In Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating, his lab reports that the average person makes well over 200 decisions about food every day. Unfortunately, we are often not aware when we are making these choices and these mindless choices have consequences. According to Wansink, if we were more aware of why we ate the way we do, we would “eat a little less, eat a little healthier, and enjoy it a lot more.”
Practicing mindfulness helps us to become more aware of all of the decisions that we make, including those to do with food. I was particularly aware of this as I went to a Starbucks counter recently. Now Starbucks has always somewhat intimidated me because, faced with too many choices, I tend to get a little overwhelmed. Further, I haven’t taken the Starbucks language course they must be giving somewhere so I get confused with the descriptors such as Tall, Grande, or Venti; Short; Skinny; Half-caf; Misto; and Macchiato. Truly, usually all I want is a small coffee. So, in addition to the confusion with too many choices and not knowing the language I add my own internal dialogue about what I want to drink. It was a little before noon and I was going to be giving a presentation through the lunch hour without having food until afterwards. I wanted a little perk-me-up as I had just driven two hours and was a little road weary. Warning: When you are tired it is a little more difficult to make good choices. In fact, my more hedonistic self piped right up and wanted a double mocha which would have sent me on a soaring caffeine chocolate high for about an hour and then I would have crashed HARD. Mindfully setting that choice aside, another voice piped up and said “try something new” like an addition of one of those syrupy concoctions with your coffee, but after tasting my colleague’s “skinny latte with mocha syrup” I decided that definitely wasn’t for me. I knew if I got “a small coffee” that it would sit uneasily on my empty stomach and I had a presentation to give. I eventually settled on a latte that would include milk to coat my stomach and give me a little nutrition until I had time to eat a proper lunch. I must add that it was not a “skinny.” Who can make a good latte with skim milk? Taste is always important to me and something that I don’t give up when it comes to my food and drink. This cognitive decision making process took me about 2 minutes but it was time well spent. I doubt that most people really pay that much attention.
This story demonstrates the numerous decisions that we constantly make about food. To me it is refreshing that apparently some stores are actually beginning to see a deleterious effect of giving people too many choices. According to a recent article in SmartMoney it was reported that “retailers are pruning their selection to semi-manageable levels” because studies have found that too much choice actually hurts sales. Looking at the picture of the grocery store aisles I would say that decision came none too soon.