Dish Size: The Key to Weight Loss
By Laura Freberg for Live Right Live Well
Here we are at the beginning of a new year, and many of us have made new year’s resolutions to lose weight. After all, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight has been linked to countless health benefits, from reducing the risk of heart disease to easing heartburn.
What can psychologists recommend to make these goals easier? Instead of counting every calorie and pondering each morsel we put in our mouths, we can improve our chances of weight-loss success by making healthy eating so easy that it’s practically mindless. One way to do this is to make smart choices when it comes to bowls, plates, glasses and other tableware.
Big Bowls Encourage Us to Eat More
Brian Wansink of Cornell University has discovered that the ways in which food is served makes a tremendous difference in how much we eat. In one study, Wansink had one group of participants serve themselves ice cream using 24-ounce bowls, while another group was given 16-ounce bowls. The result: People with larger bowls scooped out and consumed an average of 31 percent more ice cream than those with smaller bowls.
When Wansink turned his attention to drinking glasses, he found that people poured and drank up to 88 percent more juice or soda when they used short, wide glasses compared to tall, narrow ones. Even experienced bartenders were fooled, pouring 26 percent more liquid into glasses that were short and wide.
Avoiding Oversized Portions
Why would tableware affect how much we eat and drink? Since our hunter-gatherer ancestors had much more to fear from famine than from being overweight, they were inclined to eat as much food as they could whenever it was available. As a result, our perception of what’s too much is not very accurate. So when presented with a big, empty bowl, we’re apt to fill it up and eat it all, even if it’s more than what a healthy-sized portion would be. And when pouring a beverage, people typically focus on the height of the liquid in the glass and do not pay attention to the width of the glass. As a result, they’re much more likely to end up with a supersized soda when using a short, wide glass.
Even the size of our forks may make a difference. In a recent study, researchers at The University of Utah found that restaurant diners given large forks ate less, while those given small forks ate more. However, when the experiment was repeated in a campus laboratory, the opposite occurred: Participants ate more with a big fork than they did with a small fork. Clearly, more research on fork size is needed, but these findings underline the intriguing connection between how much we eat and what we eat it with.
So if we want to lose weight -- without feeling the deprivations of being on a diet -- it would be wise to consider our tableware. Strategies like using small bowls, petite plates and tall, narrow glasses can help keep portions from becoming oversized so that we eat and drink less -- without even thinking about it.
Laura Freberg blogs frequently for Live Right Live Well and is a professor of psychology at California Polytechnic State University. Laura also blogs about psychology at LauraFreberg.com.
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