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This month’s book is another rare gem in pop science reading, which is to say a book written for lay people by a scientist who did most of the research in the book and who is at the forefront of his field. Brian Wansink, Ph.D. directs the Cornell Food and Brand lab and was Executive Director of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the Federal agency in charge of developing 2010 Dietary Guidelines and promoting the Food Guide Pyramid. Mindless Eating is a “best hits” of some of the hundreds of experiments that have come out of the Cornell Food Lab. From all this groundbreaking work, the resulting guidelines are simple: your clients don’t know how much they’re eating.One of the first places that most coaches go to help people become aware is a food journal, but I think some of the most powerful insights from Mindless Eating are not just what and how much we eat, but how much context determines both of those. From who we are with to where food is available, but Wansink shows how powerfully even seemingly mundane things like the shape of the vessel our food is in, can drastically increase the number of calories we eat without ever noticing. As a big advocate for “intuitive” eating, I have spent years running into the problems that come with relying on people’s awareness of their eating. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, “there is nothing so difficult as not fooling oneself.” The great contribution that Mindless Eating makes is not only simple steps to build awareness, but even simpler steps to use the phenomenon of mindless eating to a client’s advantage. Wansink is a great proponent of crafting one’s own environment to make behavior change so simple that it becomes mindless (Marc Halpern who loaned me this book talks more about how to do just that in the “Concept of the Month” this month). Most of the great takeaways from the book are in this vein. But another great concept is the 20% Rule. According to his research, people do not realize when they are eating in caloric maintenance +/- 20%. Most people are cruising at +20%, slowly gaining weight, but using a few simple tricks properly targeted to your clients’ eating styles, you can push them into the -20% zone where fat loss simply “happens.” This is a great book for coaches especially to recommend to your own clients. It’s a great example of how unaware we often are of the real problems, and how much time, energy and suffering we can throw at the wrong problems.

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