Portion size has become a major issue as health experts search for ways to combat America’s obesity epidemic. When it comes to losing weight, feeling full may all be in your head. New research has found that by simply cutting up food into smaller pieces at a meal, people tend to eat less throughout the day.
Portion size pig-out
Numerous studies on portion size suggest that larger portions lead people to eat more. For example, a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study found that increasing the size of a sandwich caused subjects to eat more calories, hunger or fullness be damned. Other research has shown that the larger the glass, the bigger the gulp, and people eat more food with a larger plate.
A mind game
Using animals, scientists have also learned that more pieces of food can be perceived as a greater quantity of food. In a 1989 study, researchers rewarded lab rats for learning to run through a maze. One group of rats received a single, large portion of food. Another group received 30 small pieces of food weighing the same as the single portion.
After a dozen trips through the maze receiving each version of the reward, it became clear that the rats were more motivated by the smaller pieces.
In a study presented at the international conference for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Zurich, Switzerland, researchers at Arizona State University reported that the mind game works just as well on college students as lab rats.
Making less feel like more
The researchers recruited 301 college students and separated them into two groups. The first group received a whole bagel topped with cream cheese. The second group received a bagel the same size, with the same amount of cream cheese, cut into four pieces.
As anticipated, the group with the whole bagel ate more of it than the group with the cut-up bagel. What’s more, when all the students were offered an all-you-can-eat free lunch 20 minutes later, the group served the cut-up bagel ate about 25 percent less food at the meal, even though they previously ate less than the whole-bagel group.
Sharpen your knives
The results of the ASU study suggest that the mind has power over the stomach. Try the experiment on yourself. Prepare your meals with less, then cut the food into bite-size pieces. Chances are you will trick your mind into feeling fuller, longer and you will eat less overall.
Ask any nutrition expert and they will probably tell you: losing weight, like playing golf, is a mental game.