Put Down Your Fork, Already!


You've heard a thousand versions of diet and weight-loss advice, but now there's some advice that finally makes sense: use small plates.

The information comes out of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, where food is served to students in a place that looks like a restaurant. The diners become guinea pigs to uncover the secrets of our eating habits.

Servers tell diners to take as much as they want, and the test subjects are given a free meal if they simply rate the food. A man, acting as a waiter, tells a diner to go get some water. That's an excuse for him to take the plate and secretly weigh it before bringing it to the diner and then doing something quite unappetizing.

Each person gets their food coughed on because that gets them to take a second plate and serve themselves again. But the trick is that the second plate is a different size, either bigger or smaller than the first one. This test is not really about rating the food, it's about whether people take less food when they have small plates. And almost everyone put 25 percent more food on a bigger plate.

Why? "We eat with our eyes, not with our stomach," said Brian Wansink, a food psychology professor at Cornell University, who conducted this research and wrote the results in a book aptly called "Mindless Eating." "We really don't pay much attention to what we eat, or how much we eat," Wansink added.

Size Does Matter: Controlling Portions Through Your Plate

According to Wansink, most people think they know when they're full, but in reality, people don't really know when they're full.

So should we all use small plates? Is that the answer?

"Absolutely," Wansink said. "Even tall, skinny glasses, because these are mindless ways to actually control how much we eat."

The glass reference comes from his tests that found even professionals, like bartenders, pour less into tall skinny glasses than short wide ones.

When Wansink asked 45 bartenders to pour drinks, they averaged 30 percent more liquor into the short, fat glasses.

Eating Behaviors When It Comes to Leftovers

Another experiment Wansink ran analyzed people's eating behaviors when it comes to leftovers. In one of his marketing classes, Wansink passed out bags of Wheat Thins and told the students they were leftovers.

His researchers had carefully created different kinds of bags, weighed them and put 44 Wheat Thins in some bags and only 11 in others. Half the class members got one of the big bags containing 44 crackers, while the other half got four separate bags containing 11 crackers in each bag.

At the end of the class, the bags were examined to see how many crackers were eaten during class. Findings revealed that students with the one big bag downed 50 percent more crackers than the students given the four smaller bags.

"There's a real tendency to kind of continue to mindlessly eat, because there's no place to tell you it's time to stop until you hit the bottom of that bag," Wansink said. "Our nature is to eat as much as we can as fast as we can.

Controlling Yourself, Getting Your Stopping Point

It's something to think about when you're watching television, said Wansink. Don't bring in the full bag of junk food, just put some in a bowl, then you have a stopping point. You'll have to get up if you want more.

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