May 09, 2007
Portion Control and Being An Idiot
There are people out there who have no trouble at all with portion control, but not many. For most of us, there is a big difference between what we need to eat, and what we want to eat. And a lot of the time, unless we're really strict with ourselves, want is going to win out over need.
Here's one strategy that may help: Be an Idiot.
Often you can fool yourself on portion size as easily as you can fool a two year old child. There's even Actual Scientific Research on this which will be discussed below. In the meantime, Crabby will give you an example.
Do you remember from psychology class how there's a stage in child development where kids think that a tall, skinny glass has "more" juice in it than a short fat glass, even when they watch someone pour the same liquid from fat glass directly into tall glass?
Well Crabby is every bit as naive as a toddler. She used to drink her morning orange juice in a big fat tall glass. Eventually she realized she was drinking about 16 ounces of juice--well over 200 calories. What to do? She couldn't just fill up the glass part way because it looked too short. She felt deprived. It was only half a glass of orange juice.
So Crabby bought a new set of tall skinny 8 ounce juice glasses, and now she doesn't feel deprived, because she gets a full glass of juice every morning. It's dumb, but it works.
So a couple of guys at University of Pennsylvania, Andrew Geier and Paul Rozin, actually get paid to study this stuff. They've conducted studies on "unit bias"--how people decide that a particular portion of food is the right amount, and how that influences how much food people eat.
In one study, they put a large mixing bowl of M&M's at the concierge desk of an apartment building. Below the bowl hung a sign that read "Eat Your Fill" with "please use the spoon to serve yourself" written underneath. (Had she lived in that building, Crabby would no doubt have found many reasons she suddenly needed to visit the concierge's desk).
The tricky researchers sometimes set out a small spoon for people to use, and sometimes a large one.
When there was a small spoon, most people took a single scoop, even though the sign encouraged them to "eat their fill." But when the spoon was larger, they'd take a much bigger scoop and eat twice as many M&M's.
"It is more than just people afraid of appearing greedy," said one of the sneaky scientists. "They didn't know they were being observed. We have a culturally enforced 'consumption norm,' which promotes both the tendency to complete eating a unit and the idea that a single unit is the proper amount to eat."
Crabby swears she saw an even more amusing M&M study which she can't find anymore, which may well be by the same sneaky scientists, because how many researchers are out there studying M&M consumption? Anyway, the study said that if you give people a bag of M&M's all the same color, they won't eat nearly as many as if it's a multicolored bag. More variety can trigger people to eat more, even though they must know they're all the same flavor.
So: be an idiot like Crabby. Use skinny juice glasses, small spoons, and divide your M&M's up so you're just eating one color at a time.
Is anyone else this dumb? Have any good tricks to share?