“Mindless Eating” – Why Do We Continue to Eat When We Are Full?

June 18, 2009

I was doing some research online today and stumbled across a description of a book that made good sense to me: Mindless Eating. I haven’t ordered the book yet, but I liked the parts that I’ve read so far. Food psychologist, Dr. Brian Wansink examines why we eat more than we should even when full. I’m the sort of person who can eat a full bag of chips, a bowl of candy, and basically anything placed in front of me. If it isn’t near me I’m good, but if food is within reach for extended periods of time I will eat it all! Dr. Wansink has my eating-style nailed down to a “t”!

Plate of nachos

[If you put this plate of nachos in front of me, I will continue to devour it until the plate is empty! I don’t care how big the plate is. My hand will continue to grab chips on autopilot until nothing is left. “My name is Rusty and yes, I am a mindless eater”. The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.]

Having Symptoms of Mindless Eating Without Realizing It

I am a full-blown mindless eater, no doubt about it! It is dangerous for me to go to restaurants that serve big portions. I have to finish the plate. There is something deep inside me that won’t let me leave food on a plate. You may or may not be a hardcore mindless eater like me, but most people exhibit mindless eating behaviors without knowing it. Dr. Wansink conducted a bunch of interesting studies showing just how common this problem is.

The Mindless Eating – Stale Popcorn Study

Two groups of theater patrons were given free containers of stale popcorn. One group was given a large container and one group was given an extra-large container (both too big too consume). Each group’s containers were collected after the movie and they were told this: “Some people tonight were given medium-size buckets of popcorn, and others, like yourself, were given these large-size buckets. We have found that the average person who is given a large-size container eats more than if they are given a medium-size container. Do you think you ate more because you had the larger size?”

The Group Given the Larger Bucket Ate 53% More Popcorn

When they were told that they most likely ate more due to the fact that the container was larger, most of the people denied that it applied to them…saying “Things like that don’t trick me,” or “I’m pretty good at knowing when I’m full.” When they weighed the popcorn, they found that those with the largest bucket ate 53% more popcorn. Wansink stated…”Most people eat mindlessly, based on the size of the container and other cues—not the taste of the popcorn or how hungry or full they are.”

The Mindless Eating – Chocolate Candy Dish Study

Dr. Wansink performed this fun study on desk-bound secretaries and chocolate candy. On week one, he placed the candy dish on the corner of the secretary’s desk. During week 2, the candy dish was placed in the top left-hand desk drawer. During week 3, he placed the candy dish six feet from the desk. When the candy was on the desk, the secretaries ate 9 pieces on average per day…when in the desk, 6 pieces on average…six feet from the desk, 4 pieces on average.

“The More Hassle It Is to Eat, the Less We Eat”

Dr. Wansink had this to say about the candy dish study “The basic principle is convenience…When we talked to the secretaries after the study, many of them mentioned that having six feet between them and the candy gave them enough time to think twice whether they really wanted it. It gave them time to talk themselves out of having another chocolate.”

By the Age of 5 We Typically Eat Whatever is In Front of Us

Professor Wansink has observed that a 3 year old will stop eating when they are full, regardless of how much food is placed in front of them. By the age of 5, however, a child will eat whatever is placed in front of them…”If they are given a lot, they will eat a lot”. Serving size plays a huge role on how much we eat.

Habits Are Harder to Change Than Your Environment

In my opinion it is easier to not have the big portions of food in front of you in the first place. One of the tips that Dr. Wansink gives is to dish up your plate for dinner and then put the remaining food in the fridge before eating…don’t have the food out so that you can go back for seconds and thirds. Also, it makes sense to not have high calorie snacks in front of you when you are watching TV or watching a movie.

A Good Restaurant Strategy to Ensure You Eat Less

A couple of days ago, I walked to get pizza and a beer with my girlfriend (a mile away, trying to get my daily walking in). What we decided to do was order a dinner salad and a small personal pizza and split them both. We had just a little salad and a few slices of pizza and a beer. Going forward, we have decided that at many restaurants we will each order a dinner salad and split one of the main courses. It is a way to insure that we don’t eat 2,000 calorie dinners at the places that serve massive portions. Give it a try!

