The Mindless Method - Just another diet?

>> Apr 29, 2010

I recently received an email from Dr. Brian Wansink telling me about his affiliation with a new program called "The Mindless Method". Dr. Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, Why we eat more than we think, is the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and has done some really interesting research about how and why we eat large amounts of food without realizing. Now, there is a diet program called "The Mindless Method" based on his research. His email reads:

I am excited to tell you about the Mindless Method. It's a powerful, uplifting program based upon my research that creates customized plans to transform bad Mindless Eating habits into good ones. It's not a diet, I believe it's something better, and it's available only at Information about the program is available at and at the Mindless Method home page.

The Mindless Method company contracted with me to provide detailed guidance in the design of the program, to review and approve program content, and to provide ongoing consultation. Everything I advised them of, and everything my research supports, they have done to the letter. In my opinion they offer the best program there is based on my research to transform Mindless Eating.

I was skeptical at first, it sounded like Dr. Wansink "sold out". Was this just another diet program?? However, since I am such a fan of Dr. Wansink's work, I decided to check it out. At first glance, some of the claims on the home page would raise some red flags, such as this one:
All I did was rearrange my cupboards and I've lost 5lbs!
So, I decided to use Dr. Yoni Freedhoff's list of the "Top 10 things to look for in a weight loss program" to evaluate the credibility of this diet program. According to Dr. Freedhoff, a legitimate weightloss program meets the following ten criteria. Will the Mindless Method pass, or fail?

1. The program is not a one-size-fits-all diet and has individualized nutritional, exercise and behavioural components.

Pass, sort of? According to the website, a Mindless Advisor (they probably could've picked a better name!) will ask you questions about you lifestyle, personality and goals, and will use that information to identify problems in your eating habits and select solutions from a database. This is about as "individualized" as any large-scale program can be.

2. Nutritional advice is provided by a physician or a registered dietitian.

Pass. As mentioned, the program is based on Dr. Wansink's methods and advice. Beyond that, it doesn't say who else was involved in developing the program or their credentials.

3. Exercise is encouraged but physical activity is promoted at a gradual, rather than at an injury-inducing rapid pace

According to the website: We encourage everyone to exercise in the manner and to the extent that their doctors recommend, but the Mindless Method does not impose any particular exercise routine or activity level.
4. Reasonable weight loss goals are set encouraging at most a 3lb per week pace and the program does not promise or imply dramatic, rapid, weight-loss as an outcome

Pass. In fact, the website warns those looking for a quick fix that "the pounds will not "fly off" as they temporarily do with deprivation diets", but rather, the "intention is to help weight come off - often for good - at a rate of about one or two pounds per month, sometimes more".

5. The program does not require large sums of money at the start or make clients sign contracts for expensive, long-term programs without the option of at least partial refunds (which you should discuss with them before enrolling)

Pass. Although I don't know the exact prices, according to the site, membership costs less per week than the cost of a typical fast-food meal. The program does require an initial 3 month commitment, but claims this is to give people enough time to break habits and create good ones, and to encourage a chance to see benefits.

6. The program does not promote diets lower than 800 Calories daily and if less than 1200 daily are supervised by a physician.

Pass. There's no giving up certain foods, measuring or weighing of foods, and no counting Calories or carbs.

7. The program does not require the use or purchase of any products, supplements, vitamins or injections

Pass. The program states "We don't require special foods or powders or pills".

8. The program does not make outlandish claims such as, “you will only lose fat” or that they are able to, “target” problem areas.

Pass. In my opinion, the program makes very modest claims.

9. The program has an established maintenance program optionally available.

Pass. There is no mention of a "maintenance program" per se, however, that's because the core of the program is based on lifestyle change, rather than dieting. The goal is to change habits and thoughts about food, which essentially will lead to maintenance.

10. The program is able to provide you with statistics that include the percentage of clients who drop out, the average percentage of weight loss and the average weight loss sustained following completion of their maintenance program.

Fail. I could not find any information on statistics.

My thoughts: We know doing small, simple things, such as switching water for cola, can lead to weight loss without any other dietary or exercise changes. So imagine what making a hundred or a thousand tiny changes could do. On top of that, the program targets the things we do without thinking, such as eating everything on our plates (no matter how big the plate), that lead to overeating. According to the Mindless Method, their clients work on changing their environment and thoughts, so that they are eating less mindlessly. This could work.

However, I think there is a group of people who this type of diet program will not work for. Those who are overeating for emotional issues, or who eat quite well already but really just need exercise are two groups that come to mind. The other flaw I see with this program is that it doesn't seem to provide guidance in terms of healthy eating. Sure, choosing the smaller size popcorn is a good first step, but does it encourage making healthier choices?

Final verdict: I give this program a pass. I like that it's not restrictive, and focuses on changing habits. As long as people have realistic goals, this could definitely work for a lot of people. So much of what we eat is done mindlessly, if we can set our environment up so that we're eating LESS mindlessly, it is very possible to lose weight. If this program incorporated some healthy eating guidance into it, I think it would be even better.

What do you think?

*This has been a completely unpaid review and I have no ties to the Mindless Method or Dr. Wansink.



Michael Pinnisi April 29, 2010 at 7:00 PM  

Thank you for this thoughtful review of the Mindless Method! You've summarized well many of the program's features and its spirit. I write to clarify just a few points. We actually do assist people with mindlessly eating healthier, not just eating less, and to help family members eat better too. I’m sorry these aspects of the program are not made clear enough on the home page or in the FAQ. We do have a maintenance program, called “Keep the Change,” which is mentioned (perhaps too subtly) on the sign-up page. We want people to stay in the program both to help themselves and to help others in the community by sharing their experiences, so we steeply discount memberships beyond one year. Pricing for all plans is published on the sign-in page. Enter the CHARTER MEMBERS promotional code at the top and the presently-discounted rates will appear. Our program is newly available to the public, so for proof of efficacy we rely upon Dr. Wansink’s 20+ years of research in the field, much of which is available in the Library section of the site, and other behavioral psychology research. As you rightly say, our claims are modest, but we believe we offer the most effective plan for durable change that is available. Thanks again for the review, and I hope we can help some of your readers experience Better Living Through Less Thinking. – Michael Pinnisi, CEO, The Mindless Method.

Janine Bolton April 30, 2010 at 8:21 AM  

Thanks for stopping by Michael, and clearing up those points!

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