"Most people believe they overeat because they are really, really, really hungry, or because the food is really, really, really good," Wansink said. "What we find is that these two things are probably the last things that influence how much a person usually eats."
Wansink found in a candy test the key to unlocking what really influences our eating. He offered people jellybeans and M&M's. After offering both candies to many subjects, he found that when he altered the snacks so there is less variety, people eat much less. So, in one area of the room, the jelly beans and M&M's are separated by color. So instead of that appealing variety, you get just blue M&M's.
"Just changing the colors of M&M's ends up increasing how much people take by about 50 to 70 percent," Wansink said.
And, Wansink said, this is exactly why people eat more at buffets. He suggests you can lose weight at a buffet by telling yourself to start with just two items.
None of us want to believe that we are really duped or fooled by something as simple as the itty-bitty cues around us in the environment. According to Wansink, we are; but there are small things we can do to take back control and eat less mindlessly.
Wansink suggests doing a few things. First, slow down the pace at the dinner table by using chopsticks with Chinese food, for example. Second, create a stopping point by putting snacks into smaller bags and by using smaller plates, smaller spoons for that ice cream and taller, skinnier glasses for drinks. Last, recognize that variety, the kind you get at a buffet, leads to overeating.
By just making those little changes, he said, in a year, people lose weight and feel better.
This report originally aired on October 20th, 2006.