Note: Please comment on whether you think you are a “mindless eater” or not. I am a full-blown mindless eater, and here to support you!

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Brandon June 21, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I just ate a box of mini wheats with some blueberries and 2 bowls of honey nut cheerios. Im glad I just read this article..little too late..

Laura June 21, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Hi Rusty – I’m not sure if this is an inappropriate place to ask this but I couldn’t find any contact info for you!
Anyways, your site has totally reinvented my fitness and body goals. I have been doing olympic weightlifting/bodybuilding/powerlifting routines for 2 years along with the whole “protein obsessed + calories to grow!” diet and result is… BULK. I’m not sure where I was going with this kind of training but I certainly don’t have the look I was going for. That being said, I look a lot better than being skinny fat with absolutely zero definition. I now have some definition, but no where in proportion to the bulkiness that the fat has added.

Anyways, I’m looking to get more into training for functionality and health rather than weird distorted aesthetics. I’m 5’8″ and 155lbs right now – with quite a bit of muscle and a small padding of fat all over (yes, it’s a little bit of a nightmare but not devastating).

My main goal right now should be fat loss pure and simple. My question to you is what kind of DIET do you suggest for healthy fat loss while retaining muscle? (not looking to get back to “skinny fat”. “fit” and “toned” yet curvy is my ideal).

As for training, I’m looking to incorporate a lot more conditioning into my routine and become much more of an athlete; with a rowing focus (i’ve competed before and plan on trying out for the college team again this fall). What do you think of this rough plan?

Monday: Weights (Supersetting with little rest – Squats+ Pullups, Romanian deadlifts + incline press)

Tuesday:Rowing Endurance

Wednesday: Rowing Sprints

Thursday: Bodyweight Circuit + Rowing technique

Friday: Running Sprints (.5 mile warm up, 200m x 2, 150m x 2, 100m x 2)

Saturday: Bodyweight Circuit + skipping

Sunday: Rest

How does this look? Sorry it’s so long.

NancyJ June 21, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Rusty,

It sounds like we all have the same “mindless eating” SNACKING HABITS!

But here are a couple of “snacking” suggestions that have always worked for me: (when I am being *good* that is!):

RAW VEGGIE SNACKS:
I wash and peel several carrots and several celery stalks and cut them up into fairly small pieces and store them in the fridge. Then, every day, I take several cups worth and put them in a plastic bag and take them to work with me. Sometimes I eat the whole thing as “lunch” and other times I split it up and use it as “snacks”. Now, true, this stuff is not as delicious as chocolate, but after 1 or 2 days, you can actually retrain your palate to like this stuff. It is low in calories. Mind you, though, carrots have carbs, so if you are worried, don’t eat too many but if you are more or lett counting calories, this helps stave off the hunger…as long as you are drinking your 8+ glasses of water per day.

STEAMED VEGGIE SNACKS:

Here is another suggestion…which is even better!

Take several heads of cauliflower, broccoli, some mushrooms, and (if you aren’t strictly watching carbs, you can in clude some cherry tomatoes, sweet vidalia onion slices and peppers, etc) and steam the whole lot. It may take several batched to steam all of this, eve in a big steamer, but do it.

Then put all the steamed vegetables into a huge bowl, cover and store in the fridge. Then if you get the munchies, take a cup or so of these veggies – cut up in small pieces …and even COLD…they are delicious…you can add a little soy sauce (lo sodium) and a little lo-fat of fat free “parmesan cheese” for seasoning…and /or any other spices you like…like a little garlic salt or other herbs…it is a very, very tasty and filling snack! You can even eat them with a toothpick…takes longer to eat that way and feels like a finger food snack. Quite often, I use chopsticks…they are fun and even though I am quite adept at using them, the somewhat slow down the process and keep my individual portions “small” and I get full faster, I think.

After a few days of using these things as snacks, you will find that (1) you don’t overeat these foods, even if you enjoy them and (2) you actually start to prefer them to the “junk food” after a while.

