nutrition habits

Eat With Your Stomach, Not Your Brain – An Interview with Dr. Brian Wansink

I was fortunate enough to interview Dr. Brian Wansink, lead author to over 100 academic articles and books, including his best-seller Mindless Eating. Dr. Wansink spent a lifetime studying the reasons for the decisions people make when they eat.  Whether you are someone who is interested in losing weight, or even a nutrition expert, you will find this interview interesting and eye-opening.

Sergeant Volkin: Your book, Mindless Eating has opened many people’s eyes into what food they put in their mouth. Which of our senses provides the biggest bias on what foods we choose to eat?

Dr. Wansink: Well, all of our senses affect the way we eat but our eyes affect our eating decisions the most.  In one study involving chicken wings, a group of students were invited to an all-you-can-eat Buffalo Wing feast. The students were free to serve themselves from an open buffet of chicken wings and were able to go back for more during the game. There were bowls at each table to hold the wing bones. During the course of the game, waitresses collected the bowls and replaced them with empty bowls – but only at half of the tables. At the other tables, the bowls containing the finished wings were not picked up.

Dr. Wansink:  After the game, me and my team weighed the discarded bones from each table. The students who didn’t have the leftover bones as a reminder of how much they had already eaten, ate more – an average of seven wings per person; versus five wings per person of the other group. Although a two-wing difference (at 100 calories each) doesn’t sound like much that translates to 200 additional calories per day, which equals a weight gain of 20 pounds per year.

Sergeant Volkin: One of your findings suggests that nationality plays a role in our food psychology. For example, the French know they are done with their food when they feel full. When asking Chicago residents, your results show they are done when their plate is empty. Do you think this mindset is the reason for the obesity epidemic in America?

Dr. Wansink: There are many reasons for the obesity epidemic but that reason is only a very small part.  In my opinion, the greater contribution to the obesity epidemic in this country is the affordability and availability of food.

Sergeant Volkin: Let’s talk about children. Obviously marketing has got very sophisticated over the years and it is harder than ever to get kids to eat their fruit and vegetables. You did a study and found that by adding fruit to the end of a lunch line, it increases fruit sales 70%. Same with vegetables, you can increase sales 25% just by giving vegetables catchy names. So let’s use the example of a typical mom with a couple of children. This mom is cooking her children dinner, what can she do in her home to get her kids more excited about fruits and vegetables?

Dr. Wansink: It is estimated that 70% of all fruits and vegetables consumed in the home are consumed during dinner. However, only 23% of dinner meals served in the home have a vegetable or fruit option. So always be sure to serve a vegetables or fruit at dinner.  Another tip you can do to increase your child’s consumption of fruit and vegetables it to have a bowl of fruit or a vegetable tray within two feet of where your child will walk in the house.  This will give your child easy access to healthy finger food.

Sergeant Volkin: You’ve made the difficult transition of taking your research and applying it practically to school lunch rooms throughout the country. Can you tell me a bit about the initiatives you are undertaking and where my readers can go for more information?

Dr. Wansink: is my main website but is an initiative I have with schools across the country. In my new book that will be released in April called Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, I will introduce groundbreaking solutions for designing our most common spaces like schools, restaurants, grocery stores, home kitchens and more.

Sergeant Volkin: You have found that we all consume more food from big packages, whatever the product is. Is it safe to say you do not have a Costco or BJ’s Wholesale membership card? 

Dr. Wansink: I have actually been a member of a wholesale club for years. Just because you buy in bulk doesn’t mean you need to eat in bulk. Let’s say you buy a big bag of pretzels at one of these warehouse stores. I suggest portioning out the pretzels in baggies.  This method has proven to effectively reduce the amount of food you consume. Now let’s suppose you buy a bag of chips at one of these warehouse stores but the chips are already in individual bags.  My suggestion is to just take a few bags and put them in your pantry, then take the rest and store them in a place where you don’t normally store food (e.g. your garage or basement).  This method reduces the chance of you grabbing more bags than you want for a quick snack.

Sergeant Volkin: In a recent interview with the Calorie Lab you stated “Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat 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.” For those who haven’t read your books or your dozens of articles and studies, what one tip can you give them as a takeaway to this interview that will help them instantly make smarter eating decisions?

Dr. Wansink: My tip is people need to be aware of mindless eating, not mindful eating.  There are many ways people make mistakes eating, from party binging to mindless snacking.  Be conscious of the way you eat, then come up with one easy thing you can do to remedy that mistake.  Much of the time the correct action is just being conscious that you are making the mistake.

Sergeant Volkin: Dr. Wansink thank you so much for your time today and congratulations on the success of your books. I am looking forward to the release of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

Dr. Wansink: Thank you for your time and your service Sergeant Volkin

This interview was conducted by Sergeant Michael Volkin, best-selling author of military basic training books and inventor of Strength Stack 52, a unique way to transform bodyweight exercises into fun and competitive workouts.