Smaller Plates and Bigger Forks Lead the Way to Healthier Eating Habits

Flickr: Sean Rogers1

Our daily need for food means that people who need to lose weight have a hard time, as we cannot simply withdraw from food’s siren song, unlike the non-essential addictions for cigarettes or alcohol. The most interesting research for me has been the work of Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell, who’ve studied how and why we keep on eating “mindlessly.” I was fascinated by the description of their clever experiments in his 2006 book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think including the study in which unsuspecting participants eat soup from bowls engineered to automatically refill until the researchers called it quits — the soup eaters did not, as they saw there was still liquid in their bowls! Another experiment involved inviting college students for a free movie and handing them buckets of popcorn, the students gorged themselves on the snack, even though it was three days old. What they might have rejected otherwise as stale and unpalatable, was consumed uncomplainingly, because they were distracted by the movie and because they had been ingrained to eat at the cinema. Dr. Wansink taught his readership how easy it is to be fooled into over-eating by our circumstances.

After reading Dr. Wansink’s book, I switched my family’s dinner plates to a smaller size (except for Shabbat) and I now plate the food from the kitchen, allowing only the vegetables on the dinner table, as they are hard to over-eat (except by my husband). It’s harder to manage portion control when we have company for meals, but I know of one family who plates everyone’s food even for Shabbat and Yom Tov. This past Pesach, they offered pre-prepared menus to their guests who were advised to indicate their choice of entrée by placing a sticker next to their choice. (Their kitchen is large enough for the assembly-line plating, although mine is not.) Not only did they help their guests manage their intake of food, they told me that there was less waste too.

Last week, Peter Smith, a columnist for Good, reported on a forthcoming study in The Journal of Consumer Science, in which scientists at the University of Utah invited undergraduates to meals at a popular Italian restaurant. Over two days and four meals, they were served with “custom cutlery” — researchers had swapped forks that were either 20 percent smaller or 20 percent larger than the standard utensil. Their surprising finding? Students using the bigger forks ate less than those eating off the smaller ones.

Why should the results be so counterintuitive? The scientists reason that when one uses the smaller forks, each forkful hardly makes a dent in the dish. But with the larger forks, each bite makes a distinguishable difference in the amount of food consumed (note: it’s still the food remaining, not the amount consumed). Smith wrote, “fork size could be the quickest dietary fix since chewing.” The researchers claim, “[I]f we are not chewing longer, then consuming from a larger fork may actually be more helpful in controlling over-consumption.”

In another upcoming study in Food Quality and Preference, researchers Charles Spence and his colleagues offered Greek yogurt in two kinds of bowls to volunteers. Those given the yogurt in the heavier bowls rated their yogurt as “weightier,” — both denser and more expensive — than participants who ate the same yogurt in lightweight (such as Styrofoam) bowls.

The combined take-home lesson? Use a smaller plate — no take-out containers! — but a larger fork. You’ll feel more satisfied and eat less at the same time.

Hannah Lee does not use Styrofoam and she finds it easier to use a smaller plate than to chew more.


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