Every time I fall off the wagon, I get right back up and go to these snack tricks and they always save me.

Remember – Fruit is “good” for you, but it is higher in sugar content (like carrots) so I wouldn’t go crazy on eating a lot of fruit.

But apples and strawberries and cherries and grapes are not tooterrible if you MEASURE a half cup serving and limit yourself to that – and eat only one or two servings of fruit per day (while you are trying to reduce).

Later on, of course, if you are in a maintenance mode, maybe you can cheat a little and have one or two extra servings of fruit but that is not the best thing to do when you are still trying to lose flab quickly.

Well, hope this helps!

tony K June 22, 2009 at 12:42 am

I did a post on my blog http://www.emotionsforengineers…healthful-eating.html some months ago.

I completely agree with your message ands sometimes finds myself in the mindless eating bind as well.

Restaurants are difficult, and especially if there is alcohol involved. I just stop thinking and start eating. Really good post to get me thinking about that again. Thanks.

Eat mindfully.

Tony

Sagheer June 22, 2009 at 2:49 am

Hey Rusty
Been reading your blog for a while and I love the fact that you are not afraid of trying things which are different and at times may be at odds with your method of training.
I was 80kgs (5’8″) when I decided to work out as my job as an equity analyst is long drawn (15 hr days) and with little exercise. I dropped down all the way to 63kgs (11% BF), then decided to buff up a bit. Thanks to all those fads I overate and now I have 17% BF, 70kgs. I think your method of training makes sense to me. I do not aspire to be built like a pro wrestler. I want a Tom Cruise kind of physique, so working towards that. My main fight is with my diet. Indian food is carb rich and not exactly very healthy! HELP!
PS: recommended your Fitness Black Book on my blog!

katie June 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I know how you feel about eating everything that’s on your plate–being a part of the clean plate club was nothing special in my house growing up as my grandfather used to say “you either eat it or you wear it,” so everyone’s plate was clean (the catch was, he served you so you had no control as to how much it was).
I also saw a tv show that did a study about this, and proved that individuals at a buffett will eat more if they are given larger plates as the serving sized look smaller than they actually are. Interesting…

admin June 23, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Flag Gal,

Sounds like a good idea to eat on a smaller plate. I will give that a shot.

M0L,

I want an instant refillable soup bowl. Actually it would probably be a bad idea, because I can put down a lot of soup. As far as HIIT and Crazy 8’s enlarging your legs…there shouldn’t be an issue here. Make sure you do all of this while on a calorie deficit and you should be good.

Deanna,

It would be tough to have a corner store that close…especially since most corner stores are full of high calorie processed food. Stay strong!

Helder,

I remember those days of trying to bulk up and put on as much weight as possible. That is such a terrible way to add muscle (for those who are trying to add muscle). It feels much better to stay lean year round and eat healthy foods and only eat higher calorie stuff from time to time. Like you, I have those “pig out” days as well…they are typically during the holidays or celebrating when family each brings a big dish of something good.

*** Have to run*** Will catch up on the rest of the comments soon,

Rusty

Mr T June 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Best article I’ve read on fat loss since the ‘eat less calories than you burn’ one. The best advice is the simplest and this is vanilla ice. T

PS – I too am a stickler for cleaning the plate (and others’) – I think it’s in mens’ psyche to eat everything in sight as if you don’t know when the next meal will be. This ties in with the hunter gatherer theories. My mum always says “slow down – nobody’s going to take that away from you”. I think that says a lot.

Cornell June 24, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I think that we all have periods of mindless eating or the obesity rate wouldn’t be so high. I personally learned the hard way that your body takes care of you untill your 40 and then you take care of it. I won’t ever get a pot belly again. So regardless of what I eat now, I try to make sure that I have a salad or water rich vegetables with every meal. This basically makes sure that my water rich food intake stays at least 35% and curbs my appetite. It also helps because vegetables being fiber absorb fat and keep me with healthy toned muscle.

admin June 24, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Norbi,

I’m with you on salty trail mix type stuff…I have a hard time stopping.

