Monday, June 18, 2012

I love food science

I'm halfway through the book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think" by Brian Wansink. He's the head of the food lab at Cornell and I'm so totally excited by the book, I think I may actually buy it to keep on my shelf. It's easy to read and hilarious and is NOT a dieting book. There's no lecturing involved.

Instead, he tells you how your brain processes the idea of food. Some of it is stuff you probably heard -- like we eat less if we eat off smaller plates. But other things are things I had no idea about... for example, your body has no idea how much it's consuming. Everything you do is basically done on visual and smell clues not your actual hunger.

So, if you see that the bowl is half empty, you'll assume you've eaten half of your soup. But what happens... if you eat from a bowl that is refilling without you knowing it and keeping it around half full? Do you feel more full? Not really. Instead you eat gobs and gobs of soup thinking that you haven't eaten much because the bowl is still half full.

He goes through studies performed by his lab and others about how important smell is for eating. The government did a "smell" test with soldiers (because they were worried their military wasn't eating enough to sustain the 3,000 to 6,000 calories a day they burn off in physical activity) where they served oatmeal in an unscented plastic bowl, then the next time they served it in a bowl that smelled like cinnamon and raisins and then the last study, they gave them oatmeal in a bowl that smelled like Macaroni and Cheese. Not surprisingly, the raisin scented bowls increased eating, the plain bowl was in the middle and the Macaroni and Cheese bowl apparently made the oatmeal very unpopular.

He even goes into studies where academics profess that intellectual people educated about the trickeries used in the food industry wouldn't fool the smart ones, so he gathered a bunch of academics, gave them a course on food portions, servings, the visual cues, etc. And then six weeks later invited them to a Super Bowl party... guess what happened?

It's really a pretty awesome book. And there are some suggestions on way you can rearrange your life in simple, simple ways. For example, variety causes overeating. Try not to have more than two or three types of food at a gathering (that is stay away from potlucks and buffets). People have been shown to eat less when there's less variety. In one experiment, some folks were given a bowl of M&Ms that were mixed colors and others were given M&Ms that were the same color. The people with the variety ate hundreds of calories more in M&Ms than the one colored.

Other humdingers that they found to be true:

You drink more fluid out of a short, fat glass than out of a tall skinny one.
The closer a food is to you the more of it you will eat. (Convenience.)
If food is out in front of you and you know it's there, you're likely to eat it... this can even apparently be true if scientists give you a bucket of 5-day old popcorn...
If food is hard to get into, people are less likely to eat it. (Offering shelled nuts versus nuts you had to crack experiment).

Anyway, it's a fun read, and the author admits straight out that he likes food. :-) But it does make you conscious that it's really NOT about willpower. It's more about biology, environment, childhood habits and marketing manipulation.

I'm giving myself kudos here because I have successfully tracked my food in Lose It! On my iPhone for a week. I also set it up to e-mail every Monday to my dietician (while I have her) at Carle. I guess I'm going to have to find a new one sooner or later. Part of me was thinking of trying Weight Watchers up north for meetings, but I'm not sure. I've got about 5 weeks left to find if I want to go -- anywhere else.

I'm also giving kudos to myself because I got on my bike for a fitness ride for the first time since last fall. I was slow, but it was windy. I rode my bike to the Y from Savoy, did my first 30-minute Crossfit Powertrain class and then biked home.

Tomorrow, I'm in for a doozy. I've got aqua running with Kari followed by her H20 Bootcamp class. We'll see if I can hold it together or not. The plus of my day tomorrow is that I have the Volleyball Rec League at Burwash Park in Savoy. If you want to get out, my team -- the Blockheads -- plays at 7:30 p.m. We'll see if we can go 2-0.


The Fearless Freak said...

Those humdingers make perfect sense for me (except the water thing. I drink when I'm thirsty, regardless of the glass. But I also kill around 120 oz of water every day so it isn't like I'm missing out).

A lot of the time, I eat something just because it is handy. Not hungry but I'm getting it out for the kids or I'm somewhere with food and I just eat it because. Also, old popcorn is way better than fresh. When we go to the movie, we always bring a full bucket home to eat the next few days. LOVE it!

I also totally get the food being hard to get into. I call it effort versus reward food and it is the reason I don't eat chicken wings. They look good and they smell good but it takes so much work to eat one and all you end up with is a little tiny bit of meat. Most stuff that is difficult to get into or difficult to eat, I just don't. It is easier to not eat it than it is to mess with trying to get at it or find an alternative (boneless, skinless chicken versus wings).

Looseyfur said...

The drink thing was cool because they took 50 bartenders who all had more than five years experience and asked them to pour a shot into a tall glass and one into a short, fat glass. They couldn't use anything but the bottle. They were right on target for the tall glass, but for the short, fat glass they poured something like 25 percent more into the shot than they should have.

All of them. All because of perception differences with the size of the glass.

Then they go on to talk about people underestimating the servings of portions of snack foods and some studies they did on people who overshot at Sam's Club.

Of course, I type this while I drink a diet dr pepper from a short, fat glass. At least I know it doesn't have any calories. :-)