Are your eyes really bigger than your stomach?
Apparently, yes. It seems that the larger the plate, bag or spoon, the more we eat. Researcher Brian Wansin, professor of marketing at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab studies the psychology behind what people eat and how often they eat it. He and his associates have studied how visual perception of food affects how much we eat or drink.
The question is: What makes people stop eating? Is it the physical feeling of fullness or what our eyes perceive instead?
To Your Health
In one study by Wansink, adults and children, pouring their own drinks, believed that there was less in short, wide glasses than in tall, slender ones, even though the amounts were the same. They were more likely to refill the short, wide glasses.
Here, visual cues, not physical ones, accounted for how much people drank.
A Bottomless Bowl
In another study by Wansink, participants were offered soup, either in a standard bowl, or unbeknownst to them, in a "self-refilling" bowl to see how much was consumed. The standard bowl was an accurate visual cue of portion size while the self-refilling one was not.
Again, the theory was that people use visual estimates of food and liquids more than physical satiety signs. If you alter the visual cue, do people keep eating, even if no longer hungry?
Sure enough, participants with bowls that kept refilling ate 73 percent more soup than those with the normal bowl. What's more, they didn't perceive that they ate more, and didn't feel fuller than those eating from the normal bowls.
Nutrition Experts Are Not Immune
In another experiment by Wansink, participants, including many nutrition experts, were given bowls and spoons of different sizes and told to help themselves to ice cream for a celebration. Those with larger bowls and spoons took more; those with smaller bowls and spoons took less.
What Can We Take Away From All This?
- Be aware that what your eyes see can override your physical sense of being full.
- Eat off smaller plates and bowls.
- Use more delicate silverware and serving utensils.
- Buy tall, slender glasses instead of short, wide ones.
- Wansink B, Painter JE, North, J. Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake. Obesity Research 2005; 13: 93-100.
- Wansink, B van Ittersum, K. Bottoms Up! The Influence of Elongation and Pouring on Consumption Volume. Journal of Consumer Research 2003; 30: 455-463.
- Wansink, B, van Ittersum K, Painter JE. Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes. Am J Prev Med 2006; 31.
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