Our susceptibility to mindless eating has more to do with our dishes than our intelligence.
You just finished lunch and decide to head to the movie theater for a matinee. The attendant hands you a free bucket of 5 day old styrofoam-flavored popcorn. Do you eat more just because the bucket is enormous?
A. Absolutely, I’m a mindless muncher.
B. No, not in a million years!
Hint: The right answer will scare you.
According to Cornell’s Brian Wansink Ph.D. most people think they’re immune to big buckets, but they’re not. Wansink’s studies, done in Chicago and Philadelphia suburbs, showed that the average person ate 35% more stale popcorn when it was in a large bucket.
We met Dr. Wansink recently in New York, where he spoke about his Mindless Eating project. In test after test, the results are the same. We can be tricked into eating and drinking more than we think, depending on the size of the dishes and glasses we’re using. Just switching to smaller dishes and glasses can cut our caloric intake without our even noticing that something’s missing.
The difference in the amount of food people serve themselves on a 10″ plate as opposed to a 12″ plate is 100-200 calories. That’s 10-20 pounds in a year. In Wansink’s tests, no one felt hungry or even noticed when 200 calories were shaved off their daily intake.
The same held true for glasses. Wansink showed that using a tall skinny glass instead of a short wide tumbler cut liquid calorie consumption by 25-30%. All kinds of people poured more into a short, wide glass – even experienced bartenders.
The size of a package, the shape of a glass, and the words on a menu are invisible influences. Our own awareness is one tool with which we can monitor our impulse for mindless eating. But, the other fool-proof way is to measure portions until we are familiar with what a reasonable amount of food actually looks like. To win the battle, it’s important to know the enemy.