Yash,

Both explanations make sense to me, but the second one seems more probable. My guess is that the stomach doesn’t shrink after a fast…or at least not significantly. This would make for a good study, because after a certain period of time, I don’t crave food.

joey,

It sounds like you know your weakness .I’m with you…I just keep this stuff out of my apartment most of the time.

sangita,

I’m sorry to hear that India is getting westernized…I like it when cultures stay a bit more unique. I think that soft drinks are a huge reason why people are overweight in the US. People can easily add 400-500 extra calories per day just by drinking soft drinks. Over the course of a month, this can add an extra 3 pounds of body fat. Over the course of a year…an extra 25-30 pounds. This is amplified even more if they eat fast food. I’m glad Brad Pilon has written Eat Stop Eat as well. I really enjoy his “no-nonsense” and realistic approach to staying lean.

Brandon,

I don’t even buy cereal anymore, because I have no problem taking down an entire box. Golden Grahams are like crack to me!

Laura,

I don’t include contact info, because I like to answer questions on the site (that way people with the same question can benefit). Your routine looks good. If your legs stay bulky even when you drop the body fat, then you may have to change your Monday workout a bit…besides that, it looks solid to me. As far as diet goes…do all of your workouts in a fasted state…that means no calorie of any type 3-4 hours before your training sessions. Drink black coffee or 2-3 cups of tea for a little caffeine boost if you need energy. I’d recommend “Eat Stop Eat” as the ideal diet to stay lean while enjoying regular food. Go to the top of my page and click “Best Diet Plan”.

NancyJ,

That is great advice. I am always trying to get more veggies into my diet anyway, so this is a great solution. I think I will give that a shot. I seem to do alright with fruit, because it helps me avoid really big snacks, but I know what you mean by limiting it. I have never steamed vegetables ahead of time. I think I will do the same thing and add hot sauce when snacking on them (love spicy foods).

tony K,

Restaurants are really tough at times. I do plan on implementing the strategy where me and my girlfriend each get a salad and then split an main course. I also will not be afraid to eat half and then take the rest home, if the portions are too big.

Sagheer,

Thanks for recommending my site on your blog…you should enter your domain name when commenting, so your name becomes a link to your blog (that way people from my site will visit yours). I LOVE Indian food. Some spicy masala and nan with jasmine rice makes me happy. What you have to do is limit yourself to the carb-rich Indian food to maybe just 2 times per week. The rest of the time, you should eat indian style veggies and meat dishes. Also…don’t be afraid to throw in low calorie days 1-2 times per week.

katie,

That is funny when someone demands you to eat everything on your plate and you don’t get to chose the serving size. As far as buffets go, I used to love going to buffets…getting a lot of food for the money. Now I avoid them as much as possible, because the bottom line is that it is too tempting to eat as much as possible. The ocassional Sunday brunch or trips to Vegas are the exception. Las Vegas has some buffets that can’t be missed.

Rusty

Total knee replacement June 25, 2009 at 12:32 am

you have explored awesome insights about Mindless eating, I do agree with you about some folks like me and you eating pizzas and bowls of nachos even though we are already full.

I think the logic that may work behind mindless eating could be to finish off the plate that has been offered to us. As a child i was taught to do so.

sangita June 25, 2009 at 5:05 am

Just hope I did’nt come off criticising USA. Some of the most favourite things in my life are American!

Sagheer June 25, 2009 at 5:36 am

Thanks for replying Rusty! Now I have added my site’s link. Will take your advice and see how it goes.

Lillea Woodlyns - Intermittent Fasting Review June 28, 2009 at 2:57 am

Like some other people have found, intermittent fasting has helped me realise how much mindless eating I’ve done in my life.

I still eat mindlessly at times, but at least I’m more aware of it. Mindful Mindless Eating. 🙂

D June 29, 2009 at 7:26 am

Im also in this mindless eaters category. But what about ppl who sit there and have no urge to mindlessly munch. Its all down to filling an emotional void with food isnt it..?

