Food Enchantment: Why We Eat The Way We Do

Can the arrangement of your dinner table, the types of plates you use, or the names you give to what you eat have a magical effect on your waistline?

In the book, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D, the author says yes: we often eat for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. Our surroundings cast a spell on our subconscious mind, and influence our food choices. He writes:

“We overeat not because of hunger, but because of family and friends packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.” ( 1)

In his book Wansink uses his background in marketing to explain the multitude of ways your environment can trigger you to eat more than you intend.

Though Wansink has recently been called to the carpet for fudging the data on some of his scientific studies, I found myself relating to many of the food traps he describes.

One such food trap is the “health halo.” Basically, if a person perceives a food to be healthy, they will eat more of it than they intend to. You might choose to eat a sandwich from Subway rather than a burger at McDonald’s, for example. Once you get to Subway, however, the idea that you are making a healthy choice might encourage you to add chips and a cookie to your order. Eventually, you will leave having eaten nearly as much or even more than you would have at a “less healthy” food-chain.

Another factor can be the type of music played in the background while you eat. Slow, calming music can cause you to linger at the table and eat more slowly, while fast, hi-energy music will encourage you to eat more quickly.

Wansink offers tips for avoiding the food traps that can cause you to overeat. He asserts that eating from a smaller dish will make you feel more full and keep you from taking in unnecessary calories. Drinking from a tall, slender glass will have the same effect of encouraging you to drink less.

He also asserts that having a fruit bowl on the table is a predictor of a lower weight, as those who have fruit bowls visible in their houses weigh less than people who don’t.

Many of Wansink’s tips coincide with reading I’ve done on the French Diet. For years, authors have explored why the French do not gain weight like American’s do, despite eating quite a lot of butter, bread and cheese. According to Wansink, the French are much better at paying attention to their body and can easily recognize when they are feeling full. I think there is more to it than that, and will discuss french eating habits in my next post:  Mindful Eating, The French Way.

Have a magical day!