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    Archive for the ‘Brian Wansink’ Category

    Must See 6-Minute Video Clip

    51TFRGSOMjL._SS500_As those of you who follow Small Bites regularly know, I am a big fan of Brian Wansink. I consider his research to be some of the most fascinating — and practical — in decades.

    In case this is your first time in this corner of cyberspace, Wansink — author of the must-read book Mindless Eating — is a Cornell University John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Laboratory.

    His fascinating studies have examined the subconscious effect large portions of food have on our appetites and consumption patterns.

    This short video (scroll down to the bottom of the page) details one of Wansink’s classic studies — the bottomless soup bowl.  Check it out!

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    SbarroLogoOne slice of Sbarro’s pepperoni pizza contains as many calories as 3 slices of Domino’s 14-inch thin crust pepperoni pizza.

    Yet another example of portion distortion!

    A harmless-sounding “two-slice lunch” at Sbarro’s clocks in at a whopping 1,460 calories — and that’s before you factor in a beverage!

    To put that into perspective, you are looking at a meal that provides as many calories as THIRTY chicken McNuggets!

    At places like Sbarro, I recommend ordering one slice at a time.  Once you finish your first slice, wait five minutes and then determine if you are truly hungry for a second one.  

    In most cases, you will find that one slice and a drink are more than plentiful.  

    As my consumer behavior idol Brian Wansink has found in multiple studies, our appetites are deceived when enormous quantities of food are literally in front of us!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Movie Popcorn

    popcorn bucketsCOB[In light of your post about calorie values in movie nachos], I have a related question — what about movie pocorn?

    — Purnima Anand
    Via the blog

    The figures certainly raise a red flag.

    First, some context.  Three cups of popped popcorn represent one serving, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture.

    That said, a small movie theater popcorn provides 9 cups.  A medium?  Anywhere from 12 to 14 cups, depending on the theater.  A large, meanwhile, packs in 18 – 21 cups.

    From a calorie perspective, this is what you’re looking at (before any fake butter is slathered on):

    • Small: 500 – 650 calories
    • Medium: 750 – 950 calories
    • Large: 1,000 – 1,250 calories

    Each pump of liquid “butter” adds anywhere from 130 – 150 extra calories.

    Remember, Brian Wansink’s most popular study on large portions and consumption was centered around popcorn!  Individuals who ate popcorn from large buckets ate more than those presented with “medium” buckets even though they didn’t report being more hungry (and the popcorn was a week old!).

    Here are my “I didn’t bring a healthy snack from home” movie-theater-survival tips:

    1. The absolute worst thing you can do is arrive to the movie theater hungry.  Make it a “dinner and a movie” night, rather than “a movie and dinner.”
    2. If movie popcorn is your thing, buy a children’s size (approximately 350 calories) for yourself or share a small with someone else.
    3. Skip the liquid butter.  Movie popcorn is already cooked in oil.
    4. If you go to the movies sparingly (no more than once a month), I don’t see a problem with getting a small order for yourself.  Plan the rest of the day accordingly, though (i.e.: leave the huge Chipotle burrito for another day’s lunch)
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    Numbers Game: Answer

    bowl+of+vanilla+ice+creamA study led by Brian Wansink and published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that subjects served themselves 31 percent more ice cream in a 34 ounce bowl than in a 17 ounce bowl.

    By the way, some of these subjects were nutrition professionals!  No one is immune from portion distortion.

    I find these studies fascinating because they frame the discussion of caloric consumption and obesity from a model that is simultaneously subconscious (when asked, subjects didn’t think they had served themselves more in the 34 ounce bowls) and environmental (if a self-serve ice cream bar only offers 34-ounce bowls, customers will serve themselves — and eat — larger quantities of ice cream).

    This is precisely why “personal choice” is not always a relevant argument when talking about healthier eating.

    Food companies love to wash their hands by saying customers always have choices.

    Consider, though, the following example.

    Burger King recently announced the “elimination” of King Size fries (580 calories and 40% of a day’s worth of sodium).

