A new study—published in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research—helps explain why the size of our plates affects how much we’re eating. Turns out, our behavior is directly influenced by what our eyes perceive, even when we know better. So, for example, you’ll serve yourself—and eat—less on a 6-inch plate than a 9-inch plate because it looks more satisfying.
The study, by Brian Wansink, Cornell researcher and EatingWell advisor and Koert van Ittersum, suggest the color of your plates, table and tablecloth matters too: using light plates on dark tablecloths helps you eat less; doing the opposite (having dark plates on dark tablecloths) makes us take—and eat—more.
Perhaps the most surprising of all is that even nutrition experts—people trained in food and calories—are duped. One of Wansink’s previous studies involved his nutrition students and colleagues at an ice cream social. They were each randomly given a smaller or larger bowl and either a smaller or larger serving spoon to scoop out the ice cream into their dish. He and his colleagues found that nutritionists using the larger bowls served and ate 31% more ice cream than those with the smaller bowl. Nutritionists who used the larger serving spoon served and ate 15% more ice cream. (Those who received a large bowl and a large serving spoon ate the most—57% more than those with the smaller spoon and bowl combo.)
Before you reach for the measuring cups or spoons and food scale, try these easy-to-use tips.