The Subtle Cues that Influence Overeating

Sunday, November 30, 2008 by: Lynn Berry
Tags: overeating, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) In a recent book called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Professor Brian Wansink outlines factors that influence us to overeat. While we may think we are resilient to food packaging, or to the size of food items, Wansink's findings are to the contrary. He also finds that we are influenced by the eating habits of the person sitting next to us.

Professor Wansink is of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and has conducted experiments to discover why we eat the way we do. The experiments conducted in the Lab concentrate on food packaging, and other triggers that cause us to overeat. People are given free lunches in return for data.

As many of us have little idea about the appropriate amount to eat, we look for cues and end up being influenced by what is around us. For example, typically larger portions of food are cheaper than small ones, and so we are influenced to buy larger portions.

Wansink's experiments have shown that we are influenced by the name on packaging, as well as by the size of the packaging. The bigger something is the more appealing it is. One experiment involved giving moviegoers free tubs of five day old popcorn in different sizes, large and medium.

The team then weighed the remains at the end of the movie. They found that people with the large size tubs ate 53% more than those with medium tubs. The influence behind people eating the stale popcorn included the sound of other people eating popcorn, the distraction of the movie, and the association of popcorn with the experience of going to the movies.

In another experiment, the team used a bottomless soup bowl that was set up to remain half full with the idea of testing what would make people stop eating. One group was given the bottomless soup bowl, while another group was given a normal soup bowl. Those with the bottomless soup bowl ate almost double the amount compared with the group with the normal bowl. Both groups estimated they had consumed the same amount of calories.

Other findings were that we are influenced by the amount of food the person next to us is eating. We may eat more or less, and overall we moderate our intake by more than 20% to match the person next to us.

Wansink believes that one of the factors causing people to become overweight or obese is that they do not realize how much they eat. He suggests we become more aware, instead of being mindless, about how much we eat. This can lead to the consumption of less kilojoules every day.

His tips on being more aware include choosing only two food items from a buffet at a time, wrapping enticing food into foil to prevent you seeing it, not eating directly from a package, and siting next to someone who you think will be the slowest eater.

While these methods won't lead to huge weight loss, they will lead to small weight loss of around four to five kilos and it won't feel like you're on a diet.

Source: Severson, Kim, Mind over platter, The New York Times reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 13, 2008.

About the author

Lynn Berry is passionate about personal development, natural health care, justice and spirituality. She has a website at

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