In his book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think ,Brian Wansink a food psychologist reveals to us ideologies that back reasons on why we eat, what we eat and the quantity of food we actually eat. Behavioral economics is an area of study which uses social, emotional and cognitive elements in understanding the major decisions of individuals with regards to rationality and their effects towards promoting self interests. Brian Wansink uses behavioral economic models to analyze and explain why we choose certain eating habits.

The survival of the fittest

Brian Wansink uses behavioral economic models in his book to express various ideologies. The ideology of “the survival of the fittest” is a powerful idea in the organizing principles of science capturing the process of natural selection, the theory of evolution and also being a host of other associated notions in the field of science and behaviour of animals and people. This idea by Herbert Spencer from the works of Charles Darwin tends to bring out conflicting convictions among different individuals. His main focus was on the reproductive success among different species in order to avoid extinction.

The Galapagos Islands home to the famous blue-footed booby gives us a deeper insight on the statement “the survival of the fittest”. This bird, got its name from its obvious stupidity; getting itself captured by drunken sailors after lunging on their ships. Whereas on the Galapagos Islands, there is basically no predators posing a threat to its existence .Other species like the giant tortoise which are slow-paced would be doomed if flipped over onto their backs. With most of the species on Galapagos being bigger than normal, they did not actually have to be physically fit in order to survive. The bull sea lions weighed more than eight hundred pounds. While the waved albatross can withstand cold water and fly long distances, but cannot attain lift-off without the aid of a cliff or a strong wind. This clearly illustrates that even the fattest can actually survive. They are congenial to their surrounding environment, in spite of the many problems associated with them being chubby (Wansink, 2006).

With a change in the immediate environment of the species led to an extinction of giant tortoises on some islands. This was attributed to the introduction of goats and rats by people on the island. The goats ate the grass favoured by the tortoise while rats fed on the tortoise eggs. Despite the tortoises being enormous and able to go for months without feeding; with a change in the environment, they could no longer survive. Finally, they got wiped out on some of the islands. But without a change in the environment, the fat animals are also fit to survive through natural selection, a key mechanism of evolution. 

Over the past few years, the current state of obesity among Americans has been viewed as an orthodox way of being fit and surviving. According to statistics, many Americans have been growing fatter by the day revealing the levels of obesity among Americans to be more than twenty-seven percent of the general population. One wonders why are many Americans fat, while obesity is a condition affiliated with various chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart diseases. Eating more and consuming more calories than we need are cited as the most probable reasons why people are obese. Whereas technological changes, rational calculations and exercising less are also to blame for gaining excess weight. In accordance to this view, obesity is a rational decision by individuals.

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With a change in our environment, our eating habits also tend to change. According to behavioral economists, the environment tempts us with innovations in preparing food like preserving and packaging, greatly decreasing the time it takes to prepare food. Sticking to a balanced diet in a way has become difficult considering the number of fast-food restaurants and stores offering fast-foods. However, many people still spend a lot of money on weight reduction programs and diet books revealing that in actual sense people would prefer being lean to being fat. Whereas being plump would be a simpler and less involving decision. 

Brian Wansink about “eating habits”

Based on the numerous experiments Brian Wansink and his team conducted on eating habits; it has been observed that eating much is not necessarily a rational calculation but a self indulgent activity. Generally, Americans eat much as a result of inferential biases and statistical artifacts included on food labels. Use of contextual cues on food labels influences the eating habits of most individuals to a great extent involuntarily. But according to Wansink, the core reason of his book Mindless Eating is abouthow to choose what to eat, and is meant for both skinny and fat people as well.

According to Brian Wansink, we have no idea of the factors that influence us to eat. For instance, the environment surrounding us affects the food we eat and the amounts we actually eat. At times we even over eat food that we do not like unconsciously without any assessment of what we are eating. As Wansink puts it, “stomachs can’t count,” revealing that we can not hesitate after every bite to think about whether our stomachs are full. From the various studies undertaken by Wansink and his team, most people who are deceived by the size of food packages or the size, claim that their food-related decisions were not in any way influenced by those aspects. While in actual sense, the labeling and size of food packages had an impact on decisions consumers made, most of which they make with immediate apprehension without much inference on decisions made.

According to their research, psychologists Timothy Wilson and Richard Nisbett argued that most people lack a clear understanding of why they do certain things. These psychologists observed that when individuals were asked to provide reasons to validate their actions, they gave responses similar to those of mere observers. Wansink in this regard strongly argues that, in most cases people rarely have a clear ideology as to why they tend to eat so much. Indicating that in actual sense we tend to over eat without so much thought and emphasis as to why we are doing it.

