Friday, September 23, 2011

Large Containers, Large Plates

Yesterday, I wrote about research on chronic dieters and small package size. Today, I want to report on some research about large container size and its impact on eating.

Apparently, chronic dieters and their small packages aside, the larger the container, the more people will consume. This article reports on container size and palatability, and is one of Brian Wansink's infamous popcorn studies. Popcorn was given away during an early afternoon movie screening (just after lunch, so consumers would not be hungry) in either medium or large buckets. The popcorn was either freshly popped or stale (14 days old). But whether or not the popcorn was palatable was not the issue; consumers ate 45% more fresh popcorn from the big buckets and 33.6% more stale popcorn from the big buckets than from the medium buckets. The conclusion: container size is a powerful cue to how much you eat. There is another version of this popcorn study. In this second study, people who reported they disliked the stale popcorn still ate 61% more popcorn from a large rather than the medium container. Those who reported they liked the fresh popcorn ate 49% more popcorn from the large rather than the medium container. The conclusion: container size is a powerful cue for consumption. The bigger the container, the more will be consumed, whether the food is palatable or not.

Another, similar study was conducted to demonstrate the effects of plate size on portions. This video (select the menu button on the player and scroll to the last segment) explains the study. Basically, participants scoop pasta on to a small plate. Before they can take the plate to the table, they are distracted. During the distraction, the plate and food are surreptitiously weighed. The server then "accidentally" coughs or sneezes on the plate and offers the participant a second plate and has them scoop up more pasta. The catch: the second plate is much larger. Once again, the plate is surreptitiously weighed before the plate is taken away. The results: the same person scoops up 25% more pasta on to the larger plate rather than the smaller plate. The takeaway from the study: we are cued into how much to eat by plate size.

Are people in the low carb/paleo communities susceptible to these cues? You betcha.  But as Brian Wansink, the author of the above studies, wrote in his book Mindless Eating, you can use these cues to your advantage. Serve your meals on smaller plates and "mindlessly" consume less. As I have mentioned previously, I have stalled on my low carb journey and need to cut calories. An easy way to do this is by using smaller containers and plates.

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