Melani June 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Studies have been done on people with the “50 first dates” type of amnesia. They will eat meal after meal after meal, right in a row, so the researchers concluded that awareness has almost everything to do with feeling full after apropriate portion sizes.

I, too, am a mindless eater. The only good thing about that is I don’t mind mindlessly eating carotts and celery.

Chelsey July 1, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Thankyou so much for posting this website. I used to not think that i was that bad of a mindless eater but i am. I eat everything in front of me and it doesnt matter what it is I just eat it. Its so weird because you know most of the time you dont realize what your doing at all. Im going to become more aware because this is my problem and i need to beat it. Thanks!

David July 23, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Does anybody know which restaurant/store has nachos like that?

I would very much like to know.. they look great!

Johnny Walker July 28, 2009 at 1:25 pm

you ate two brownies!!! that is awful man. go punish yourself and run 80 miles.

Vijay Kumar Raisinghani August 31, 2009 at 5:01 am

Excellent post! It is true that we continue to eat even when our stomach is full when we eat mindlessly. Bringing greater mindfulness while we eat, as well in our daily activities is the key to achieve greater peace, bliss and balance in our life.

lana April 21, 2010 at 12:09 am

Thank you for the artical
the olny thing it does not talk about is the reason why we are overeating
mostly people overeat high calorie foods because they are emotionaly upset or do not feel loved or accepted by others .

IF a person eats large amount of a high calorie foods there is no way out excersise that so that is vere the weight gain starts
at least that where it strated with me
i have found a site : Healyourhunger
they help with emotional eating

“LOVE HUNGER”
EMPTY HEART/EMPTY STOMACH

also know your trigers
sometimes it is better to stay away from foods that make you over eat .
” you dont take a first bite, you dont have a problem “

charly May 30, 2010 at 4:32 pm

i really think you are right. i am a mindless eater. i really think this is because of the way children are brought up. when you are small your parents always tell you to finish your dinner. ‘you can’t leave the table until you have finished all your meal.’ and this is something that just stays with us. it seems an achievement to finish your plate after a big meal and everyone seems impressed when you do. mindless eating is just something that everyone does but i do think it shouldn’t be in the way you feel bad for not finishing your plate. why has our world brought us up to think that it is ungrateful to not finish a meal. I do think that smaller portion sizes is the way forward. then you are eating less and not feeling bed for doing so.

suzy June 19, 2010 at 6:46 pm

what is a bug in an adult stomach,how did i get it,i’ve been given anti biotics for next 14 days

Jayme November 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I’m a total mindless eater. I HAVE to be almost obsessive about splitting up portions when I buy large quantities so that i don’t just grab a container of something when I get that ‘itch’ to munch on something.

Ron November 29, 2010 at 2:49 am

Read ‘Mindless Eating’ from Brian Wansink and you can get more comprehensive and practical suggestions on making simple changes that will allow you to lose 2 or 3 pounds per month. This is the best non-diet book there ever is.

archash December 9, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Hi Russ!

Yep! Extremely guilty here!

My main weaknesses are Pringles (one you pop you can’t stop!) and Cheetos. I am a bit of a sweet tooth as well (Darn those M&M’s). These things are probably what is halting my progress from losing these “last” stubborn 5-10lbs! Another Great read Russ!

P.S. – I just stumbled upon your site by accident (I actually forgot where I got the link lol). Like the many others here I’m also trying to get as LEAN as possible (my ultimate goal is the body Cam Giganet had in Never back down…yeah…I have a lot of work to do). I’m trying out ESE right now and pretty soon I’ll be incorporating The Vacation Body Blueprint and Visual Impact to my lifestyle (I need to read them first 😛 but I keep getting sidetracked by all these other posts you made! curses! ). Anyway, great site Rusty. My eyes are officially “opened” and I cannot stop from reading AND backreading all the posts. Keep up the good work!

Layla April 15, 2011 at 4:55 am

I’m not really a mindless eater, but I was a BIG eater. As a little girl I would eat whatever was on my plate, then eat what was left in the kitchen and then eat what was left on the plates of father, brother and mother.

