Vitality

Small Plates On Large Tables Trick People Into Eating Less, Cut Daily Calorie Intake

Plate Size Portions
Tables and plates change the way we eat. Photo courtesy of Flickr, Didriks

Certain kitchen tables and plates may trick your mind into eating less, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. A team of food scientists from Cornell Food & Brand Lab set out to discover if table and plate size could influence a person's calorie intake — and their findings may be especially helpful for those struggling with weight loss.

For the experiment, 219 lucky participants were assigned to one of four tables set with slices of pizza. Researchers had ordered four large, round pizzas and cut them into both regular slices (eighths) and smaller slices (sixteenths). The slices were then divided among the different-sized tables: one large table had regular slices; another large table had small slices; a third, smaller table had regular slices; and the fourth, small table had small slices. Once they sat down, participants were told they could eat as much pizza as they wanted. Researchers then stepped back to observe how much pizza was consumed.

Afterwards, participants were asked to report how they perceived the sizes of pizza. When the small pizza slices were placed on the small tables, participants accurately saw the size of the slice to be half the size of the regular ones. This led them to take twice as many slices compared to those who ate small slices off of a large table. Researchers found the large table distracted participants and created an optical illusion. Participants presumed the smaller slices were larger than they really were, which led them to eat just as many slices as those who ate the regular-sized slices off of the large table.

"To eat less food," the study's lead author Brennan Davis, a researcher at Cornell’s Food & Brand Lab, said in a press release, "serve food in small portions and on large tables."

Recently, the same lab studied how tableware and package sizes can influence how much food people eat. Researchers reviewed 61 studies, which involved 6,711 participants consuming a variety of food portions. They found that by reducing the size of the plates and packages, participants could reduce 22 to 29 percent of their daily calories, or an average of 527 calories a day. When combining these results with their present study, food scientists suggest the trick to eating less may have more to do with the environment than it does an innate hunger.  

Source: Davis B, Payne CR, and Bui M. Making small food units seem regular: how larger table size reduces calories to be consumed. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. 2016.

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