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Researchers Take A Psychological Approach To Right Portioning (Of Food)

The alter-ego of super-sizing? Down-sizing.

But in researchers and scientists’ terms, the best word to use should be right-sizing, as they made a study on the super-size outbreak and have discovered subtle ways to slowly right-size today’s restaurant food.

Researchers, led by Tulane University marketing professor Janet Schwartz, went to a quick-serve Chinese restaurant at Duke University which is known to offer a standard serving of 10-ounce rice or noodles, all with 400-worth of calories. There, they asked servers in classy aprons to suggest to about 970 diners if they would like to lower down their orders to a half-size, allowing the diners to save 200 calories. Only 14% to 33% took the offer, despite a discount of 25 cents. Those who said yes, however, did not order any more food to compensate for the 200 calories that they gave up.

The researchers took heart—this means that consumers could actually jump at the offer of a right-sized meal even if there are no changes made on the price.

“Enormous portions have indeed become the culprits that could be blamed for today’s obesity epidemic,” says Janet Schwartz, who’s also a psychologist. “Overflowing plates of pasta and French fry-loaded fast food meal-deals are the ones behind our bulging waste lines. Now, we are looking into the psychology of eating these gigantic meals, trying to uncover ways to reduce portions without consumers feeling that they are being cheated.”

They call it right-sizing, as right-size implies good portioning—not a reduction.

“We’re hoping to apply these creative ways to right-size in the next two years,” says Brian Wansink, food science researcher and author of the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. “Even children have been found to be quite satisfied with half of their portion of fries in their McDonald’s Happy Meals—even before the chain and its servers in elegant aprons trimmed down its calories and size last year.”

That means everything is just in the mind. So they came up with some experimental “tricks” to control consumers’ minds from over-indulgence, and aid restaurants in helping out with the initiative:

Limit the temptation

Restaurant diners are advised not to give too much focus on the entrée—the entrees are often oversized and piled up with calories, and just concentrate on the side dishes.

Use plates that contrast the color of food

Servings can actually be lessened, whether at home or at restaurants, using subtle psychological ploys. Scientific studies found out that people pile 18% more pasta if they use marinara sauce on a red plate, and 18% more pasta if they use alfredo sauce on a white plate.

Smaller plates make right-sized portions more satisfying

So if you are using 11-inch plates, it’s time to replace it with 10-inch ones.

Tall, slim glasses look more gratifying

People get the impression that they’re getting more drinks in tall, skinny glasses than when the drinks are in short, wide ones.

Kids should be using smaller plates and bowls

Kids who are served food in adult bowls tend to eat up everything, as most adults do, not having the willpower to stop before the bowl or plate gets cleaned up. Even adults are guilty of relying on visual signals about how much food is left, scooping it all in before their stomach signals the brain that it’s full. Smaller bowls and plates mean lesser servings, which means less over-indulgence.