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Chances are you’ve been pulling out some of your spring and summer clothing—those favorite pieces from last year.  But if you are like many people, they don’t feel quite as comfortable as they did at the end of summer.  The zipper is a little harder to zip, and the fit is a bit too snug to be attractive.  

What happened?

The mindless margin happened.

The mindless margin

In his book, Mindless Eating:  Why We Eat More Than We Think, Dr. Brian Wansink defines the mindless margin as that margin or zone in which we can slightly overeat or slightly under eat without even realizing it.

It is very easy to slightly overeat, isn’t it?  How many times have you passed through the kitchen and spied a half cookie lying on the baking pan?  It’s only a half cookie, so you grab it and eat it as you keep walking.

Or what about refilling your soda cup on your way out of the restaurant after lunch?  Just a little for the road…

Have you ever cleaned your plate simply because there was food left on it?  You weren’t really hungry, but it was there, so you ate it. 

This is the mindless margin. In each of these instances, you were not consuming the extra calories because you needed them: you weren’t even hungry!  And if you had resisted them, you would never have missed them.  In each case you ‘slightly overate,’ but the price you pay for this is high.

Dr. Wansink points out that eating just 10 extra calories per day results in a one pound weight gain over a year’s time.  10 calories!  Here is a sample list of foods that you might mindlessly eat that are 10 calories each:

  • 2 Skittles
  • 4 Nestlé Toll House semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 gummy bear
  • 2 1/2 Jelly Belly jelly beans
  • 1 peanut M&M
  • 3 plain M&M’s
  • 1 shoestring french fry
  • 3 green or red grapes
  • 3 cherry tomatoes

Imagine how much weight you would gain if you ate 100 or 200 extra calories each day.  You would gain several pounds each year.  And this is what is happening to most Americans:  the slow creep.

Make the mindless margin work hard for you

The good news is that the mindless margin works in reverse.  While mindlessly overeating adds up to weight gain, mindlessly under eating leads to weight loss.

There is a zone in which you do not notice if you eat more calories or fewer calories. 

Consider this:  if you eat 1,000 calories each day, you will feel weak, lightheaded and cranky.  You would notice this!  And if you eat 3,000 calories each day, you would notice this too—you would feel tired, slower and sleepy.1

However, your body will never notice if you eat 1,900 calories instead of 2,000 calories, nor will it notice if you eat 2,100 calories instead of 2,000 calories.  That is why it is called the mindless margin—it is completely undetectable.  You don’t feel better if you eat it, and you don’t feel deprived if you don’t.

You can trim 100-200 calories from your diet and never miss them! And you can lose weight in the process.

Here are a few ideas to help you start thinking about initiating this stealth fitness strategy in your diet. 

You will come up with other ways that are specific to your particular lifestyle.  The objective is to trim a few calories every place you can without really noticing it.

  • Fill your glass only two-thirds full of calorie-laden beverage, rather than all the way full.
  • Toss out one-third of your french fries on the way to the restaurant table.
  • Dish out twenty percent less food onto your plate.
  • Reduce your heaping spoon of sugar to a level one for your coffee.
  • Ask the waiter to bring you one roll instead of a whole basket.
  • Never eat a whole dessert by yourself:  split it with someone.
  • Remove most junk food from your office and replace it with your favorite raw fruits, veggies and nuts.
  • Replace one glass of calorie-rich beverage each day with water.
  • Never eat directly out of the bag or box.  Decide how much you want to eat, then put twenty percent of that back in and put the bag or box away.  Do not go back for seconds.

Keep in mind that the key to taking advantage of the mindless margin is to keep it under the radar. If you feel deprived, it is no longer mindless.  It’s a great way to lose a few pounds and not even know it.  As Dr. Wansink puts it, “The best diet is the one you don’t know you are on!”


1 Brian Wansink.  Mindless Eating:  Why We Eat More Than We Think.  2010.  Bantam Books.