American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


You Can Eat Less and Not Even Notice

You can use optical illusions to trick your brain into thinking you are eating or drinking more than you really are. So you eat less without even noticing.

Sound crazy? I thought so, but the research being done by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.’s team at Cornell University proves its true.

We eat with our eyes, and that’s how we judge if we are serving ourselves the right amount of food. Our minds think we should have a full plate of food, so if we just use a smaller plate, we should be satisfied with less. In the real world, this only works if everyone at the table is using a smaller plate. Sitting down with a salad plate while everyone else has a dinner plate isn’t fooling anyone.

But… this principle works well if you use the pretty plates with a large border and a small section in the middle for food. Our minds see a pretty plate filled with food, not a smaller plate. See? If you can’t beat ‘em, join em.

Our minds also see taller as bigger than wider.

This is evolutionary, because taller predators were more deadly than wide ones. We can use this to our advantage! Instead of those wide, shallow pasta bowls, use ones that are deeper and taller – a smaller serving of pasta will look big. And drink out of a tall, narrow glass instead of a short, wide one. You’ll think you are getting more when you are really getting less. Want to have some ice cream? Use a tall glass instead of a wide bowl – those old soda fountains knew what they were doing. A small serving looks substantial in a tall glass.

See these glasses?




They hold the same amount of liquid. Which one looks like you get more?

This also works in reverse. If you have picky kids or elderly parents who are not eating enough, make it look as if you are serving them less food by using bigger plates and short, wide glasses. Then a full plate of food won’t be as overwhelming to them and they may eat more without even noticing. My daughter stopped complaining that I was giving her too much food as soon as I started serving her the same kid-sized amount on an adult-sized dinner plate.

So, if you have any smaller plates (like the ones your grandmother used), sitting around in boxes, get them out and start using them. Same with tall glasses. Manipulating your environment to your advantage is an easy way to set yourself up for success. 

PS – Want to learn more? Dr. Wansink’s book Mindless Eating is a fantastic resource and a good read!

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