    I say “elimination” because the King Size fries are still available — they are now called “large”!  Similarly, what used to be “large” is now “medium” and what used to be “medium” is now “small.”  These details were barely publicized.

    Keep in mind that Brian Wansink’s studies have also shown that most people tend to not register fullness until they empty their plate, no matter how extreme a portion they were served.

    How, then, do consumers have “choice” when they are unknowingly served an additional 100 or 120 calories?

    Similarly, a dining hall chooses to order one bowl size for the self-serve ice cream station.

    The best take-away lesson from these studies is that the size of serving dishes matter.  If you are trying to lose weight, implement the use of smaller plates and utensils — especially with high-calorie items.

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    Numbers Game: Bowled Over

    Ice-Cream-ENTERT0605-deA study led by Brian Wansink and published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that subjects served themselves _____ percent more ice cream in a 34 ounce bowl than in a 17 ounce bowl.

    a) 17
    b) 22
    c) 31
    d) 40

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Monday for the answer.

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    Speaking With…: Brian Wansink

    This past Friday, Cornell University John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Laboratory Dr. Brian Wansink stopped by New York University after being tapped as the second featured speaker of a new lecture series on nutrition and chronic disease.

    Taking off from his bestseller Mindless Eating, the talk was appropriately titled, “How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating.”

    With those prevously mentioned credentials, you might picture a stiff, “all business” type who solves complex equations in his head while half-listening to you.

    Dr. Wansink, however, is reminiscent of the cool high school math teacher who wanted you to learn — and have fun while doing so. His research explanations are peppered with personal anecdotes, comedy, and facial expressions that sometimes rival those of Jim Carrey.

    A few hours before his afternoon presentation, I sat down with Dr. Wansink for a one-on-one interview.

    If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Wansink’s work, please click here to familiarize yourself with his research before reading the interview.

    I get such a kick out of all your publicity shots for Mindless Eating [NOTE: see accompanying picture]. They’re great! Have they all been photographers’ ideas?

    Ha! Thanks. Yeah, I’ve had some really creative photographers who set up these elaborate shoots. Some of those popcorn shots literally took twelve hours, from setup to cleanup. There was a LOT of popcorn all over the floor at the end that had to be cleaned up (laughs).

    So, I recently read that all of this research started as a result of you wanting people in the United States to eat more vegetables.

    That’s right.

    How did you go from that to your current line of research?

    Yeah, before I started my dissertation [in the late 80s], I wanted to know: “why do you finish your vegetables sometimes and other times you leave them on your plate?”. “Why are you hungry for them one night and not the next?” That then evolved into the idea of environmental factors that affect our overall eating patterns. It’s a lot more complex than people think because so many of our eating behaviors are automatic. This is all about getting below that surface. One of my first research studies had to do with family serving behavior. We had people come in, eat, and then answer questions about what they ate.

    Then, we showed them video footage of their meal. It is amazing how many people flat out deny, or are not aware of, their eating behavior. You’ll say to someone, “you had three servings of peas.” They’ll tell you, “No, I only had one!” You feel like saying, “Well, unless you have an evil twin…”

    It’s not until you show them the videotape that they change their mind. I once had a woman cry when she saw herself eating on camera! My research considers three angles. Not only what people are eating and how much of it, but also with what frequency.

    How did all that research turn into Mindless Eating?

    In 2004, I was in France and thought to myself, “I’d like to write a book, but I don’t know if I want it to be academic or pop.”

    That year, Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest interviewed me for their Nutrition Action newsletter, and suddenly a lot of requests for book deal started coming in. Most of them were e-mails and, I don’t know, nothing really stood out. Then I got a letter — an actual letter! — from Bantam Dell Books. One of the things I liked about them is that, as they told me, they are in the business of creating “real books that people read.”

    Interesting you say that, because I think that’s definitely one of the factors behind the popularity of Mindless Eating. It is relatable for and interesting to the average consumer.

    So at this point, it’s been a few years since the book came out. I was wondering about recent developments. For example, have you conducted any research on the effects of calorie postings in fast food restaurants?

    Oh yeah, I was involved in a VERY well-done study with Carnegie Mellon in regards to calorie labeling. We looked at McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks in terms of what consumers were buying before and after calories went up. And, you know what? The results were indeterminate. They were all over the board. Some people consumed fewer calories, others didn’t. I would actually be suspicious of anyone who told you they have seen a dramatic effect as a result of calorie labeling.

    That strikes me as really odd. What are your theories regarding the results of that study?

    There’s a few things to consider. First of all, when it comes to weight loss, a lot of people think: Yeah, I wouldn’t mind losing ten pounds, but I don’t want to change a thing.” Then there’s reactance, which is a psychological term. It’s basically resistance. Reactance is at play when you’re in your car and the person behind you honks so you pull away more slowly than you would otherwise.

    (Laughs) Or when you know someone at a restaurant is waiting for your table, so you sit there and take a little longer.

    Yeah. So I think, in a way, some people are seeing these calories and thinking, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re not going to tell ME what to eat!” Something similar happened in a study I did with Cornell. So, Cornell has a huge dining hall that services about 1100 people at one time. I wanted to see what effect going tray-less would have. I thought it would have two positive effects — it would result in reduced waste and reduced calories.

    The idea being that people couldn’t pile everything on at once but instead had to get up from their table each time they wanted more food?

    Yeah, exactly. Well, the results came in, and that night there was roughly 30 percent MORE plate waste! I think it comes back to that idea of reactance, where people saw this and thought, “Fine, I won’t use a tray, but I’m not going to eat less.” “font-style:italic;”>But that’s not to say that I think calorie labeling isn’t useful. Let me tell you something. The other day I went to Sbarro and saw that the slice of pizza I wanted was 787 calories. Aaaaaaaah!! So I think these calorie postings are going to serve as incentives for these food companies to say, “Alright, wait a minute, I want to turn that 787 into 690.” I think it’s going to nudge companies to drop the numbers, and that’s what will, in turn, affect consumers.

    Speaking of consumers, you recently finished your one-year post with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion working on the Dietary Gudelines. How did that go?

    Oh, it was great! I thought I was on a mission from God! My last day was January 20, when the new president took office. I was literally sending e-mails at 11:59 PM on January 19. I was still e-mailing at 12:05 AM on January 20, and I remember thinking “Wow, they didn’t shut off my inbox!” Then I got up to grab something to eat, and about ten minutes later I came back and I no longer had access.

    Any sneak peeks as to possible changes we may expect in the next round of Dietary Guidelines?

    I was involved with the selection of the 13 Dietary Guidelines committee members, and 11 of them have a behavioral focus. They operate where the rubber meets the road. That’s important, because they take pages upon pages of data and transform it into information for the masses that can be summarized in just a few sentences.

    So to wrap up, I’m interested in hearing about research you are in the process of conducting now.

    Oh yeah, sure. Well, we’re looking at what happens to people’s eating behaviors when they sit next to someone who has a much higher BMI than they do. We are also doing a study where we have someone wearing a fat suit and going through one side of a buffet very slowly, serving themselves a lot of food. Everyone on the other side of the salad bar takes a much lower amount of food compared to when that person is going through the salad bar without the fat suit on. It’s the whole concept of mimicking the attractive person. It’s terrible, because weight is the last acceptable prejudice in our society and it can really be crippling to a person’s self-esteem.

    Lately, the concept of “nature vs. nurture” has become central to the issue of childhood obesity. Do you have any thoughts on that from a behavioral standpoint?

    Well, we conducted a study with 4 year olds. We gave all the kids a questionnaire to take home. The point of the questionnaire was to determine to what extent parents forced their kids to eat everything that was on their plate. Of course, we disguised those questions among lots of filler like “what is your favorite TV show?”

    “What color are your curtains?”, etc.

