The #1 Reason You Eat Too Much

I’m skinny. It’s genetic (thanks Mom). However, I recognize that what you eat has a huge impact on how you feel and your overall health, so I try to be conscious of it.

Dan and Chip Heath, in their book Switch, mention a study (performed by Brian Wansink of Cornell – author of Mindless Eating) where groups of moviegoers were given free tubs of popcorn which was five days old. It was stale and squeaky. The purpose of the study was to determine whether the size of the tub of popcorn had a causal relationship on the amount of popcorn consumed. Would people with larger tubs of popcorn eat more?

In short… yes. People with a large tub ate 53% more than those with a medium. The size of the container matters.

Speaking of container size, do you remember when you could Super Size your meal at McDonald’s? What ever happened to that? A Super Size order contained 7 ounces of french fries and a 42-ounce soda. After Morgan Spurlock’s movie “Super Size Me” was released there was a huge backlash against the Super Size value meal. McDonald’s wasn’t the only company affected by the backlash – Wendy’s “Biggie” and “Great Biggie” sizes also took a hit.

When Wendy’s discontinued their “Biggie” trademark in 2006, they didn’t downsize their meals. The “Biggie”, which contained 5.6 ounces of french fries and a 32-ounce soda, became a medium. The 6.7-ounce and 42-ounce “Great Biggie” became a large. The old medium, a 5-ounce fry with a 20-ounce drink, became a small.

Fast food restaurants aren’t the only place we’re seeing portion size inflation. Alex Bogusky (of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky) noticed something odd when he purchased a 1940’s house and tried to put his dinner plates in the cupboard. They didn’t fit. Intrigued, he began to do some research. He found that the average dinner plate in the 1960’s was 9 inches. That size has crept up to the 12 inches it is today. Watch the short 1-minute video below about Bogusky’s book “The 9-Inch ‘Diet'” for the precise details.

My wife and I purchased 9-inch plates for our house when we got married. They’re technically “salad plates“, according to Crate & Barrel. A person with a 10-inch plate eats 22% less than a person with a 12-inch plate. It’s a simple issue of alignment. So, what size are your dinner plates?

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  • Sylvia January 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I was in Stockholm recently and went out to eat several times with a friend. At each restaurant, when our dishes came, I had a startled “That’s it? Where’s the rest of my food?” moment. Obviously, I’m accustomed to American sizes. The size of restaurant meals in the US does have one benefit, though: I usually take home about half my food for later consumption.

  • Austin January 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    The plate method also uses a 9-inch plate. Although it is for diabetics, I’m sure most Americans would benefit from following it.