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Appetite for Knowledge

Mindless Eating – Part 1

Last week I wrote about all the food decisions and portion control we make each day, so this week I am following up that train of thought with some questions Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, posed in a release written by Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Nebraska Extension Educator, in her Lancaster County newsletter.  Let’s see how well you do.  Cover up the answers first.  No cheating!

Question 1

How much more soup did people eat when their soup bowl kept filling up without their knowledge? 

            A:  13%

            B:  53%

            C:  73%

Answer 1:  C.  Dr. Wansink rigged up half the soup bowl on a table with hidden hoses attached to them through a hole in the bowl.  As people ate the soup, the hoses kept filling the bowls with more soup.  After the study, the people with the bottomless soup bowls estimated they ate the same amount as the people eating from the regular bowls.  In reality, they ate an average of 73 percent (and 113 calories!) more.

It’s important to see the total amount you’re eating.  It’s easy to overeat when we keep reaching into a bag or container and never see how much we’re really putting into our mouths.  As people did with the soup bowl that kept filling, we’re likely to keep eating more than we realize if we keep dipping into a bag.  If you’re planning to eat some chips, remove the amount you plan to eat from the bag BEFORE you start eating.

Question 2

When two glasses had the same capacity, into which glass did people pour the most liquid?

            A:  Short, wide glass

            B:  Tall, narrow glass

Answer 2:  A.  Wansink’s studies showed people drank an average of 25 to 30 percent more from short, wide tumblers than from tall, skinny glasses.  The same amount of juice in a tall, skinny glass looks as if the glass is fuller than it does in the short, wide glass. (This reinforces last week’s column about we eat/drink with our eyes, so the tall, skinny glass therefore looks fuller than the short, squatty one.)

Question 3

How did the size of plate or bowl influence people’s perception of amount when they were offered the same portion size?

           A:  Size of plate or bowl made no difference in the amount they  thought they ate

           B:  People thought they ate more than when they were served on a large plate or  bowl.

           C:  People thought they ate more when they were served on a     small plate or bowl

Answer 3:  C.  Wansink found people perceived they ate more when eating from a smaller plate or bowl.  As the size of the dish increased, the size of their servings tended to increase.  The larger dish made servings look smaller by comparison, resulting in people helping themselves to more food.  For example, people ate an average of 31 percent more ice cream (equal to 137 more calories!) when they scooped ice cream into a 34-ounce bowl vs. a 17-ounce bowl.

Changing Your Tablescape

Changing your “tablescape,” such as the shape of glasses and size of your plates, etc. may be enough to help you significantly reduce your calorie intake.  About 72 percent of our calories come from food we eat from bowls, plates, and glasses, according to Wansink’s research.

Container and Package Size

Container and package size also make a difference, regardless of how the food tasted.  In another study, research subjects were fed 5-day-old stale popcorn at the movies in three sizes of containers:  “medium”, “large”, and “bigger-than-your-head” buckets.  Even though the popcorn didn’t taste that great, the biggest bucket people ate an average of 173 more calories of popcorn than those eating from smaller containers.

See Mindless Eating – Part 2 for more on Wansink’s research. How did you do?

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Guy in front of TV eating popcorn

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Extension Educators:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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