When it comes to choosing food bowls, you might want to follow Goldilocks's lead and opt for the baby-bear serving, but not because of the temperature. What makes smaller bowls "just right" for most people is how they help control the urge to over-serve food, says Koert van Ittersum, assistant professor of marketing at Georgia Tech College of Management.
Smaller spoons also help stop people from piling on too much food, according to a study conducted by van Ittersum with Brian Wansink of Cornell University and James Painter of Eastern Illinois University. Titled "Ice Cream Illusions: Bowls, Spoons, and Self-Served Portions," their study will appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The researchers believe their findings result from the human perceptual tendency to judge object sizes based on comparisons with neighboring items. Participants in the study, for example, served themselves 31 percent more ice cream when they were given a 34-ounce bowl instead of a 17-ounce bowl. Their servings increased by 14.5 percent when they were given a 3-ounce spoon instead of a 2-ounce utensil. When given both a large spoon and big bowl, they served themselves 56.8 percent more. Yet they were unaware of the greater ice cream quantities.
And these study participants were nutrition experts, a group one might expect to exhibit more moderation at food serving and consumption. The researchers invited eighty-five nutrition experts who didn't realize they were the subjects of an experiment to an ice-cream social. "While it is not clear how accurate people are in estimating ounces and calories, it was believed that this group would be most accurate given their expertise in nutrition," van Ittersum says.
When people over-serve themselves food, they're likely to overeat, he notes. That's because people eat an estimated 92 percent of the food they serve themselves. "If you want to lose weight, use smaller china and flatware," van Ittersum advises. "While 4 ounces of food on an 8-ounce plate might look like a good helping, 4 ounces on a 10-ounce plate could seem skimpy."
He believes these research findings have implications not only for those watching their weight, but also for the hospitality industry. Many experts have blamed expanding American waistlines on the growing size of restaurant food portions. Through the use of smaller plates, bowls and spoons, restaurants might be able to deflect such criticism while still convincing diners that they're getting a good value, van Ittersum says. "Of course, you cannot push this strategy to the limit," he says. "If people still feel hungry after they've finished their plate, you have a serious problem."
Cite This Page: