Does Size Really Matter? How you can use context to control your food cravings.   Leave a comment

Does size really matter? When it comes to food cravings, you bet it does.  Numerous studies have shown…time and again…that the amount you eat is affected by how your food is presented, and what the context and environment are.  Simple changes in how your food is served can make a huge impact in how much you eat.  If you’re craving a particular food, and find yourself giving in, or if you want to eat a particular food but have more control over your portion size, you can use the science to your advantage.

Nearly everyone has heard that serving food on smaller plates can help you eat less.  The plate appears fuller and you eat less.  Ok, that’s very helpful, and you should do it.  But that’s just the beginning: there are many more actions you can take to help you reduce how much you eat when you crave a particular food.  We’re going to cover just a few of the many changes you can make to help control how much you eat of the foods you crave.

First, you can segment your food.  In a fascinating Yale University study of college undergraduates from May, 2012 performed by Andrew Geier, students who were eating tubes of potato chips, the participants ate 50% fewer chips when a different color potato chip was inserted every few chips.  For example, when participants ate tubes of chips that had a red chip every 10th chip, they ate half as many chips!  Furthermore, when they were later asked how many chips they had eaten, the participants who ate from segmented tubes recalled how much they ate more accurately.  You can use this to your advantage…if there is a food you mindlessly eat, or eat too much of, find a way to separate it into segments…you’ll eat less and your waistline will thank you.

It’s also important to look at your food.  A study from the December, 2010 issue of the journal Appetite reported that when subjects ate in the dark, and were served larger meals, they ate 36% more than those who were served smaller meals.  On a personal note, I had a similar experience when I “dined in the dark” in a restaurant in LA a few months ago.   So be sure to look at your food…which is yet another reason not to eat while watching TV or a movie.

There is a notable exception: exercise advertisements.  In a Dutch study of 125 subjects published in August of 2011, participants who watched exercise advertisements during their meal consumed 21.7% fewer calories than people who watched neutral commercials.  So if you are going to eat in front of the television, watch exercise-oriented television.  A 21 percent reduction in calorie intake is a big deal and really adds up over time.

Finally, choose your dining partner wisely.  In 2008 Lenny Vartanian from Syracuse University studied paired diners and found that the choice of partner greatly influenced how much participants ate, even though the affected study participants erroneously believed that taste and hunger were the driving factors.  If your business lunch partners are unhealthy eaters, you are at risk.  Change it up.

These are just a few of hundreds of changes you can make based on the science of craving that can impact how much you eat.  To learn more about how you can use the latest science to manage your cravings, check out our Facebook page and check out Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough.

Posted November 4, 2012 by Omar Manejwala, M.D. in Uncategorized

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