Thursday, July 10, 2008

No graze days of summer - Mindless eating book review

A recent book review post on Better Living reminded me of a book I had wanted to read when it first came out, but had somehow slipped through the cracks:  Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink. The same morning I read Melissa's review, I pedaled to the library to pick up a copy. I had to read it for myself! 

Let me just say first - this is a really easy, quick, thoroughly enjoyable read. I read it cover to cover in a long evening. Wansink, an experienced researcher of both food and psychology presents some of his, as well as others', fascinating research about the ways people unknowingly approach food. It's full of examples about how our environment affects our choices (both what we eat and how much) in addition to page after page of small steps you can take to counteract mindless eating. 

I really liked his emphasis on small steps towards progress. He wasn't pushing any drastic changes involving the elimination of entire food groups - he's just trying to get us to think about the external forces that indeed make an impact on our food choices. 

Had he left it there, I'd have been a happy camper. However, in the final pages, he took it one step too far. He proposes there are two kinds of mindless eating - positive and negative. Negative mindless eating is, of course, what he spends most of the book analyzing and very convincingly presenting - how we unknowingly eat based on external cues such as the size of our dinner plate, the shape of our drinking glass, and who we chose to dine with. He then continues to say that once we know about these external cues, we can use them to our advantage and exercise positive mindless eating. Ok. What?

In other words, we are to use his research to trick ourselves into eating more healthfully (i.e. if we believe we are eating a greater quantity of food/feeling more full by eating off a small plate than we would from a larger plate but are actually eating less, only eat off smaller plates). As he says on page 209, "we can move from mindless overeating to mindless better eating" (Wansink's emphasis). He further illustrates with a chart on page 212 that basically says we start with step 1 which is "negative mindfulness/overeating" but as (in step 2) we learn "mindfulness," we "reengineer" our way of thinking so that (in step 3), we can be "positive mindless" eaters leading to "better eating." Why? I'd prefer to skip the tricks, acknowledge the science, and just hang out in Step 2 - being mindful about what I eat. Why go further?

Anyway, despite that last step, I really enjoyed the book and I thought he had some excellent suggestions for those of us who want to learn strategies to combat mindless eating. Definitely worth picking up. 

Oh, and just a little something funny to relate - Melissa warned me that with all that talk of food, reading the book might make me want to eat. I found the opposite was true. I was totally freaking out. Eek! Am I eating too much? I got up half way through the book to take a walk - just in case :) 

Check In Time

So it's time to check in and I'm wondering how everyone has been doing over the last couple weeks? I've done fairly well. Since the last check in (let's see... June 30), I've had two days where I did some grazing. One of them wasn't all that bad, but the other? Ugh. I received some bad personal news and although I delayed the graze for an hour or two, it finally caught up with me. I baked brownies and of course the edges were too done so I ate the edge the entire way around because... we'll I'm not sure why, but I did, and then there was ice cream, and nibbles of peanut butter, and the granola I just had to make because I was upset, some leftover spaghetti squash with pasta sauce, and well, I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Boy did I pay for it. My tummy hurt all that night (I didn't sleep well) and the entire next day I spent in bed from having overloaded my digestive system. Blah. Grazing... no good... I admonished myself last time I was stressed out because I went out and bought a box of my favorite cereal thereby cheating on my local/whole foods diet. Hmm. Maybe that was the better outlet. There was definitely less pain involved...

Anyway, the good news is that I am proving to myself over and over again that I can do this! Seriously, 2 days out of the last 10 is really good for me. Perhaps what I need most is a way to redirect stress energy.  So what about everyone else?


Rapunzel said...

I admit it, I've been terrible. *blush* I haven't recovered from the weight gain brought on by K's wedding, and then add the stress of Mom's illness..etc..I know, they are all excuses and I need to get control and find another way to combat stress. :-(

eco 'burban mom said...

I have been doing OK, but not perfect. Anytime I cook I can't seem to stop eating a pinch of grated cheese, a couple of peas I was shelling or a spoonful of cookie dough. I am justifying it only because it's all healthy and we have been riding our bikes more, so I am hungrier. Right? That's a good reason!! ;o)

Heather @ SGF said...

rapunzel - no worries, stress is a big factor for me too. Beany mentioned on her blog that she was really struggling with the No Graze Days Challenge too. As I mentioned to her, if this is too big, take a smaller bite. Maybe concentrate on mindfulness one day each week. Do that for a month, two months, whatever is comfortable, then do two days a week, then three. Being mindful (eating or not) can be a lifelong pursuit. if it's easier to break it up into smaller pieces, go with that.

eco 'burban mom - no perfection required :) And I wouldn't worry so much about that little pick here and the little pick there. We have to make sure the food tastes right before we serve it to our loved ones, right? Seriously, I admire your willpower. I wouldn't stop at one spoonful of cookie dough. :)

Beany said...

