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Eating With Our Eyes | May 11,2011

Blame the external cues for making us overeat!  Brian Wansink, economics and marketing professor at Cornell University, has conducted research demonstrating that we are way out of touch with our internal hunger and fullness signals.  In fact, it is all the external cues that contribute to overeating.


In one simple study he put Hershey’s Kisses in either a clear bowl or an opaque bowl on a group of participants’ work desks and every day refilled the candy dishes.  His research team found that a typical participant on a typical day would eat about nine Hershey’s Kisses (about 225 calories) if they were sitting on the participant’s desk.  If they moved the candy dish six feet away, they ate only four candies (about 124 calories).


That’s 125 fewer calories per day or it could translate into about 12 pounds per year.  Seeing the candies in a clear bowl averaged two more candies per day as well.  What about putting food on the table in serving dishes, family style?  Dr. Wansink and his team found that men ate about 29 percent more if the serving dish lingered on the table instead of the counter.  Women ate about 10 percent more.


In another study, participants ate soup unknowingly from a refillable soup bowl.   Those eating soup out of these bowls ate 73 percent more soup than others.  When they were full, they didn’t rate themselves as more full than the other group.  They perceived that because half of the bowl of soup was left they weren’t full.


The same phenomenon held true with chicken wings.  When people were given all you can eat buffalo wings and the leftover bones were piled on the table they ate 28 percent less than if the bones were taken away.  Again, people were paying attention to external cues rather than internal satiety cues.


Dr. Wansink has many other examples of this phenomenon, but the point is that we all need to pay less attention to external cues and more attention to internal cues.  Get rid of all of those external cues around the office or around the house.  Practice the art of hara hachi bu, the Japanese habit of eating only until you are 80 percent full.  Stopping at 80 percent capacity is actually a very good strategy to avoid overeating without going hungry.


The stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the body how full it really is.  Consciously eating with our stomach rather than our eyes is one of the keys to lifelong weight management.