Mindless Eating

[The discussion born from the comments about the recent blog 'Eating together' made me think of several old blogs of mine about food, that disappeared when I deleted my other blog on Yahoo! 360. This post was published in May 2007]
I was in a bookstore in Chicago several months ago, looking for medical books, when I happened to glance through a little book called Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University, NY. The experiments depicted in the book were clever, and often funny.

I remembered of it yesterday when I came upon an article by David Leonhardt in the International Herald Tribune (The Herald is an international newspaper in English, based in Paris, that combines the resources of its own correspondents throughout the world with those of The New York Times). Leonhardt began his article by telling about an experiment I especially remembered because the idea of eating lots of stale popcorn almost made me sick when I was in this bookstore in Chicago.

Image Mr. Wansink gave away five-day-old popcorn — “stale enough to squeak when it was eaten,” he wrote — to moviegoers one day at a theatre in the Chicago suburbs. The crux of the experiment lay in the size of the buckets that held the popcorn. Some people got merely big buckets, while others received truly enormous ones. Both sizes held more popcorn than a typical person could finish.
Yet when the Wansink research team weighed the buckets after the movie, there was a huge difference in the amounts the two groups ate. Those with the bigger buckets inhaled 53 percent more on average, suggesting that a lot of stale popcorn is somehow more appealing than a little stale popcorn.
Over the years, Mr. Wansink has done similar experiments with everything from different-size dinner plates to bottomless bowls of tomato soup that are secretly connected to a tube underneath a restaurant table. His overarching conclusion is that our decisions about eating often have little to do with how hungry we are. Instead, we rely on cues like the size of a popcorn bucket — or the way we organize our refrigerator — to tell us how much to eat. These cues can add 200 calories a day to our diet, but the only way we’ll notice we are overeating is that our pants will eventually get too tight.
The scariest part is that most of us think we are immune to these hidden persuaders. When the moviegoers were told about the popcorn experiment afterward, most of them scoffed at the idea that their bucket size had any effect on them.

6 comment(s):

    My excuse when my clothes feel tighter is that they shrunk in the wash! Lol. I usually serve dessert on small plates which gives the illusion that there's more there than what would seem to be on a normal size dessert dish! Psychologically it works well for me, which is exactly what Mr. Wansink is talking about!


    Exactly ! That's the good side of the medal. Using small plates gives the illusion you have more in them. Yet it is a cultural habit in some countries to think that the larger, the better. When it is about plates, it is not true.


    Hey Lynn, my clothes do that too!


    Restaurants here lately seem to have a tendency to put your food on a HUGE plate and put a normal sized meal in the middle of it. I wonder if they are trying to ensure everyone thinks they are still hungry, and so, order dessert? The poor kitchen hands must have arms like weightlifters, lifting those great big plates for hours each shift.

    That bottomless soup bowl 'research' is quite amusing. It could really mess with your head to keep spooning soup but never see the level drop.


    Michelle, it's those darn pesky washing machines who are the culprit!!! LOL


    So true, Michelle! You will always think there is little food when it is just left alone in the middle of a huge plate, as it has been usually the case since the 'nouvelle cuisine' came, a couple of decades ago. You may have a point actually, because ice creams, for example, usually fill the glass they are put in.

    Lynn, are you making a plea for hand wash only? Just asking...


    No way! Into the machine they'll go regardless! Hmm, but now that I'm thinking about it,.... it makes more sense that it's the dryer that makes the clothes shrink and not the washing machine, nor that second helping of dessert!

    (That's my story and I'm sticking to it!!!)


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