Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Laboratory, has made his career pointing out the mindless (and often mind-blowing) mistakes we make when choosing what, when and how much to eat.
In one of his best-known studies, Wansink gave moviegoers at a Philadelphia theater 14-day-old popcorn instead of a fresh batch (Wansink & Kim 2005). As rated by the participants themselves after the movie, this popcorn was nasty stuff: stale, soggy, verging on disgusting. But did the moviegoers storm the popcorn stand demanding refunds?
No. They ate it.
And if they were given a large container instead of the medium size, they ate 34% more.
The unsuspecting participants made their eating choices based on external cues (container size, the sound of others eating) and the expectation that the popcorn would taste good.
They even ate about 60% as much popcorn as those who received a fresh batch.
It’s another case of mindless eating.
Why do we do it? Wansink says it’s because we’re responding to external cues: our peers, the lighting, the sounds, our history of eating popcorn.
I say it’s because we’re wired to. Our brains are on survival mode, always. If food is available, and we are not paying attention, we will shift into automatic and eat all of it. The brain will revert to primitive mode and remember we didn’t always know where the next meal would come from–or when–and therefore we must eat every bit of the currently available one.
In automatic, we’re not deciding to eat. We’re not choosing our calories or our food source. We’re just eating. Mindlessly. Automatically.
The solution? PAY ATTENTION! Give every mouthful your undivided focus. Align your meal with your goal of good health. If you’re having a treat, DECIDE to do it. And limit it.
And then mindfully thank your self. Believe you are doing the right thing. Belief is the rocket fuel of success!