-name’s on occasion.
- This bias persists for certain ingredients we don’t like or like that we see in food even when that ingredient actually doesn’t exist in the food. Experiments were done mentioning soy as an ingredient in protein bars. Half the people tested got bars that actually didn’t have soy, yet people still didn’t like the taste of the bars as much when they mentioned they had soy.
- The presentation of your food changes the perceived value. Experimenters offered customers of a cafeteria powdered brownies. Some were served on a china plate, others were served on a paper plate, and others were served on a napkin. They were asked how much they were willing to pay for this brownie if it was added to the menu. The difference in average price between the China plate and the napkin was $.90, which would equate to $9000 over the course of the year since the cafeteria sells about 12,000 brownies a year. Also, the perceived satisfaction with the brownie increased based on the quality of the material it was served on.
- When we name the food something more appealing or fancy, the perceived value, satisfaction, and the amount someone is willing to spend goes up.
- In this experiment, they rotated various items on the menu over the course of six weeks. Items would be replaced with the same thing at the same price but with a better name, such as Cajun traditional red beans and rice rather than just red beans and rice. They were switched up constantly so the customers didn’t get suspicious or become aware. The customers were surveyed afterwards, and many sites at the chef probably had professional training when they were surveyed about the fancier name items. They Also believe they were getting a better value with the fancier items and spent 30% more on the fancier items. And they believe they were getting a better value with the fancier items and spent 30% more on the fancier items.
- There are four most effective ways that restaurants and fast food places constantly use to name their entrées for more perceived value:
- Nostalgia: referencing the past or memories that someone enjoys, like grandmas apple pie
- Geography: referencing an awesome place, like Georgia peaches, Kansas bbq, or French wine.
- Sensory: sensory descriptions, like velvety chocolate mousse or sizzling steak.
- Brand labels: cross-promoting brands. If you like this brand, you’ll like this. Kobe beef kabobs or Butterfinger swirl.
- But will customers catch on and discover that the food just has a fancy your name doesn’t taste any different? According to research, no as long as the food taste reasonably good. However, the author alludes to a word of warning, saying that restaurants depend on recurring revenue and people will probably catch on the second or third time, but not the first. And the restaurants thst stay in business don’t keep changing the names.
- Man and woman’s top comfort foods differ based on their psychology behind the food. Men preferred more meaty entrées like pizza and soup because it reminded them of being spoiled. However, women preferred desserts because it reminded them of how little cleanup you have to do and how little prep you have to do compared to when their mothers cooked.
- People assume that they eat more comfort foods when they are depressed, lonely, or guilty. But we actually eat more when we are happy. In fact, we can eat twice as much when we’re happy compared to when we are sad. We do tend to eat slightly healthier comfort foods when we are happy compared to when we are sad or guilty. When someone is sad, they can experience a temporary boost in mood and euphoria by eating something indulgent.
- When you dig into the psychology, people prefer certain comfort foods because they either remind them of memories or feelings (comfort, safety, warmth, good relationships) or because it correlates to their personality (angel food feels petite like them or red meat seems strong and powerful for men).
- How you position a food you’re selling can make it sell more by how it is perceived for your target market (soft, delicate soy products may seem like something feminine which works well for women). The author helped companies sell soy products by changing the imagery of the soy like cuts of meat to sell more of it to men.
- You never stop associating memories or feelings with food. The author found through his research that one in eight Chinese graduate students had cookies as their favorite comfort food even though cookies wasn’t a dessert in China. It turns out that when they moved to America, they encountered cookies a lot during school receptions and parties, which help them associate cookies with fun, good times.
- Make sure you know the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Sometimes, your hunger is caused by do you need to cope with emotions rather than the physical need. Here is the difference:
- Physical hunger occurs below the neck, disappears after you eat enough, build gradually, comes after not eating for a while
- Emotional hunger occurs above the neck, appears suddenly and sharply, doesn’t go away even after you eat, is spurred by some emotional trigger
- Associations with food can last a very long time. They never go away sometimes and can last over 30 years. What you can do is mindfully be aware of them to remove them. It’s when you are mindlessly eating when they creep up.
