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Small bowls can curb appetites

Visuals make appetite impact

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Why do people eat more than they should? You say you've heard all the reasons, but I bet you're dead wrong. Why?

Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., directs the Food and Brand Lab.

He asks people, "When was the last time you ate to the point of regretting it?" He follows with, "Why did you do it?"

He receives the usual answers, "It was a tough day," or "I was depressed." But most replied they were hungry, and the food looked good.

Wansink decided to find out what happens if the person isn't hungry and the food is terrible.

In one experiment researchers gave free popcorn to theatre-goers who had eaten dinner 20 minutes earlier. The popcorn was five days old and tasted like Styrofoam. It was given in medium or large bags.

They discovered even people who were not hungry and given lousy food ate 34 per cent more popcorn from the larger bag.

Several external cues make us overeat. We can all say, "We're smart, and we can use our brain to overcome such cues." But even intelligent people fail the test due to what Wansink calls "mindless eating" and "the intelligence trap."

Wansink told highly motivated, intelligent students, "If I give you a big bowl, you will eat more than from a slightly smaller bowl." He then showed them video lectures on how to avoid this trap and then they left for a holiday vacation.

After they returned, he invited them to a Super Bowl party at a sports bar. One room had enormous bowls of Chex Mix, and another identical room had slightly smaller bowls of Chex Mix. Wansink discovered those serving themselves from the larger bowl consumed 53 per cent more food. All the earlier lectures had no effect, even though it was the same food as shown in the videos.

So you want to get more scotch for your money from a bartender? It's quite easy.

Wansink told bartenders with six years experience to put the same amount of alcohol into either short, wide glasses or high thin ones. But even with their experience they poured 20 per cent more alcohol into the short wide glasses.

Why does this happen? Wansink says smart people believe they're smarter than the bowl or the glass, even if they're Harvard graduates.

So you own an Italian restaurant and want to sell more pasta? Just change the name from "Italian pasta" to "succulent Tuscan pasta."

This increases sales by 27 per cent. Patrons also rate the restaurant better and the chef more competent. You can get the same increase by changing "chocolate cake" to "Belgium black forest cake."

Names can make you eat more. So can expectation. If you have guests who drink too much of your good wine and you want to get rid of them, try this restaurant experiment. Wansink bought cheap $2 cabernet wine and soaked off the labels. He replaced them with labels from California and North Dakota. (North Dakota doesn't even make wine!)

Those who drank California wine rated it better and made reservations to return. The North Dakota wine poisoned the entire meal. These participants did not rate the food good, left early and made no further reservations.

So what does work to fight obesity? Wansink advises the use of smaller bowls, rather than believing education makes a difference.

Make sure the first thing seen on the table is healthier food. And cover the clear window of the ice cream freezer with butcher paper to decrease the urge for ice cream.

If you buy in bulk, break it down into small packages to decrease the amount you eat. 70 per cent eat less candy when it is in small mini-packs.

I can hardly wait to ask the next bartender to put my drink in a short wide glass.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2011 A21

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