The Mindless Margin

The other week I read a book about food and eating by Michael Pollan, and I wasn´t too convinced that I would eat any healthier if I ate with other people, as he suggested. Now, I have found the man who can prove that my hunch was right.
"On average, if you eat with one other person, you´ll eat about 35 percent more than you otherwise would. If you eat with a group of seven or more, you´ll eat nearly twice as much - 96 percent more - than you would if you were eating alone..."
That´s a quote from Brian Wansink´s book "Mindless Eating", and it´s my newest favourite. Wansink is a professor of Applied Economics and Management, he has his own food laboratory and this book is full of numbers. He questions our "truths" about food and eating and puts them to the test. And now I know why it´s so easy to gain weight and why I always gain in summer and in December. For me, it´s social eating. I kind of knew it, and I thought I should be able to control it just by knowing it, but as Wansink demonstrates (he is funny about it, too!), we rarely are in control of how much we eat. Our stomachs don´t tell us when it´s enough. Instead, we eat as we are conditioned to do, by our biological nature and our cultural nurture: we finish our plates, eat until bowls are empty, we defend our access to the goodies (if we grew up with siblings), we eat mindlessly as we think about other things, as we talk to other people.

Wansink´s recipe to loose the weight and keep it off, is not to try to control our eating. We just can´t expect to make mindful, healthy choices about food (we make in average 200 food choices every day!) for the rest of our lives. It´s too much to ask of ourselves. Even the scientists can´t do it! But what we can do, is re-engineer our environment and our habits. We can change our foodscapes, our tablescapes, and re-write our eating scripts.

Some suggestions:
  • down-size the plates (in our house, we have a dinner set that´s been on the market for many, many years, and the dinnerplates have grown in size since the 80´s by 3 centimeters. And they are still small compared to some alternatives.)
  • don´t buy king-size packages
  • use small, tall glasses
  • serve snacks in small bowls, one for each person
  • keep sweats in opaque bowls so you can´t see them
  • eat with slim people
  • change you favourite recipies to make them less dense in calories
  • stay away from health-food, the illusion of healthy will make you eat more
My favourite tip, being the archetypal cookie-monster, is to buy cookies I don´t like. Really, there are cookies I don´t touch, like anything with raisins. But - aha-moment! - others like them! I´m not a bad host for serving raisin cookies, and it will absolutely stop me from eating a pound of left-over cookies the next morning instead of a healthy breakfast. And any candy with licorice is safe from me. It has never occured to me before that I can buy them because my guests like them. I imagine it´s the kind of generosity many of us suffer from: we want others to want what we want ourselves. And this faulty thinking can lead to all kinds of trip-ups. One of them: me getting fat.

I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who is tired of the twice-yearly two-month diet to get rid of those five pounds that creep up constantly and prevent your zipper-action. That said, I haven´t actually tried it out yet. However, I´m convinced of the sense in this. Perhaps it´s the science. I have a soft spot for science. Let´s make a test: I shall declare my weight, today, the 9th of September, post-summer holidays, and make a note in my calender to do the same next year, and we shall see if anything has really changed for me. I shall take the Wansink test. No dieting, just a change in scapes and habits, moving my "mindless margin". I´ll make note of all the changes I make and declare them. One year from now.

It´s 67 kg, clothed on a Sunday afternoon. That´s 148 pounds. Follow-up next year.


  1. Hello - I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting. I really do appreciate it.

    Also, I enjoyed this post. For me, over-eating is the result of a couple of things. One, I was told to clean my plate when I was younger so I still keep eating even when I'm full. Two, I'm a social eater. I love going out with friends, ordering too much food and just laughing and eating. It's easy to lose track of how much you're eating then.


    1. Hi Gracey, great to see you here!

      When I was a kid, my mom made enough for everyone but no more. We cleaned out the table. When I was an exchange student in Iowa in the 80´s, my host mothers (I stayed with four families) all said "it´s so great to have Viktoria - we have no leftovers!". Unfortunately for me, they made a lot more food than my mom ever did. It´s amazing how hardwired we are. Cleaning the table is still my instinct.