I meditated yesterday! The subway on certain days of the month makes me really nauseous, so I decided to do a metta meditation on myself instead of focusing on much I hated the ride.

As for eating, when I was cooking last night (lasagna) I was 100% focused on cooking. My mind was not a million miles away like it normally is.

And I only a small bit of chocolate instead of the entire bar like I normally do.

Small victories!

Rapunzel said...

Heather, thank you, I actually did better yesterday. It helped that I was running around for Mom, etc and I was too busy to snack, but I made a concerted effort and I feel good about my choices.

Now, I am not sure, do you snack at all? Or is it 3 meals a day and that is it?

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - wow! Meditating on the subway? You're so much more focused than I am. I can hardly do it at home :) I've missed a few days and need to pick it pack up today. Glad it's going better for you. Small victories can truly turn out to be the most profound. Keep up the good work!

Rapunzel - good for you! As far as snacking goes... I'm trying to look at food in a more healthy way, so I try to listen to my body. Some days I only eat 3 meals. Other days, I may have a snack, or I may have 2 snacks. It just all depends on what I'm doing, how busy I am, and how physically active I am. Well, that's the goal anyway. I struggle with this, which I why I needed the challenge.

The key in all this is, if I'm hungry, to HAVE a snack (for physical hunger) and avoid SNACKING (or grazing - which for me indicates emotional hunger). I think being mindful about what we eat isn't about not restricting our diet or limiting our eating times. It's about being aware of our bodies and its cues. It's acknowledging how our boredom, anger, frustration, loneliness, etc can lead us to eat mindlessly and taking steps to properly deal with our emotions. Does that make sense?

Melissa said...

heather, I'm wondering if you noticed too at the end of the book where he compares his "program" to weight watchers, south beach, etc.? It made me feel like he was trying to sell me something, and I didn't like it ending on that note. I'm a horrible grazer, by the way. I almost never eat more than two meals a day, but lots in between. I just try to make sure the "in between" is lots of fruits and other healthy stuff :)

Tammi said...

I've been fairly good this week. I did do a bit of grazing on dried cranberries while I was making up trail mix but for the most part, I've been keeping the grazing down.

I also 'volunteered' my kids for this too. Haha! They seem to be always wanting snacks so I'm having them drink more water (they should anyway) and if they are truly hungry, I'll fix them a small snack, make them sit at the table with the TV off.

I'm going to write a post-it note for the pantry that says "Sometimes when you think you are hungry it's just that your body is thirsty." When I'm drinking enough water during the day it's easier to not snack all the time.

Heather @ SGF said...

Melissa - yeah, he kinda ruined the book for me there at the end so I'm choosing to ignore it :)

I'm not a big meal eater either. Lately I've been eating mostly a piece of toast or 1/2 a bagel with some fruit (maybe yogurt too) for breakfast and dinner and only having one main meal at lunch. Sometimes I get hungry in the afternoon which is risky because it's prime grazing time around here.

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammi - that's wonderful that you're getting your kids involved too. Teach them young to be mindful and maybe they won't have to do one of these challenges when they grow up :) Actually, your point about water is a good one. I tend to drink less water in the afternoon. That's the same time period when I tend to graze. Perhaps I'm just dehydrated. Thanks for the thought. I'll start drinking more and see if it helps!

Rapunzel said...

Heather, yes, it absolutely makes sense. It's that whole mindful eating thing, it really is the key I think.

She-Ra said...

I have to say that I enjoyed the book too. Very interesting to learn about all the tricks involved in making us eat and in ways to outsmart it. They had the book at my library.

Heather @ SGF said...

She-Ra - yeah, interesting stuff. I was thinking today (as I was having lunch with my hubby) how I nibble on bread if I've "finished" eating my meal but he hasn't. So I just sit there and pick until he's done. Definitely one of those factors that plays a part that we don't normally think about.