    (Laughs) Exactly. So the parents, on a scale of one to nine, had to rate just how heavily they enforced “the clean plate club” at home. So, you know, nine was “my kids HAVE to finish everything on their plate or there is some kind of consequence” and one was “Ah, if they eat, they eat. If they don’t, they don’t.” We discovered that the children whose parents insisted they finish everything on their plate served themselves approximately 40 percent more cereal in our study.

    Wow! And based on what you talk about in Mindless Eating… the idea that, once food is in front of us, it is very easy to eat it all, that’s a significant finding.

    Yeah, the thinking is that children who are forced to clean their plate feel like the have no control when it comes to food, so they find ways to reassert their control and independence.

    Well, it looks like we’ve actually gone over time, but this has been fascinating. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you!

    Oh, absolutely. Thank you and best of luck with everything.

    Many thanks to Dr. Wansink for his time!

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    Takeaways from Brian Wansink

    I am in the process of transcribing the enthralling interview I conducted with Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink this past Friday morning.

    In the meantime, I want to share a little bit of what Dr. Wansink presented later in the afternoon when he addressed 150 New York University students and faculty members about details of his research.

    His talk, titled “How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating,” encouraged professionals in the nutrition field to shake up the traditional research model that commences in isolation in a laboratory and instead begin by thinking about human application first (rather than leaving it for last).

    It is precisely this alternative research model that led Dr. Wansink to become a pioneer in the science of consumer behavior as it relates to diet and nutrition.

    One of the most important phenomena he encountered during his research was the ripple effect one small change can have on individuals.

    In one recent study, Dr. Wansink and his team recruited individuals to take on one small nutrition-related change — such as eating on smaller plates or not eating in front of the television — for 90 days.

    While collecting data, Dr. Wansink observed that the vast majority of these people (roughly 70 percent) were losing weight in increasing amounts each month. Weight loss was not occurring at a steady rate, but actually doubling — and even quadrupling — in many instances.

    What was happening? Was the “small plate” group shrinking plate size even more? No — they simply began to implement more changes when they saw how painless their first behavioral modification was!

    A month into eating from smaller plates (and, therefore, almost mindlessly consuming less food), most of that cohort noticed the accompanying weight loss and thought, “Hey, this is painless! I’ll keep doing this AND cut down my soda consumption.”

    As a result, Dr. Wansink has seen many individuals lose up to thirty pounds in the course of one year without ever feeling like they had “started a diet” or “sacrificed everything.”

    Stop by tomorrow to read my full interview with Dr. Wansink!

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    Administrative Announcement: Taking Your Questions!

    This Friday, Mindless Eating author (and professor of consumer nehavior at Cornell University) Brian Wansink will be visiting New York University — and I have the opportunity to sit down with him, one-on-one, for thirty minutes!

    This time around, I want to give you the chance to submit your questions for this upcoming “Speaking With…” segment.

    Leave your questions for Brian in the “comments” section and come back next week to read a transcript of our interview!

    As a reminder, “Wansink’s award-winning academic research on food psychology and behavior change has been published in the world’s top marketing, medical, and nutrition journals. It contributed to the introduction of smaller “100 calorie” packages (to prevent overeating), the use of taller glasses in some bars (to prevent the overpouring of alcohol), and the use of elaborate names and mouth-watering descriptions on some chain restaurant menus (to improve enjoyment of the food). “

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    In The News: The Perils of Homemade

    The Boston Globe is reporting on Brian Wansink’s latest study (published in the Annals of Internal Medicine) — caloric increases in The Joy of Cooking cookbooks over the past eight decades.

    “The study, which looked at how classic recipes have changed during the past 70 years, found a nearly 40 percent increase in calories per serving for nearly every recipe reviewed.”

    Adding to the problem? It doesn’t appear anyone is complaining — or noticing!

    Considering that the average dinner plate’s diameter increased 36 percent between 1965 and 2005, I can’t say I’m very surprised.

    My two favorite bits of trivia?

    “The chicken gumbo… went from making 14 servings at 228 calories each in the 1936 edition, to making 10 servings at 576 calories each in the 2006 version.”

