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Recent Study: Do Big Forks Cause Eating More, or Eating Less?

Here’s interesting news – researchers from the University of Utah made a study on restaurant diners’ eating habits and consumption using dining forks as a measuring indicator.

Married couple Arul and Himanshu Mishra, along with Tamara M. Masters, all from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, conducted the study and submitted their report to the University of Chicago Press’ Journal of Consumer Research.  The report, which will be published in the Journal’s February 2012 issue, examined how small bite-sizes and large bites affect the total quantity of food that is consumed by a person.  They conducted the research in a well-known Italian restaurant in the city, with apron-clad servers, using two sizes of dinner forks to control the bite sizes.  They initially observed that those who used larger forks ate less than the people who ate with smaller forks.  Such result contradicts studies that have been done about food portioning and consumption.  One such study was done by the federal agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that people eat more when they are presented with larger
portion sizes of food as compared to when they are served with smaller portions.

Realizing the inconsistency of the results, the authors investigated further, and learned that there are other factors that affect people’s food intake when they eat out.  One such factor is the fact that diners drop in at restaurants with a well-defined goal of satisfying their hunger, prepared to invest effort, money and time to satiate such need.

“The size of the fork presents the consumers with a means to carry out and monitor their progress in reaching their goal,” the authors said.  “The satiation signal, or the physiological feedback of being full comes with a time lag – it is said that it normally takes 20 minutes for our brain to realize that our stomach is already full.  With the time delay, diners rely on the visual cue – in this case, the large size fork – to see if there is a visual proof (a dent on their food) of their progress towards their goal.”   When they eat with a larger fork, it becomes visible that they are making measurable advancement in attaining their goal and they’ll stop eating sooner.  Using a smaller fork, apparently, does not give that same visual signal, which makes diners eat more.

They further investigated this conclusion by experimenting on different quantities of food.  They found out that when apron-clad waiters serve diners with a well-loaded plate alongside a small-sized fork, they tend to eat more, confirming the earlier result of “large forks =lesser consumption; small forks=more consumption.”  And it also appeared that this only happens when diners are served with bigger portions of food. When customers are given small servings, the fork size does not seem to matter at all.

They also wanted to prove the legitimacy of their claim about diners’ satisfaction goals affecting their food intake, so they conducted the same experiment in a different setting – in a laboratory.  They found out that participants with large forks ate more than those with smaller forks – a direct opposite of earlier results.  The authors believe that this happened because the participants did not have the same goals of satiating their hunger in a laboratory than when they are at a restaurant exerting vast amounts of effort to reach their goal.

Why is this important?  This is in line with the nationwide move to motivate people in the aspect of weight management–living fit and healthier lifestyles.  And this also has considerable impact on how restaurants can retain their current food portioning and at the same time help customers become healthy, or rather healthier, diners.