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Many diet plans and diet books for years have recommended using small plates to make it look like you are eating more. This concept was put to the test by two researchers, Brian Wansink and Matthew Cheney. In a research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Vol. 293 No. 14, April 13, 2005) they showed that the size of serving bowls makes a difference on the amount people eat.
They designed a neat little study that they tested prior to the Super Bowl. Forty partygoers agreed to participate. They were not told what the study was about and when they arrived at the party each was led to one of two tables laden with snack foods.
The tables had identical snacks but the size of the bowls on each table was different. One table had food in 4 liter bowls and the other used 2 liter bowls. The participants were allowed to serve themselves using 10 inch plates and a 1 cup serving scoop.
The folks eating from the table with the larger bowls not only put more on their plates but they also ate more – a lot more. On average there was a 56% greater food intake with about 142 calories per person more in the big bowl group. Wansink and Cheney looked to see if there were any differences between the groups based on body weight, education or hours since their most recent meal and found that these variables didn’t have an effect.
Men did eat more than women averaging about twice the amount of calories for men in both groups.
The researchers suggest that possibly larger packages or portions may be a cue for people that it’s OK to eat more. Certainly, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding whether “super-sizing” is part of the reason that there has been an increase in obesity and weight related illness. This research seems to support that view.
Can you put this into practice for yourself? Sure you can. If you are planning a party, use smaller bowls for the snacks. Watch for the large bowl the next time you are at a party or getting food from a buffet. As I have said throughout this site, on television and in books, “the size of the portion you eat is one of the most important ways to eat healthy.”
My favorite idea that the authors put forward is to fill the large bowls with healthier foods to encourage your guests to eat fruit, veggies and nuts instead of cookies, crackers, chips and pretzels.
December 22, 2005