Mindless eating: 8 reasons women eat when we’re not even hungry

by Carolyn Thomas

Cornell University researcher and food psychologist Dr. Brian Wansink knows that there are other reasons to eat besides just being hungry.

Dr. Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, a book described by CBC television as the “Freakonomics of Food“, says:

“If we knew why we ate the way we do, we could eat a little less, eat a little healthier, and enjoy it a lot more.”

He is talking about that bag of corn chips your hand keeps dipping into while you watch TV, or that big 13-inch dinner plate you load up – whether you’re hungry or not.

He says that we make about 200 food decisions a day, like:

  • Should I have coffee?
  • Should I put milk in it?
  • Whole or skim?
  • Should I butter my toast before I spread the peanut butter on?
  • Do I pour my orange juice into a short, wide glass (you’ll drink more)
  • or a tall, narrow glass (you’ll drink less)?

He also cites these eight factors that can influence what goes into our mouths that have nothing at all to do with hunger. Do any of these sound familiar to you?  

1. Sights, Sounds, and Smells

Overeating can be triggered just by the alluring smell of bacon frying, or the sound of popcorn popping, or just walking past the bakery window with those freshly baked cinnamon buns on display.

2. Distracted Eating

“Eating amnesia” is the act of almost unconsciously putting food in your mouth without paying attention to what you’re eating. Think potato chips or nachos. When you eat more mindfully, you really taste the food — and are more likely to feel satisfied sooner.

3. Food, Food Everywhere

When food is in front of you, you’ll tend to eat more of it, Dr. Wansink says. He and his colleagues found that when candy was easily accessible on employees’ desks, they ate an average of nine pieces a day, but when they had to get up from their desks to reach the candy six feet away, they ate only four pieces.

4. Food that’s Fast, Convenient, and Inexpensive

Fast-food combo meal deals sound like a bargain especially if you choose to ‘super-size’ them, but they are loaded with fat, sodium, and calories, unless you choose healthier options like salads and grilled chicken sandwiches — even if they cost a little more.

5. Portion Distortion

Our idea of a normal portion has become skewed, in part because so many restaurants serve oversized portions. Mindful eating can help here, too. Eat slowly, put the fork down in between bites, taste the food and become more in touch with what you are eating and how it tastes, so you can enjoy it more and start to appreciate satisfaction with smaller portions.

6. Giant-Size Packages

Experts tell us that mega-sized packages like those jumbo flats of jumbo muffins at Big Box discount stores like Costco can affect us on an unconscious level and cause us to eat more. Researchers have found that when you eat from a large container, you are likely to consume 25% to 50% more than you would from a smaller package — especially when you’re eating snacks and sweets.

7. Not-So-Dainty Dishware

We tend to eat more when we’re served from larger containers. Dr. Wansink found that when students were given food in larger bowls, they served themselves 53% more and consumed 56% more than those who used smaller bowls. Daintier dishware (try using a salad plate instead of a big dinner plate) plus smaller utensils can help slow your eating.

8. Too Much Variety

A buffet restaurant can offer too many choices, encouraging having a taste (or more) of everything, and before you know it, your plate runneth over. “Too much variety on your plate at one meal can often mean too much food overall.”

Find out more about Dr. Wansink’s book MindlessEating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

See also:

6 thoughts on “Mindless eating: 8 reasons women eat when we’re not even hungry

  1. Pingback: Little Steps To Health
  2. This is a real toughie for me. I have had so many heart healthy programs aimed at me, and out of frustration I simply chuck it and go for the salt and chocolate…and yes, even when I’m not hungry. Yes, I know it is wrong but just knowing it doesn’t stop me.


  3. I’m surprised that this author does not include the common over-eating trigger of emotional eating. In our family, we eat when we’re celebrating, we eat when we’re upset, we eat when we socialize – we seem to look at food as an integral part of family life no matter what’s going on! First thing we do when friends or family drop in is to put out platters of food.


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