Food Illusions - Why We Eat More Than We Think

I attended a lecture by Brian Wansink, PhD, the Director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois who has spent a career in studying what consumers don’t notice.

Brian has researched as to how package sizes , shapes and sizes of plates, drinking glasses and bowls can influence us to increase portion sizes without knowing.

One of Brian’s studies involved going to movie theatres in Chicago and randomly give people either medium or really large buckets of popcorn. He found out that the people who were given big buckets ate roughly 50% more than the people who were given smaller buckets , and when they were asked to estimate the amount, there was no difference between the two groups reported. To see how automatic this behaviour is, he performed a study with Philadelphia movie goers and gave them medium or large buckets of stale, 14-day old popcorn that tasted terrible. The people who got the large buckets ate 31 percent more than people who got the medium buckets. And again, both groups thought they had eaten the same amount of popcorn. This principle also applies to the amount of food we eat from a small sized plate or bowl versus a large sized plate or bowl.

Brian also looked at whether different shapes make a difference. He looked at whether the shape of glasses unknowingly influences how much we drink. The study involved going to health and fitness camps where kids go to lose weight over the summer. When kids came in for breakfast they were randomly given a tall, skinny glass or a short, wide glass. Almost to a person, kids who were given the short, wide glass estimated that they had poured less than kids who were given the tall, skinny glass. In reality they poured 77 percent more into the short, wide glasses.

And it’s not just the kids? A further study asked 48 Philadelphia bartenders to pour a gin and tonic into either a highball glass or a short, wide tumbler. Even though they had an average of five years experience, the bar tenders poured an average of 26 percent more alcohol into the wide tumbler than the highball glass.

The message is that we can change our immediate environment to eat less:

  • Big plates to Smaller plates

  • Big bowls to Smaller bowls

  • Wide glasses to Narrow glasses

Brian reveals other strategies as to how you can modify your environment to eat less in his book: “Why We Eat More Than We Think – Mindless Eating” by Brain Wansink

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