Brian Wansink explains dangers of eating mindlessly at Food Sense symposium

Friday, March 16, 2012 | 9:53 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Small changes such as eating from a smaller plate can have profound effects on how much you eat. 

Those are the kinds of conclusions best-selling author Brian Wansink has come to. He shared his research as the keynote speaker Friday at Jesse Hall for the eighth annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium: Food Sense and Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Research Week.

In his lecture, Wansink discussed eating mindlessly, which often leads to overeating or eating unhealthy food. His solution to mindless eating is not "mindful eating," but changing one's environment to mindlessly eat less. In other words, make healthy food choices just as convenient and easy as unhealthy ones, so you don't have to think about them. 

Wansink is a John Dyson professor of consumer behavior and director of the Food and Brand lab at Cornell University. He is the lead author of more than 100 academic articles and books on eating behavior, including the best-selling "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think."

Among other findings, his research shows that childrens' eating habits are highly affected by lunch line layout.

Children make more healthful choices when a salad bar stands between them and the check-out register, he said. If milk and water are placed in front of sugary beverages, milk and water sales increase. Displaying fruit choices in an aesthetically pleasing bowl in a well-lit area at the beginning of the lunch line also proved to have positive effects. 

Though Wansink focused mainly on school lunches during his lecture, he also gave some tips for healthier living: 

  • Eat food from a smaller plate — it decreases how much you eat.
  • Keep names in mind — giving a mediocre dish a fancy name subconsciously affects our perceptions of its taste. 
  • Sit far away from the Chinese buffet, and use chopsticks — you'll eat slower. 
  • At home, keep healthy foods visible. Make sure you have easy access to them when you're walking out the door. 

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