I am 25 now, have struggled with my weight pretty much all my life and I am now finally at a healthy weight! I do Atkins and I have gradually stopped eating so much.
Now I can have a normal sized salad for dinner and just be satisfied! 😀

Lya July 13, 2011 at 2:03 am

I can proudly say – I am NOT a mindless eater and took me a while to work on it ..I took this approach: every time the food is in front of me I took a step back and thought about it, remembering what ate through the day and how much I can allow myself to eat. When my stomach sent me signals that it’s full, I have basically put the rest in the fridge (if I was at home), or into the rubbish bin (if I didnt’ want it at all any more), if in restaurant, I’d put the napkin on it, so I didn’t continue eating. And yes it was VERY hard.
I’ve also learned how to chew slooowly as it takes about 20 minutes for our brain to get the signal that we are full, so stretch your chewing, also better for digestion, plus drink a glass of water before your meal, you’ll get full quicker 😉
Cheers

Adam Renshaw November 17, 2011 at 3:49 am

Rusty,

I am a huge mindless eater. Until about a year ago I was pretty overweight, but now I’ve managed to get my weight is check, build a six pack and I’m now one of the fittest people on my soccer team. However, I’ve just started a new job working in corporate relations, and many events we put on are catered and they always leave excess food such as pastries, cakes, sandwiches etc. I find it extremely difficult to just have one or two items, and often end up mindlessly eating about 10 pastries, 10 sandwiches and 5 cakes in one sitting. This is worsened by the fact that it’s all free, and professionally cooked (i.e. tasty).

Do you have any advice on how I can try and ignore the temptation to mindlessly eat at work? I don’t think I can handle going back to being overweight and unhappy, but I don’t feel like I can stop myself at this rate.

Catherine August 27, 2012 at 2:24 am

Hi Rusty

I am a huge mindless eater from South Africa.

I’ve read the blog and so happy to see i am not alone.

Two years ago i managed to loose 18kg’s and have since probably only picked up 2 or 3 kg. I’ve been trying to loose it again but struggling. During the day i am fine, but as soon as i get home i want to eat whatever is in sight. I’ve removed most of the wrong foods and making healthy supper, but after supper i find myself climing into my sons treat drawer! i don’t drink a lot of water, i struggle with that. i don’t know what to do anymore !!

Janet Aldrich September 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I’m a mindless eater, but I’m also an emotional eater, and that’s a lethal combination. I agree with those who posted that not having stuff in the house that you know you can’t say “no” to is the best approach (and it helps to have eaten something light before you go to the grocery store, too).

Somedays, though (and today, sadly has been one of them) I will eat even though I’m not hungry and I can’t figure out why. Same with sweet stuff — I’ve wiped out an entire bag of Oreo Double-Stuf cookies in one sitting, even though, as I’m doing it, I’m asking myself why. I feel like a marionette whose strings are being pulled from outside.

Carrie October 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Just reading through this article I ate 15+ baby carrots, three handfuls of cheese-its, and a handful of roasted almonds. That is after I ate two full plates at dinner. I have always been a huge eater, even as a child my mother would get dirty looks from people for taking food away from me because I wouldn’t stop eating. I have been luckily gifted with a very high metabolism and I don’t really have a sweet tooth except on rare occasions. I have just hit 30 and I am starting to notice weight gain because of my horrible eating habits. I am actually a very health conscious eater, being raised on an all organic farm. I don’t eat junk food, but my portions are completely out of control. I am a 5’5′ always been 130 female, but in the last year I am starting to inch up in weight and I know it is because of the way I eat. As many have mentioned they can out eat their friends, I can out eat all my friends combined. Its been a running joke my whole life that one day it is going to catch up with me and I am going to be the woman that cant leave her house because she can’t fit through the door. I need help and I am not sure where to begin. I’ve been told it is an emotional thing, but I am not sure it is. Also my energy level has severely deteriorated over the last year also… and no I have never been an excersizer but I am active. Please Help!!!

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