Browsing through Crosswords bookstore at Kemps Corner one day I mindlessly picked up, well, “Mindless Eating”. It was the question “Wondering why you ate too much popcorn or Chinese food?” in one of the comments on the back cover that caught my eye. Since the one thing I cannot resist is Chinese food - I probably eat Chinese once a week and the totally “paisa vasool” but absolutely unhealthy personal buffet at the Mah Jong restaurant in Khar has been on the menu a lot off late - I wanted to see what would convince me to eat less of it!
Closer examination revealed that the author Brian Wansink Ph.D is a food psychologist who specializes in investigating the mental and emotional factors that cause us to eat. A food anything will usually catch my attention but a food psychologist was a new one and I bought the book despite the steep price.
According to the Mindless eating , each time I give in to this craving for Chinese food, I consume unnecessary calories. Just to check I got some expert input. According to nutritionist Naini Setalvad, “an ideal restaurant meal should total upto 500 – 800 calories, but in the case of Indian Chinese, which comprises of deep fried, corn flour gravy smothered dishes like Manchrian, Chilli chicken, and fried wontons, your calorie intake can shoot up to a whopping 2-3000 calories at a single meal. Factor in the buffet format, and you can cross all limits!” Taking into account the tendency most of us have to eat until our stomachs protest, this is worrying.
The problem lies in tendency most of us have to eat until our stomachs protest since, as mindless eating points out, our stomachs can’t count how much we eat and therefore don’t know when to stop. It goes on to say that an average person of normal weight underestimates their food intake by 20% and an obese person by 30 – 40%. Citing various case studies Mindless Eating illustrates the solution – while the stomach cannot count, the eyes can.
According to Mindless eating, if one was presented with the entire volume of food they consumed after several servings at a buffet, one would not be able to eat it all. It suggests you see your food before and while you eat it. Have you ever noticed how leaving restaurants that serve plated food, you are usually pleasantly full as opposed to bursting? Come to think of it, I rarely manage to actually clear the plate on these occasions! Plating meals result in you consuming 14% less then when you have everything handy for refills.
That said however plating food is tough to do in the Indian meal format but here is a workable solution. Serve recommended amounts of Dal, rice and rotis into your plate and leave serving bowls of them in the kitchen, out of sight. However keep vegetables and salads in front of you at the table. This results in the healthier options being more accessible making it more likely for you to reach for them to fill the gap between the stages of “I could eat some more” and “I am full”.
This is only one of the lessons I learnt from Mindless Eating, the book has many more. The essential lesson the book teaches however, is that the mindless food choices we make can add 200 - 300 calories to our diet daily amounting to 12-15 kgs annually! However, just like ones mind is conditioned to make the choices that result in weight gain, it can be reconditioned to lose weight, simply by being more mindful of one’s eating habits.
The message is a valuable one. It is also eruditely delivered in snappy packaging. The chapters are full of interesting, case studies based on scientific research but presented in an eminently readable avatar and each chapter concludes with solutions to the issues it studies.
What I appreciated most about Mindless Eating however was that it focused on the micro-environment – my surroundings as opposed to a macro-food environment of the world that other books have covered. After all it is my immediate environment that directly influences my food choices on a daily basis; tells me how seemingly unimportant choices such as the size of the plate I eat from, my dining company, and even the ambiance I eat in influences how much food I will serve and eat. It also underlined to me that as the primary food provider I am the Nutritional Gatekeeper in my home and 72% of what my family eats inside and outside the home is because of choices I make.
To think I almost put it back because I thought it was a diet book! I hadn’t read the first and last sentence of the book then - “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on!”