Lillian Wilson

Secrets from the Eating Lab by Traci Mann

This book challenges traditional dieting myths, offering a holistic approach to weight management and a healthier relationship with food.

Secrets from the Eating Lab

The book has received 3.78 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

Many people try to get a perfect body by following fad diets and strict nutrition plans, but such methods of weight management not only do not bring sustainable results but can also lead to certain complications of both physiological and psychological nature. As society grapples with the complexities of obesity, body image, and the multi-billion-dollar diet industry, it is clear that we need a different approach to the issue of achieving a healthy weight.

In this review, we delve into Trace Mann’s ‘Secrets From the Eating Lab,’ a book that challenges conventional weight management wisdom. Drawing from extensive research, Mann provides fresh insights into the troubles caused by dieting and offers practical strategies for a healthier lifestyle.

Author’s background

Trace Mann holds the position of a social and health psychology professor at the University of Minnesota.

Trace Mann (r)

She completed her doctoral studies in psychology at Stanford University and held a tenured faculty position at UCLA before relocating to the University of Minnesota in 2007. At the University of Minnesota, she established the Health and Eating Lab. Her research endeavours have received financial support from prominent institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA).

What is the book about?

‘Secrets From the Eating Lab’ by Traci Mann challenges conventional notions about dieting and weight loss, drawing on over two decades of research to provide fresh insights into the American obesity crisis and our relationship with food. Mann dispels the myth of willpower and offers 12 practical strategies that work with human nature to help readers shed pounds and attain better health.

Divided into four parts, the book covers a wide variety of topics. Part I debunks the idea that diets lead to lasting weight loss, emphasising that self-control is not the issue. Part II argues against the necessity and safety of restrictive diets, based on scientific criteria used for other treatments. Mann suggests living within one’s biologically set weight range and offers a path to the leanest livable weight in Part III, without calorie counting or relying on willpower. These strategies are backed by Mann’s lab research and are delivered with a touch of fun and rigour. Finally, Part IV encourages readers to prioritise health over weight and combat weight stigma, emphasising that healthy actions are valuable, regardless of one’s appearance. ‘Secrets From the Eating Lab’ promises a fresh perspective on weight management and well-being.

Table of contents

  • Preface
  • Part One: Why Diets Fail You
  • Chapter 1: Diets Don’t Work
  • Chapter 2: Why Diets Don’t Work: Biology, Stress, and Forbidden Fruit
  • Chapter 3: The Myth of Willpower
  • Part Two: Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle
  • Chapter 4: Diets Are Bad for You
  • Chapter 5: Obesity Is Not a Death Sentence
  • Part Three: How to Reach Your Leanest Livable Weight (No Willpower Required)
  • Chapter 6: Lessons from a Lean Pig
  • Chapter 7: How to Trick Your Friends into Ignoring a Cookie
  • Chapter 8: Don’t Call That Apple Healthy
  • Chapter 9: Know When to Turn Off Your Brain
  • Chapter 10: How to Comfort an Astronaut
  • Part Four: Your Weight Is Really Not the Point
  • Chapter 11: Why to Stop Obsessing and Be Okay with Your Body
  • Chapter 12: The Real Reasons to Exercise and Strategies for Sticking with It
  • Final Words: Diet Schmiet
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
  • About the Author
  • Credits
  • Copyright
  • About the Publisher

Three key takeaways from ‘Secrets from the Eating Lab’

1Diets fail not because of a lack of discipline but because of biological and psychological factors

Right from the beginning of the book, Trace Mann delves into the reasons why diets ultimately fail. The primary explanation provided is that it is not due to individuals lacking willpower or discipline but rather the circumstances in which they find themselves. Several factors contribute to the difficulty of maintaining weight loss. Biology plays a significant role, with genes influencing a person’s set weight range, making it challenging to deviate from this range in the long term. Metabolism changes as you lose weight, making it harder to continue losing, and hormonal shifts prompt an urge to eat more.

Psychological factors also come into play, with stress leading to weight gain through the release of cortisol and altering behaviours like overeating, reduced exercise, and poor sleep. Diets themselves induce stress and a focus on forbidden foods, further compounding the problem. In essence, the author highlights that dieting causes stress, which can lead to physiological responses that hinder weight maintenance, emphasising the importance of understanding one’s set weight range and making sustainable lifestyle changes rather than extreme dieting as a more effective approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

2Diets harm physical and mental health

Dieting can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. It often leads to obsessive thoughts about food, preoccupation with calorie counting, and a division of foods into ‘allowed’ and ‘forbidden’ categories, causing cravings for restricted items. This cognitive preoccupation with food can impair concentration, memory, and decision-making.

Moreover, dieting induces stress by triggering the release of cortisol, leading to various physical health problems like weakened immunity, increased blood pressure, and abdominal fat accumulation. Furthermore, dieting often results in emotional distress, including depression, low self-esteem, guilt, and even eating disorders like binge eating. Weight cycling, commonly associated with dieting, can also pose health risks. Overall, the physical and psychological drawbacks of dieting raise questions about its effectiveness and whether the potential benefits of weight loss are worth these adverse consequences.

