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Appetite for Knowledge

We Eat with Our Eyes

It’s hard to think about “serving or portion sizes” when we go out to eat when what we are served is so HUGE! Do you take half of it home to have for a later meal? Or, do you share the food?

Daily Decisions

According to Dr. Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, “we make more than 200 food-related decisions daily and aren’t aware of 90 percent of them.”

“Perhaps you think you just make three food decisions daily: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Well think again. We choose how much milk to pour on cereal, whether to have a second piece of toast, if we want to add sugar to our cereal, and if so, how much and what type, and if we’ll eat that doughnut at the office, and on and on . . .”


“Most of us don’t overeat because we are hungry. We overeat because of such influences as family, friends, packaging, plates, labeling, shapes, distances and containers.” 

Being More Mindful

Wansink wrote the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and his studies suggest we can eat 20 percent more or 20 percent less without being aware of it. Becoming more “mindful” about even one eating practice can be sufficient. Daily eating 100 calories more than needed can result in a weight gain of 10 pounds a year.

Eating with Our Eyes

A lot of times, we eat with our eyes; the larger the bowl or the larger the plate, the more food we will put on that dish. This often leads to overeating.


A good example of this is eating cereal for breakfast. Many times, the bowl used for cereal is bigger, which leads to pouring way more cereal than a serving. Usually, one pours about twice as much as the recommend amount. One serving of cereal does indeed fit in a small bowl, and even has enough extra space for the milk and the potential sliced banana or strawberries on top.

Becoming Aware of Actual Serving Sizes

Learning what an actual serving size of foods such as meat, French fries, milk, cheese, fruit, and vegetables is can be very beneficial. By illustrating how we eat with our eyes, it is easy to see why it is so easy to overeat.

Endless Soup

One of Dr. Brian Wansink’s famous demonstrations is what he calls the “endless bowl of soup.” In this demonstration, he had a hose attached to the bottom of a bowl of soup and, as the person eats the soup, the bowl keeps being refilled from the hose in the bottom. When a person says they are full, the amount they have consumed is then measured. He compares that with a bowl that doesn’t keep getting refilled, thus illustrating that we eat with our eyes and not necessarily with our stomachs. If the bowl is still full, we think we can keep eating more of whatever is in it.


Another one of his famous demonstrations is the office candy jar. When he puts the candy in a readily accessible place, i.e. on the person’s desk within easy reach, they eat more candy than when he puts the candy dish at the far end of the desk. When the person has to actually get up and walk to the candy dish, they eat very little candy. 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

All this points out that if we have fruit in a bowl on our table and we walk by it, it would be easy to grab that banana, orange, or small bunch of grapes and therefore we would be more likely to eat it. However, if we put them in the corner of the kitchen, where they are more out of sight, you will find you don’t eat as much.  Put those good-for-you foods in the refrigerator or cupboard and the “out of sight, out of mind” adage comes in to play. 

Make Healthy Foods Accessible

Therefore, if you want to encourage your family (or yourself) to eat more fruits and vegetables, you need to have those good-for-you foods readily accessible. That means the candy should go in the cupboard instead of on the table. All foods are permissible to eat, we just need to limit the quantities of some of them.

Portion control text with fork

Contact Our Expert!


Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Extension Educator:
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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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