Generally, the site of food makes us salivate and we most probably get to eat it, even if we are not hungry. Following experiments carried out by Wansink, it shows that we will likely eat food offered to us despite the condition of the food. The research which was conducted on Chicago moviegoers reveals that the popcorn offered to the people was actually stale. The popcorn had been prepared five days before and stored in order to ensure they would not squeak when being eaten. Despite the moviegoers not being aware of the stale condition, they still ate the popcorn. They found themselves eating something they did not love just because it was free.

In his experiments, Wansink designed to give half of the moviegoers a medium-sized bucket, while the other half received a big bucket of popcorn. After the movie, Brian Wansink probed those who had received the big buckets on whether they might have eaten more owing to the size of their buckets. Most denied arguing that such tricks did not trick them regarding what to eat. But in actual sense, they were wrong as they ate about fifty-three percent more of popcorn that they did not actually love.                           

The amount of food offered also acted as a great persuader to people eating a lot. As revealed from other experiments, individuals were told to eat as much Campbell tomato soup as they wished. Most kept eating without realizing that the bowls were being refilled automatically through a machine. This scenario proved that people ate much more when offered more food, suggesting that people stop eating when there is no more to eat. This is the case with people who keep food in the fridge being prone to eat more as opposed to those who do not. 

Also, the size and names of foods matter and act as a great influence on what people eat. It is obvious that individuals are likely to order and prefer dishes with attractive names like “Grandma’s Zucchini Cookies.” People tend to refer to these dishes as great and tastier. Implying that the names for dishes greatly influence what we eat, hence acting as a hidden persuader to what we eat and at which restaurants we eat.

Research about soy products

According to a research conducted by Wansink, eating soy products is considered healthy. But in actual sense, most people associate negatively with the word. Whereas eating soy products can help obese individuals to lose weight. This in a way portrays that fat people would prefer to gain more weight, than lose some, a reason why soy products rarely make sales. Also, in most scenarios, we eat certain foods because of the taste and flavor we expect.

Our eating habits are also greatly influenced socially by consumption norms of the groups we eat in. Statistics reveal that people eat more in groups, which is a good way to gain weight. Other notable aspects like gender tend to affect our eating habits, with women noted to eat less as compared to men when out on dates. The convenience in getting food by people also plays a paramount role in influencing our eating habits; an ideology that cafes greatly exploit.

What factors influence on eating decisions

Factors like sight, smell and sound also tend to play a significant role in our eating decisions. With soft soothing music, people tend to prolong their stay eating and drinking more. The decorations in cafeterias and the smell of food have been proven as major influences of the amount of food individuals consume.

Statistical artifacts and inferential biases on food products are regarded as the best way to ensure a proper diet. But with the self indulgent character of people as regards what to eat, it indicates that most people have inadequate information regarding food information labels. From his research, Wansink reveals that most people have very scarce information as regards the nutritional values of food they eat. In reality, fat people are more optimistic and conscious about healthy eating than people of normal weight. Most consumers are misinformed regarding food nutrition and end up consuming those foods with high calories like cookies, cheese and fries.

The “halo effect,” a cognitive bias a reason as to why the subway eaters made misinformed choices on what to eat. Most people who tend to eat more of low-fat foods end up putting on weight with a biased perception of losing it. This proves that the halo effect is a widespread perception among many people.

The book presents its arguments through various valid assumptions. These include suggesting that sticking to a proper diet is an everyday decision and choice. Wansink, a diet advisor argues that whatever we eat is greatly affected by elements that we assume not to be relevant in making food decisions. A reason as to why we keep eating even when not hungry. Ideally, our stomachs send delayed messages to signal that we have eaten enough. Therefore, fast eaters would end up eating so much before the signal is relayed to indicate the stomach is full. As a historical ideology states, food should be eaten when available in order to compensate for times of famine. Hence, obesity was considered as a plus and not a health issue as it is today. Cultural norms in a way tend to reinforce these ancient ideologies, in that the social setting regarding how food is served influences our eating habits, by sending various signals about the food.

Since most people are mindless choosers, consider matters of default option as important as regards life and what they eat. Like the ideology of savings plans for employees; employees tend to join the plan under automatic enrollment as it is a default option. Wansink argues that this behavior is attributed to the tendency of following the flow by others and a signal from how information conveyed appears. This also applies to food decisions we make.

The influence of peer pressure is also evident in influencing how and what we eat. According to Wansink, social influences affect what we decide to do in various aspects of life and not only in eating. For instance, while in a group the information conveyed by others from their behaviour influences how we eat and quantities we consume. Despite relying on food information labels to make sensible decisions regarding what we eat, at times those contextual cues could be manipulated by restaurants and advertisers to their advantage in order to promote sales. Revealing that most of what we eat is pegged on inferential biases and statistical artifacts on food products. Actually very few people make reliable decisions about what they eat and the nutritional values (Wansink, 2006).