    And then there’s my dear colleague Lisa Young, who notes that the same exact brownie recipe yielded 30 brownie squares in the 1970s — but only 15 in a 1997 edition of the book!

    As an aside, from my own personal experience, I have found that baking recipes in Argentina tend to use approximately 25 percent less sugar than their US-based counterparts.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    The surface area of an average dinner plate in the United States increased 36 percent from 1960 to 2005.

    Source: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

    This is particularly problematic for “visual eaters” for whom the amount of food on a plate plays a role in their psychological satiety, as well as for those individuals cutting calories.

    A lower-calorie eating plan in and of itself is a big enough enough adjustment for most people; seeing large plates with small amounts of food on them certainly doesn’t help matters.

    I know from my own experience, for example, that a single scoop of ice cream looks paltry in a soup bowl, but just right when served in a coffee cup.

    The times when I have scooped ice cream into a soup bowl, I always end up piling on another scoop because that bowl seems empty!


    Take a look at the image accompanying this post. Doesn’t the plate on the left make you feel somewhat less satisfied than the one on the right?

    Imagine the following. You are on a buffet line, filling your plate with food.

    Isn’t it very probable that since a larger plate holds more food, you are more likely to pile more food on it than if you were provided with a smaller plate?

    And, going off of Brian Wansink’s research that it is very easy to lose track of calories when large amounts of food are sitting in front of us, isn’t it also very probable that the use of a larger plate is very likely to result in a higher caloric intake?

    I certainly think so.

    Just one more factor to consider when thinking about weight management.

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    Numbers Game: Objects on Plate May Be Larger Than They Appear

    The surface area of an average dinner plate in the United States increased ______ percent from 1960 to 2005.

    Source: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

    a) 9
    b) 17
    c) 28
    d) 36

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer.

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    In The News: Are You Calorie Blind?

    This New York Times article — centered around a French marketing expert and American attitudes towards food and nutrition — makes the following case: health claims like “trans fat free” and “low fat” create a “health halo,” providing consumers with a false sense of security, and ultimately making them more susceptible to overeating.

    When random Americans in a nutritionally conscious Brooklyn neighborhood were asked to estimate the number of calories in an Applebee’s meal, they overshot by an average of 100 calories.

    Good news so far.

    However, when that meal included two crackers labeled “trans fat free,” those additional 100 calories went seemingly unnoticed!

    Furthermore, the total caloric count of that meal received lower estimates than that of the cracker-less photograph.

    Meanwhile, “[foreign tourists in Times Square] correctly estimated that the meal with crackers had more calories than the meal without crackers.”

    Sounds simple (more food = more calories), but this French professor of marketing contends that health halos can blind us from seeing the larger picture.

    The theory is that foreigners, most of whom stem from countries where nutrition and weight loss mainly concerns calories (rather than specific nutrients), are not deceived by what Marion Nestle calls “calorie distractors.”

    What is a calorie distractor, you ask?

    Any kind of claim that makes you forget the total caloric impact of what you are eating (i.e.: tortilla chips containing a mere sprinkle of flaxseed and soy protein, or Gummi candies with as much ALA Omega-3 as four walnuts.)

    The article also mentions a most fascinating experiment conducted by this French researcher and Brian Wansink last year.

    “After giving people a chance to order either a Big Mac or a 12-inch Italian sandwich from Subway, the people ordering the subway sandwich [which has more caloric than a Big Mac] were more likely to add a large nondiet soda and cookies to the order, end[ing] up with meals averaging 56 percent more calories than the meals ordered from McDonald’s.”

    This article cements a lot of the concepts commonly discussed in this blog. Let’s recap:

    1. Forget about “good” and “bad” foods. Instead, focus on the big picture. A donut and coffee breakfast is not worth fretting about if it only happens once a week.

    2. Above all, think calories. Whole wheat pasta covered in 500-calorie Alfredo sauce is not a healthier choice than that same amount of “white” pasta accompanied by 100 calories of marinara sauce.

