Food Is Not Your Enemy

What External Cues Can Make Us Overeat?
October 18, 2011, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

People overeat for all kinds of reasons. The food is delicious. We’re stressed. We’re bored. We’re “numbing out.” But we also may be overeating for entirely external reasons, reasons we don’t even realize exist.

Take the “stale popcorn study,” conducted by Brian Wansink, who heads the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. In this study, people were given terrible, Styrofoam-stale popcorn to eat at a theater. They had all eaten dinner just before arriving. The study found that people ate 34 percent more popcorn–bad popcorn, mind you–if it came in a larger bucket. Similarly, in a separate study, subjects given soup in an automatically refilling bowl ate 73 percent more than those given a regular bowl of soup.

The point? That the amount of food we eat can very much depend on how much food is put in front of us. This is why it’s such a problem to eat out at restaurants or buy takeout several times a week. Restaurants serve enormous portions–and chances are, you’ll eat way, way more food when you’re in the restaurant than you ever would at home, simply because so much was served to you.

Other interesting findings from Wansink, as discussed in Nutrition Action Healthletter:

  • Secretaries ate five more Hershey’s kisses per day if a candy bowl was placed on his/her desk vs. six feet away. That translates to 11-12 pounds of extra weight gain over the course of a year. Secretaries who got a clear candy bowl ate two more candies per day than those who got an opaque bowl.
  • People bought 27 percent more food at a cafeteria when more descriptive names were given to the entrees (“Italian Pasta” was changed to “Succulent Tuscany Pasta,” “Chocolate Cake” was changed to “Belgian Black Forest Cake,” etc.).
  • Men ate 29 percent more if a serving dish was left on the table vs. on the kitchen counter. Women ate about 10 percent more.
  • People sitting with someone eating very quickly ate significantly more calories than if they were paired with someone eating very slowly.
  • At an all-you-can-eat Buffalo wings restaurant, people ate 28 percent more wings if the bones were regularly bussed from the table instead of being left there.

Cultivating awareness about these issues can certainly help matters, but so can eating at home more. So can using smaller plates, and putting your healthiest food in a visible, easy-to-reach area, and leaving your serving dishes in the kitchen. Every little change like this can make a big difference when it comes to your weight.