The otherwise innocuous pistachio shell is a great example of the counterintuitive way human beings consume food. While we think the amount of food we eat is driven primarily by hunger, that’s rarely the case. In reality, the amount of food we consume is usually dictated by the food environment around us.
For instance, research has repeatedly shown that we’ll eat more food regardless of how hungry we are if more food is put in front of us. And a study called “The Effect of Pistachio Shells As a Visual Cue In Reducing Caloric Consumption” demonstrates that simply seeing the remains of our food can have an impact on how much we’ll eat. Here’s how it worked:
The subjects were told they were going to evaluate a variety of brands of pistachios and were surveyed at the end of each day to determine their fullness and satisfaction. The subjects were offered pistachios on their desks for an 8-h period on two separate days and were able to consume the pistachios at their leisure during that time. Subjects began each day with a sixteen ounce bowl filled with four ounces of pistachios in the shell. They were also provided with a second sixteen ounce bowl, in which they were instructed to place the empty shells from the pistachios they consumed. Every 2 h throughout the day pistachios were added in two ounce increments. In condition one, the shells remained in the bowls until the end of the day, whereas in condition two, the shell bowls were emptied every 2 h throughout the day.
At the end of the day both groups reported being equally full and satisfied by their allotment of pistachios. However, the group that kept the empty shells in front of them ate 18 percent fewer pistachios than the other group. The study concluded that having a visual cue of how much they’d eaten (in the form of empty shells) is what made the difference.
This coincides with a similar study at Cornell University where two groups of people were given chicken wings to eat. For one group, the discarded bones from consumed wings were removed from the table right away, while in the other group the bones were left on the table in plain view. By the end of the meal the second group had eaten 27 percent fewer wings.
“The results suggest that people restrict their consumption when evidence of food consumed is available to signal how much food they have eaten,” said Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell.
In practical terms, you can apply the “pistachio effect” to other things as well. If you’re eating food that comes in a wrapper, don’t throw the empty wrappers away until after you’re done eating so they’ll help you keep track of how much you’ve eaten. At big social settings where there might be lots of hours d’oeuvre offerings, don’t clean your plate to make room for more goodies. And if you’re eating food buffet style, don’t get a fresh plate to go back for seconds. Keep your original plate with you to remind yourself of what you’ve already had. The result is that you’ll eat less but still feel satisfied.
Instead of focusing on any one specific diet, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center wanted to determine what kinds of simple behaviors people could do to help them lose weight. Their ultimate goal was to get people to reduce the number of calories they’re consuming regardless of what types of food they’re actually eating.
They came up with three specific things that you can do to lose weight, all of which are Weighthacker approved:
1) Keep a food journal.
2) Try not to eat out too much.
3) Don’t skip any meals.
I’ve found No. 1 to be one of the most effective ways for people to lose weight since it’s actually hard for your brain to keep track of your food intake (we simply weren’t built for that). Research team leader Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., put it this way:
“For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the No. 1 piece of advice based on these study results would be to keep a food journal to help meet daily calorie goals. It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating.”
Skipping meals was actually associated with eating more calories according to McTiernan:
“The mechanism is not completely clear, but we think that skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favorably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall.
We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviors. For instance, the lack of time and effort spent on planning and preparing meals may lead a person to skip meals and/or eat out more.”
Eating out is problematic because finding healthy options can be harder, you have little control over what ingredients are in your food, and you don’t control the portion sizes. With restaurants prone to serving massive portions, your’e practically bound to eat more than you intend to.
(from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics via MNT)
Tokyo University professor Michitaka Hirose created a sophisticated pair of augmented reality glasses that makes food portions appear larger than they actually are. Because people wearing the glasses think they’re eating more food, they actually eat less of it. The reverse is also true:
On one device, goggle-mounted cameras send images to a computer, which magnifies the apparent size of the cookie in the image it displays to the wearer while keeping his hand the same size, making the snack appear larger than it actually is.
In experiments, volunteers consumed nearly 10 percent less when the biscuits they were eating appeared 50 percent bigger.
They ate 15 percent more when cookies were manipulated to look two-thirds of their real size.
Practically speaking I’m not sure this will become a “thing,” but it does illustrate like the Delboeuf Illusion that we can help control our portions with simple food hacks and modifications to the environment. For instance, eating from smaller plates makes portions appear bigger. And adding garnishes that take up a lot of room but actually have few calories, like lettuce, can make our brains think we’re eating more food than we actually are.
(from The Telegraph)
One reason it’s easy to eat more than we intend to is because we usually eat food based on how much is in front of us, not on how much will make us feel full. Anyone who’s ever said “clean your plate” probably meant well, but it’s terrible advice. It encourages you to eat what your served regardless of how much your body needs.
Brian Wansink, the director of the Cornell Food And Brand Lab, knows more about this stuff than anyone. He studies eating habits and portion sizes for a living, doing fun experiments like creating a bowl of soup that endlessly refills itself to see if people can determine when they’ve eaten enough (they can’t).
(Side note: I highly recommend Wansink’s book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. It wil change the way you think about food.)
Since people can’t judge how much food they should eat, Wansink wondered if building visible ‘portion markers’ into food would help them eat less. So he cooked up (sorry) a clever way to test the idea:
As part of an experiment carried out on two groups of college students (98 students total) while they were watching video clips in class, researchers from Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab served tubes of Lays Stackables, some of which contained chips dyed red.
In the first study of the research, which is published online this month in Health Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association, the red chips were interspersed at intervals designating one suggested serving size (seven chips) or two serving sizes (14 chips); in the second study, this was changed to five and 10 chips.
Unaware of why some of the chips were red, the students who were served those tubes of chips nonetheless consumed about 50 percent less than their peers: 20 and 24 chips on average for the seven-chip and 14-chip segmented tubes, respectively, compared with 45 chips in the control group; 14 and 16 chips for the five-chip and 10-chip segmented tubes, compared with 35 chips in the control group.
They were also better able to estimate how many chips they had eaten. Those in the control groups underestimated the amount of chips they had consumed by about 13 chips. Those in the “segmented” groups were able to guess within one chip.
“People generally eat what is put in front of them if it is palatable,” said Brian Wansink, Cornell Food and Brand Lab director. “An increasing amount of research suggests that some people use visual indication — such as a clean plate or bottom of a bowl — to tell them when to stop eating.”
“By inserting visual markers in a snack food package, we may be helping them to monitor how much they are eating and interrupt their semiautomated eating habits,” he added.
Although Wansink envisions the idea being used by food manufacturers, I can see this working at home too. For instance, if you’re already decorating homemade treats (which we don’t want to eat too much of), add fun size markers into the decorating scheme while you’re at it.
And if your’e making pasta, use some different colored kidns delineate to emphasize what one serving should be.
(from Cornell University)