    3. Don’t be fooled by claims of “a day’s worth of vitamins” or “x milligrams of Omega 3” on boxes of high-calorie, sugar and sodium laden junk foods. You might as well down a Centrum pill in between bites of a King Size Snickers bar.

    Remember — the less processed your diet, the less you have to worry about scavenging the supermarket aisles for sugar-free, vitamin fortified, and low sugar Frankenfoods.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Recent studies by Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Applied Economics and Management Department and Pierre Chandon of the European Institute for Business Administration found that, on average, people underestimate the caloric content of “healthy sounding” dishes (like a grilled chicken salad, pictured right) at chain restaurants (and most dishes at “healthy sounding” restaurants) by 20 percent.

    This false sense of security is quite deceptive.

    It’s one thing to eat a grilled chicken breast on a bed of vegetables with a tablespoon of dressing or olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but quite another to accompany it with a ladle of dressing that can contribute up to 500 extra calories.

    And it’s not just calories that can be underestimated with healthy sounding choices.

    Here’s a shocker:

    An order of medium fries at McDonald’s contributes 221 milligrams of sodium to your day.

    An Asian chicken salad from that same chain? 1,030 milligrams — and that’s before you add a single drop of dressing!

    Once you pour that packet of dressing on, the total sodium content shoots up to 1,790 milligrams.

    The best tactic is to always be aware of what you are eating.

    For instance, does your grilled chicken sandwich come slathered with a thick layer of mayonnaise? Is your whole wheat wrap a foot long? Is your brown rice and vegetable stir fry drowning in sauce?

    Don’t be afraid to take charge, either. Ask for the dressing on the side, substitute mustard for mayo on your sandwich, and request that your stir fry be “light on the sauce.”

    Just remember to tip well!

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    Numbers Game: Don’t Judge A Dish By Its Name

    Recent studies by Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Applied Economics and Management Department and Pierre Chandon of the European Institute for Business Administration found that, on average, people underestimate the caloric content of “healthy sounding” dishes (like a grilled chicken salad, pictured right) at chain restaurants (and most dishes at “healthy sounding” restaurants) by _________ percent.

    a) 16
    b) 31

    c) 7.5

    d) 20

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer.

    PS: Test your own calorie-guessing skills with Wise Geek’s 200 calorie challenge.

    They selected a wide variety of foods and show you what 200 calories of each one looks like. Be sure to click on each one to see what a 200-calorie serving looks like on a dinner plate.

    It’s a very well-done project, mainly because all foods are compared on an even playing field (each one is photographed on a universal plate/bowl). Prepare to be surprised!

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    In a 2006 study by Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink (of Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management), office workers ate an average of 7.7 Hershey’s kisses a day if they were in clear jars on their desks, and 3.1 a day if placed six feet away from their desks in opaque jars.

    That’s actually a 110 calorie difference!

    More importantly, though, this points to a key factor in human eating behavior — if something is within reach, we are very likely to eat it, even if from a physiological standpoint we are not hungry.

    This is partially why large portions of food at restaurants and movie theaters are such a problem — it is NOT easy to leave half our food on the table or tell ourselves to “stop” after finishing half of a medium-sized popcorn bucket.

    In Mindless Eating, Wansink recounts several experiments he and his team at Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management conducted in which caloric consumption increased simply when more food was available to participants.

    One famous study had a control group drinking soup from a regular bowl, and another group from a bowl that inconspicuously refilled itself in a continual fashion.

    
The results? Those drinking from the “bottomless” bowl not only downed 65 percent more calories than the control group, they also did not report feeling full for much longer than those who had a limited quantity of soup.

    In other words, they unknowingly consumed extra calories.

    Wansink also experimented with movie theater popcorn. Subjects who later remarked the popcorn tasted bad and stale still ate more if they were eating from larger containers. Oh, by the way, the popcorn tasted so bad because it was two weeks old!

    Weight management isn’t just about your mouth and stomach — make sure your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you!

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