Book Review: Mindless Eating

Wansink, Brian. 2006. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Random House. New York.

Wansink’s diet plan is a response to the weaknesses of other plans. Other plans, he argues, fail because when you’re on them, you know you’re on a diet, you feel restricted, and your body fights against the restrictions. Wansink proposes implementing small changes into your diet that reduce your caloric intake by as little as 100 calories a day. A small change like this, he argues, will barely be noticed. He admits that weight loss will be slow – only a few pounds a year. But he argues that this is a more sustainable method of losing weight than a crash diet that you won’t be able to stick with for very long.

The problem with this method, however, is that to implement small changes into your diet STILL requires constant thought and will power every day, and he never actually gets around to telling you how his plan is “mindless.” He even proposes keeping a daily log detailing how well you are able to stick to your strategies. What’s mindless about keeping daily logs? Ultimately, his weight loss plan is likely to very unfulfilling because you will be on the plan for months before seeing any results, but the plan requires just as large a commitment as any other diet plan.

Wansink is much more successful at discussing the subtitle of the book, “Why we eat more than we think.” Essentially, the book is a collection of dozens of food experiments he’s conducted over the years. He demonstrates somewhat effectively that the average person is unaware of how much they’re eating. He argues that overeating has become a “mindless” habit. He gives ample evidence that most of us underestimate how much we eat or how often we eat. His solution to reverse “mindless” overeating is to change our habits so that we “mindlessly” eat appropriately.

The only problem is that making this transition is NOT mindless, so there’s really nothing “mindless” at all about his plan. It’s just slower.

Book Review: How Cities Work

Marshall, Alex. 2000. How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken. Austin: University of Texas Press.

This is a very pessimistic book. The sub-theme of the book is “don’t bother trying anything because everything sucks and nothing works.” But his main purpose is to simply point out that Land Use, Transportation, and Economix are all interrelated, and that every time we make a decision regarding one of them, we need to fully understand how it will impact the others. Each decision has secondary impacts that decision-makers often don’t fully understand.

Some of the relationships between land use, economics, and transportation are tricky. For example, when someone decides to build an exurban home, they are contributing to the failure of any retail business that does not provide parking. Another example is that those who choose to ride bicycles “to reduce traffic congestion” often end up causing more congestion (one slow moving cyclist will cause more traffic congestion than if he/she had simply driven and added one additional car to the traffic flow). Again, our constant pursuit for rock-bottom prices is a goal we can achieve (Wal-Mart) but it will come at the expense of higher transportation costs, store employees who don’t know anything and can’t offer advice, and encouraging (not just facilitating) customers to live further away.

He argues that land use is a result of transportation, not the other way around, which is why, he argues, solutions like New Urbanism will never make any significant change to our society. New Urbanism attempts to change transportation by first changing land use – in the wrong order. He argues that a change in transportation will automatically result in a change in land use, but changes in land use will be very slow to result in any changes in transportation habits.

It’s a good read although my eyes got a little droopy during a chapter or two.