- Vowing never to eat a comfort food again is a recipe for disaster. Instead, eat smaller portions. The cost will not be that high, you can still eat the food, and it will have a noticeable difference over time.Valley never to eat a comfort food again is a recipe for disaster. It is often futile to use your willpower to try and fight against the billions of dollars of marketing and you’re craving for your favorite food. Instead, eat smaller portions. The cost will not be that high, you can still enjoy the food, and it will have a noticeable difference over time.
- Pair your smaller comfort foods with points of happiness and celebration. For example, you can eat a slightly smaller bowl of ice cream with strawberries instead of the original bowl of ice cream. By using it as a reward, you’re triggering your brain to create a habit of eating his food and before long, that smaller portion or somewhat healthier substitution will become your preferred favorite comfort food.
- The gate keeper, the person who buys the groceries, has a huge influence on your nutrition. Crown yourself the gatekeeper.
- One way to eat healthier is to try new foods, try ethnic foods, or substitute some of your meals with vegetables.
- You can condition a child with your words. You don’t need a sound to do it like Pavlov’s dog. One child in a study had a unique dislike for candy. It turns out her mother kept telling her that eating candy between meals was for low class people. Wow that’s in accurate, approved effective at creating a stigma that got her to dislike candy. Another child had a strong love of broccoli, which was unusual because broccoli is usually one of the toughest vegetables for children to like based on the data. Upon investigation, his mother would always tell him that the broccoli looked like trees that dinosaurs would eat off and that would make the child pretend to be a dinosaur eating the trees since it seemed cool. It turns out his imagined perspective of broccoli even translated to his friends, who upon hearing that they were “dinosaur trees,” also started eating more broccoli.
- You can condition someone with your words. You don’t need a sound like Pavlov‘s dog. One child in a study had a unique dislike for candy. It turns out her mother kept telling her that eating candy between meals was for low class people. Well that’s in accurate, a proved affective at creating a stigma that got her to dislike candy.
- You should eat a balanced meal. Put simply, every meal should have half the plate consisting of fruits and vegetables, and the other half of the plate consisting of protein. Therefore, spaghetti and meatballs is not a balanced meal.
- Studies indicate that children may have more variety in their diet if they are exposed to a variety of foods growing up.
- The author was patronized and snickered at by the audience and a speaker when he asked at a conference whether the additional nutrition information that showed up everywhere at Subway actually made people eat healthier. He was told that it obviously did without any evidence. It turns out that was wrong. Based on a study he conducted surveying McDonald’s and Subway eaters, subway eaters did not eat any healthier despite the fact that they posted their nutritional information on everything, including ads, cups, and menus. In fact, subway eaters underestimated how many calories they eat by over 30% while McDonald’s eaters underestimated by around 25%
- Based on data from surveys, when people see health benefits on a food label, such as “prevents heart disease,” they adopt a halo effect and believe that this benefit can cure other diseases like diabetes.
- People assume that grocery stores and fast food companies are out to get them, but that’s not always the case. Is it a marketing trick to put the meat in the back of the store? Actually, that’s where the loading dock, power supply, and other plumbing of the stores are located. Why do they have two pop tarts to a package if the serving size is just for one? Maybe they’re trying to make us fat? Actually, according to someone in charge of manufacturing and shipping the first pop tarts, shipping was expensive, and it would’ve cost twice as much to package them individually.
- He also concluded that all his research points to not using extreme methods to change your nutrition but to stick to something in the middle. You can change your personal eating environment to change your eating habits. Use the mindless margin to cut out 100 to 200 calories a day in a way that’s almost unnoticeable since it’s effortless, and that change will add up over time. Also, food trade-offs are a great method since you’re not completely denying yourself the food, you’re saying you can have them if you meet a prerequisite, like exercise.
- The author finishes by recommending the rule of three. Set a goal to make only three simple, mindless changes per year. Most diets fail because they are too complicated and require too much thought to keep doing. With three simple changes, it’s simple enough that you can’t help but to do it. And even if you fail at two of these, you’ll still lose 10 pounds a year. Each change will account for about 10 pounds a year, and it offers wiggle room because you may trip up on one or two or all three of these changes every once in a while, but you still win if you keep to at least one of them most of the time. These changes can be simple stuff, like eating half a plate rather than a full plate of protein, adding vegetables to your meal, or keeping your plate size small.