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R.D.’s Perspective: What Factors Influence Overeating?

Safest Choice™ is pleased to feature Debbie Campbell’s expert nutritional insights as part of the R.D.’s Perspective blog series.

I have enjoyed many years of counseling individuals who were embarking on weight loss, some for the first time, but most had tried losing weight many, many times before.  Some interesting questions I heard were “what makes people overeat?�? and “I eat healthy food; why can’t I lose weight?�?

Brian Wansink is a scientist with the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  His fascinating body of work has focused on the phenomena of “Mindless Eating.�?  Mindless eating occurs when we eat a large quantity of food, and in fact, deriving very little satisfaction from it.   He is a very interesting writer and researcher exploring the reasons why people eat, and what external factors influence how much they eat.

In need of portion control

Brian has written numerous research papers.  One of these papers details the 200 Food Decisions That We Make Each Day; most people believe that they make only a handful of food decisions each day, specifically what and how much they consume.  Closer look proves that we decide for breakfast what kind of juice to buy, what size and type of glass we put it in, whether or not to go back for more cereal, etc.   However, most of us are not even aware that we can change any of these points along the way, nor that they need changing.

American consumer habits greatly influence how much we eat, and I’m not talking about food here!  Plates, dishes, bowls, and spoons have greatly increased in size in the last 50 years, more so in the last 20 years.  Dinner plates averaged about 10 1/2 inches across many years ago.  About 20 years ago, they bloomed to 12 inches in diameter.  Now, many manufacturers are making dinner plates that are 13 inches in diameter.  Anybody see a problem here?

During one interesting experiment, Brian had dozens of fellow nutrition experts visit his lab for an ice cream social.  Brian proved that these experts who probably had some expertise and knowledge served themselves 53% more ice cream when they chose the larger bowl!  If nutrition experts cannot recognize overeating (especially in a social setting), how can the average consumer figure it out? No wonder our waistlines are increasing!

Brian Wansink has proven in his Food Lab that people eat an average of 25 to 35% more when using a larger plate or bowl. What this boils down to is that if we use these larger dishes, we can easily consume an extra 150 to 200 calories a day and not even be aware of it.  These numbers take their toll on the bathroom scale:  a 15 to 20 pound increase in weight per year.

What can we do about this?  Get out your tape measure and do some refiguring.  Today’s luncheon plate (10 inches) is yesterday’s dinner plate, so use the luncheon plate for your meals.  Today’s fruit dish and bread and butter plate is the salad/dessert plate of yesterday.  Use the smaller dish and plate consistently.  You will experience the same satiation (read “satisfaction�?) with little effort.

And, we thought it was only about eating healthy food.