3With Trace Mann’s 12 smart regulation strategies, you will achieve a healthy weight without imposing restrictions, but rather by making positive changes to your lifestyle

After an in-depth explanation of the detrimental effects of dieting, the author dedicated a whole chapter to strategies that aim to help readers achieve their ‘leanest livable weight.’ These strategies emphasise the importance of altering the environment and introducing subtle changes to encourage healthier eating habits without relying solely on willpower.

One of Trace Mann’s strategies involves creating obstacles to encounter less temptation. For example, choosing routes that avoid passing favourite bakeries or scheduling meetings to prevent going out for lunch helps limit calorie intake. The strategy extends to avoiding food temptations at the workplace and controlling portion sizes, emphasising the relationship between larger portions and increased consumption.

Another hack revolves around making healthy foods more accessible and noticeable. This means keeping fruits and vegetables readily available and easy to consume. Placing a fruit bowl on the table, having fruits in ready-to-eat form, and even sharing fruits with others can encourage healthier snacking. Additionally, preparing vegetables ahead of time can overcome barriers like the need for cleaning and chopping.

The seventh of 12 smart regulation strategies, called ‘change how you think about tempting foods,’ recommends considering the long-term consequences of consuming such foods, focusing on future outcomes rather than immediate gratification. Additionally, thinking about specific temptations in an abstract manner, such as considering their size, shape, or colour instead of their taste or smell, can help resist temptation. Moreover, thinking at an abstract level in general, even unrelated to food, can aid in resisting temptations, as demonstrated in psychological studies.

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • The author’s informal and friendly writing style creates a welcoming and relatable tone.

  • The book offers practical strategies without imposing any sense of pressure on the reader.

  • It highlights the significance of approaching weight management from a psychological perspective rather than advocating for traditional diets.

  • The incorporation of numerous research studies provides a fascinating and informative insight into the psychology of eating.

  • The author effectively cites her sources, making the scientific content accessible without oversimplifying complex concepts.


  • The book presents a somewhat contradictory message regarding willpower, advocating both for the rejection of the concept and the avoidance of temptation, leaving readers uncertain about the practical application of these ideas.

  • The author’s assertion that ‘dieting’ shortens lifespan due to cortisol release overlooks research on the potential benefits of caloric restriction for longevity, thus presenting a one-sided perspective.

Best quotes from ‘Secrets from the Eating Lab’

“The men in the semi-starvation study reported that they were unable to concentrate for more than a brief period of time, that they were having trouble forming thoughts, that their comprehension had declined, and that they were unable to stay alert.”
“Even when dieting does not lead to a serious disorder like depression, it can lead to other unpleasant feelings, because dieters tend to mix up their eating habits with the emotions of guilt and shame. In fact, breaking a diet is one of the most frequent responses people give on surveys when they are asked what makes them feel guilty. Dieters are much more likely than non-dieters to say they experience feelings of guilt based on food, and nearly half of the women in one study agreed that they felt guilty after eating potato chips, ice cream, or candy.”
“To create a habit, you need to pair the behavior (say, ordering a salad) with a cue in your environment (such as a certain restaurant). Once you order a salad in that restaurant often enough, the behavior will become automatic. How often is often enough? One study found that once you pair a behavior and a cue repeatedly for two months, it tends to become automatic, and you won’t need to think about it.”

Final takeaway

‘Secrets From the Eating Lab’ by Traci Mann offers a balanced and scientifically grounded approach to weight loss and management. Dr. Mann’s extensive research background and engaging writing style make complex psychological concepts accessible, and her book provides practical strategies without imposing undue pressure on the reader. It challenges the conventional wisdom of dieting, highlighting the detrimental effects of diets on physical and mental health while emphasising the importance of understanding one’s set weight range and making sustainable lifestyle changes.

The overall wealth of information and insights the book provides make it a valuable resource for readers looking to navigate the complexities of weight management.

This book is an excellent resource for those willing to make informed and mindful choices about their weight loss efforts.

Where to buy

You may purchase ‘Secrets from the Eating Lab’ on Amazon at the best price. It is available in paperback, hardcover, audio and Kindle versions, so you may choose an option that appeals to you the most.

Healthypedia FAQ

Yes, the book is backed by extensive research, and the author effectively cites her sources. This scientific foundation makes the book's content accessible without oversimplifying complex concepts.

Yes, ‘Secrets from the Eating Lab’ offers readers 12 smart regulation strategies to help them achieve a healthier weight without relying solely on willpower. These strategies include creating obstacles to temptation, making healthy foods more accessible, and changing how you think about tempting foods.

Yes, the book touches on the emotional aspects of eating and offers strategies for changing one's approach to tempting foods. It provides insights into how to create a healthier and more mindful relationship with food.

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