The number one American meal choice today is the sandwich, according to the annual food industry survey, "Eating Patterns In America." And this is dinner we're talking about, not lunch. The sandwich is followed by chicken, beef and then Italian.
How did over 50,000 survey participants choose what to have for dinner? More than half said convenience. Less than a third said health. It's a pretty sorry statement about dinner, American style.
Brian Wansink has just published "Mindless Eating."
"The convenience of food has a dramatic impact on how fast we eat it and how much we eat. We tend to follow scripted behavior which is eat, eat and eat until we're full," Wansink says. "Our norm, our kind of benchmark — what is an appropriate amount to eat — has just obediently increased with the inexpensiveness and the availability of a lot of good-tasting food."
Wansink is head of the food and brand lab at Cornell University. He looks behind a two-way mirror to conduct an experiment that studies a number of clues that are known to influence people and how much they eat and enjoy food.
In one test, he sees how many seconds it takes somebody to attack a bowl of M&Ms if the television is on.
"People who end up eating their M&Ms end up, usually, taking some within the first ten seconds," Wansink says. "If the TV was not on, the delay gets a lot more extended. The average person is waiting on average 20 seconds, even 25 seconds."
It's enough time to reconsider pigging out. And speaking of M&Ms, the more colors there are to choose from, the more you'll eat.
"What happens is, we eat with our eyes," Wansink says. "We don't eat with our stomach."
Wansink demonstrates how our eyes can deceive us.
"When people pour into a short, wide glass, they end up pouring about 28 percent more than they do in the tall, skinny glass," he says.
And the bigger the bottle, the more we pour — which would help to explain why Americans are consuming 25 percent more calories since 1970 — typically, 2,700 a day.
It's bad enough that we're stuffing ourselves, but it's worse what we're stuffing ourselves with.
"We average more than 140 pounds of sugar and other sweeteners a year," Wansink says.
No wonder a third of the population is now obese.