As Wansink observes, awareness about manipulation from contextual cues can actually help us in making better diet decisions. For most families the role of the family nutritionists cannot be ignored. Being the ones who choose what the family eats, they influence the nutritional aspects of a family. The nutrition gatekeepers can actually help in putting the family on a proper nutrition. The influence of nutrition gatekeepers on their families is perceived to be strong but invisible. As Wansink reveals; most decision gatekeepers lead us to buying various items by imposing statistical artifacts that determine our decisions as regards what to eat and other major purchasing decisions. Also, employers are depicted as decision architects who prepare remuneration packages with additional benefits to entice employees.

Programs to keep fit

Governments and other institutions also use inferential biases in order to entice citizens to enroll on various programs like the poverty relief, prescription drugs and social security among others. These programs require the citizens to make decisions based on the information provided, which in most cases proves distressing and confusing to them. Like the Medicare Plan D drug-prescription plan, it could have been a better plan if they considered how people think and their thought patterns as regards such benefit plans. Most people got confused by the numerous options from which they were to choose from. The value of this program would have improved the welfare of the seniors if they were to be allowed to select plans that best suit their drug requirements and needs. With those minor changes, the welfare of the insured would improve without an increase in cost to both the insurers and the government (Taub, 2000).

Decision gatekeepers can actually guide people towards making wiser decisions. With most people aware of the impact of statistical biases, they have developed new ideas in forms of paternalism. The reason behind this libertarian form of paternalism is that in some circumstances, inferential artifacts can assist individuals make better decisions, while still enjoying their freedom of deciding and making free choices. The automatic enrolment clearly portrays this, with most people opting out, those who opted in rarely quit after being enrolled implying they were satisfied with the plan (R.Kabatznick, 1998).

Libertatian paternalism

Use of libertarian paternalism in food consumption would yield better results as opposed to bans on certain foods according to Wansink. He observes that use of contextual inferences in cafeterias or restaurants to help people select foods that are more nutritious and less fattening would yield better results. Prominently displaying articles preferring fruits to junk to promote how to eat healthy would be a better as compared to certain foods. Use of libertarian paternalism is more coercive to people and less intrusive as it ensures that individuals make free choices. This is opposed to use of bans on food products which blocks the freedom of individuals making free and informed decisions on what to eat.

Wansink observes that decision architects can actually make use of inferential cues to sustain the survival of the obese members of our society. Implementing statistical cues to reflect people’s judgments would be better than blocking such signals. This approach in turn would make us all more fit from the nutrition gatekeepers to those on a diet. Actually contextual cues should serve as an opportunity to advise us on healthy eating approaches and also as a warning on the negative effects of over consuming those foods.

The book could have produced a better effect if it also focused on the macro environment that affects food choices among individuals. As opposed to how Wansink only regarded the micro-environment as the major influence on eating habits. The macro environment also affects our food decisions. Changes in the immediate environment can serve to promote good and healthy food choices, which is the only way to transform mindless eating to healthy eating.  Dr. Wansink only bases his investigation on the emotional and mental factors that influence our eating habits. While at times other factors like availability and scarcity of food also greatly affect what we eat (Tribole, 2003).


Dr. Wansink mainly demonstrates how we can lose weight and completely ignores those who would want to add weight in his research and convictions. In his research, he only highlights the mindless activities that lead to adding of weight. This is actually a biased opinion as he would have evaluated all possibilities. He would have provided possible suggestions, not only to those who wanted to lose weight, but also for those who would prefer to add weight and still be healthy.

Following a strict eating routine can at times be very tiring. This can at times lead to people not eating at all which is even harmful to the body’s metabolism. Hence, deprivation dieting is not the way to lose weight. The book, Mindless Eating uncovers some of the ideologies that make us overeat, but is not in actual sense a diet book. This book only presents us with some strategies to assist us check on our eating habits and does not offer any detailed diet plans to follow

Dr. Wansink, a marketing professor and nutritional scientist emphasizes that basic knowledge on foods offers a better solution to losing weight permanently. But, arranging different foods in an appendix rating their advantages along with their disadvantages would be more beneficial. . While some foods may be assessed as dangerous to health, they also have other nutritional values. Hence, it would be wise to caution people to reduce their intake as opposed to discontinuing their use. Products like cheese contain vital protein elements, but it needs to be taken in measured quantities. Hence people should not eliminate the consumption of such foods completely. Otherwise they should be advised accordingly on how to reduce excessive intake of such products.

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