Last year, when I was reviewing food researcher Brian Wansink's book about ways to trick yourself into eating better, I noticed that the way he did some of his research seemed fishy. A statistician agreed with me. But I posted the book review anyway.
Photo by Joanna Boj.
'.According to author Brian Wansink, we make more than 200 food-related decisions every day — most without really thinking about them. Slim by Design takes Wansink's surprising research on how we make those decisions and turns it into actionable tips..'
Why? Because Wansink's findings are fascinating. He says we enjoy expensive buffet lunches more than cheap ones, even if the food is the same. Kids behave better at dinner if you cut up their food for them. You're more likely to overeat in a messy kitchen than a clean one.
Nobody in the field was questioning his conclusions, so we didn't either.
But it turns out that the research coming out of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, which he runs, may have serious problems. A few months ago, Wansink was accused of pressuring a student to produce publishable results from a failed experiment. Cornell investigated four papers that came out of that experiment, and concluded that Wansink was guilty of "inappropriate data handling" but that his actions don't meet the definition of scientific misconduct. Wansink has agreed that, going forward, he'll have independent experts check his work.
We've posted tips from Wansink's lab many times over the years — and now we're not sure which of them are reliable. Besides those four papers that Cornell looked at, critics have questioned dozens more, saying that sometimes the numbers don't add up. This is related to the problem that the statistician and I noticed in Wansink's book: He waded through giant data sets looking for anything that stood out. That approach can yield lots of false positives — in other words, things that seem like they are significant but are just coincidences. (If that sounds confusing, this xkcd cartoon may help you understand.)
Since we posted so many life hacks that came out of this lab, we feel it's only fair to let you know that they're suspect. Below is a list of our posts that were based entirely or partly on Wansink's research. Let us know if we missed any.
'.The start of a new year is when many people make a resolution to eat healthier, exercise more and lose weight. But a recent study suggests that most of that weight people plan on losing is actually gained during the holidays. Now's the time to make a preemptive strike..'
'.When one person helps someone else indulge a bad habit, we call them an enabler. But what about when you make your own bad habits easier? If you want to stop enabling yourself, start making your own bad habits a pain in the arse..'
'.In his book Slim By Design, Brian Wansink of Cornell University Food and Brand Lab talks about how the subtlest external cues can influence our tendency to eat mindlessly. He believes that with a few tweaks in your kitchen's physical environment you can be reminded to make healthier choices more consistently..'
'.If you're worried about impressing someone with your cooking skills, or you're trying a new recipe for the first time, there are some mental tricks you can use on others to make your meal seem better than it really is. Here are five of the most effective..'
'.As a guest at someone else's dinner, it can be tough keeping yourself from eating too much. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you can avoid having extra food forced on you by asking for seconds on your own..'
'.There are a lot of things that can influence our food intake. marketing, mindset and that slowly spinning cheesecake in the glass case. A recent study found that who you're eating with — and whether they're larger than you — may also affect how much food you actually end up eating..'
'.Having trouble getting your kid to behave at the dinner table? New research shows that you might be able to avoid this by cutting their food into bite-sized pieces rather than serving things they have to use their front teeth to bite into..'
'.You already know that expectations can colour your experiences, but when it comes to wine, it's especially true. This video from Science Friday explains why our expectations and our environment plays such a huge role in how we perceive this ancient drink..'
'.Half the problem with dieting is that what you know is good for you is in competition with what feels good. One way to help is to trick yourself into feeling satisfied with less food by dimming the lights..'
'.Eating healthy isn't just about willpower and appetite; sometimes we also make unconscious, unintentional food choices. Research suggests you can use food triggers to make sure you eat healthier..'
'.Imagine this. Your friend just stopped by to drop off a plate full of cookies and some holiday cheer. Your co–workers are carting boxes of baked goods into work. Clients are sending over packages of chocolates and candy. Right now, some version of this scene is playing out across the world, and the message is pretty clear. you're going to be eating more over the next few weeks..'
'.There are loads of cliché wisdoms about nutrition. Eat at least five servings of fruit every day. Drink plenty of water. Eat three separate meals. Do this, do that, that's "healthy". What's true? Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich explores the science behind what we eat and how it affects the brain's performance..'
'.Good nutrition is essential to maintaining our energy and productivity levels each day. While research on how foods affect our brains is still young, there are some tried-and-true ways to get the most out of what we eat, including making sure we reach first for the best foods for daily alertness..'
'.What you eat is important, but even healthy food can stop you from losing weight if you eat too much of it. I never recommend extreme calorie restriction (most people aren't very good at it anyway), but there are some tricks you can use to slightly reduce the amount of food you eat without feeling deprived, or even really noticing..'