Your stomach can’t count calories.
It can’t count the number of spoonfuls of Golden Grahams cereal you had for breakfast. It can’t count the number of ounces in the overpriced Frappuccino you drank on the way to work. It can’t count the number of french fries you inhaled in the first 90 seconds of your lunch break. It doesn’t know how many scoops of the aptly named Chubby Hubby ice cream (a whopping 330 calories per half-cup) you ate standing in the front of the refrigerator when you got home.
Our stomachs just aren’t designed to keep accurate track of how much we have eaten. If we could really see all that we’re putting in our mouths, we’d probably eat a lot less. Despite the cliché, our eyes are typically not bigger than our stomachs. In fact, our eyes are often better at telling us how much to eat than our bellies. That’s because it takes about 20 minutes after we eat before our stomach starts registering that we’re full.
If you could look back and see all of the handfuls of potato chips you’ve already gobbled before shoveling in another, you’d likely hestitate before reaching back into the bag.
But we’re hungry! We can’t count on our memories to help us, either. Take the popular but diet-destroying all-you-can-eat buffet.In a study in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, my colleague Dr. Collin Payne and I promised a free chicken wing buffet to 52 graduate students (17 men and 35 women) while they watched the Super Bowl at a sports bar in Urbana, Ill. As part of the study, the waitresses were instructed to clear the dishes at only half of the tables.
If people had their tables continuallycleared, they continually ate. Clean plate, clean table, get more, eat more. Their stomachs didn’t keep track of how much they’d eaten, so the students kept on eating until they thought they were full. Each of these people ate an average of seven chicken wings apiece.
The students who did not have their table bused were less of a threat to the chicken population. After the game was over, they had eaten an average of two fewer chicken wings per person —that’s 28 percent less than those whose tables had been bused.
The chicken-wing gobblers didn’t believe they were influenced by a clean table —they simply didn’t remember chowing down as much as they did. They claimed they ate so much because they were hungry. That’s the big danger of not having visual cues.
Seeing is believing. Do yourself a favor —make sure you see the food before you eat and while you eat it.
We find that when people put everything on their plate before they start eating —including, snacks, dinner or dessert —they eat about 14 percent less than when they take smaller amounts and go back for seconds or thirds.
Instead of eating directly out of a package or box, put your snack in a separate dish and leave the box in the kitchen. You will be less likely to eat more and more ... and more.Whether you are eating chicken wings or cookies, you’ll eat less if you see what you’ve already eaten.
The same is true for beverages —it’s easy to forget how much soda you’ve guzzled if there’s nothing to remind you. So keep your eye on the empties.
For that matter, if you want to keep friends from overimbibing at your next dinner party, keep the empty wine bottles on the table and pour refills into fresh glasses without clearing the others.
Not only will you spend less party time cleaning up, seeing the evidence of how much they’ve drunk could help your friends get home more safely.
Guessing how many calories we ate in a meal is a dangerous game. Most of us terribly underestimate how much we eat –usually by up to 50%.
Think your sandwich and chips were about 400 calories? 750 is probably closer to the truth. In fact, we’ve shown that the bigger and bigger the meal, the less accurate we are in guessing how much we ate.
There are two easy solutions. One is to take our best calorie guess –and then double it. We’ll be a lot more accurate than if we stick with our first estimate.
The second solution is to separately estimate the number of calories in each item we eat –the sandwich, the chips, the soft drink –and then add them up. We’re a lot more accurate when we estimate small amounts of food than entire meals.
Source: Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink (2006) Journal of Marketing Research
Does the idea of comfort foods conjure up a molten lava cake, ice cream sundaes, or three-pounds of salted peanuts?
In one of our studies, we found 40% of people’s favorite comfort foods are actually pretty healthy, meal-related foods –soups, steak, green bean casseroles, hamburgers, and so on. For most of us, there’s a small difference in how much we prefer unhealthy comfort foods compared to the healthier ones.
Indeed, we find people who ate these healthier comfort foods rated themselves as more comforted, happier . . . and less guilty than those who indulged in the bad ones.
Zapping a can of soup seems to go a lot farther than dishing up the mountain of ice cream.
Source: Wansink, Brian, Matthew M. Cheney, and Nina Chan (2003), “Exploring ComfortFood Preferences Across Gender and Age,” Physiology and Behavior, 79:4-5, 739-747.
For 30 years my Lab and I have focused on discovering secret answers to help people live better lives. Some of these relate to health and happiness (and often to food). Please share whatever you find useful.
This video of one of my post-docs gives a flavor of one type of research that we've done: