Saturday, 27 April 2013


Our dishes, that is...

Last month the Nutrition Action healthletter had an interesting article on portion sizes and perception.  For example, the article explained how popcorn bags increase in size in three dimensions (getting taller, wider and deeper), which makes it difficult to notice a 50% increase in portion size (compared to a bag that only increases in height).

The article also discussed the Delboeuf Illusion (below), which causes us to misjudge the size of identical circles when they are surrounded by larger circles of varying sizes. The more "white space" around the circle, the smaller it appears.
In the above picture, the black circles are both the same size, but the one on the right looks smaller, because it is surrounded by more white space.

Now think of the black circles as your food, and the white space as your plate. 

Larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead us to misjudge the same quantity of food as being significantly larger. In a study conducted at a health and fitness camp, campers who were given larger bowls served and consumed 16% more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Despite the fact that those campers were eating more, their estimates of their cereal consumption were 7% lower than the estimates of the group eating from the smaller bowls. In other words, not only could large dishes cause us to serve and eat more, it can do so without us noticing and trick us into believing we have eaten less.

How can we take advantage of this illusion?  We could serve healthy fruits and vegetables on larger plates to encourage ourselves to eat more of these foods.  On the flip side, carbs or desserts could be served from smaller plates to trick us into feeling satisfied with less food.  Similarly, when having people over for a buffet-style dinner, using smaller plates could cut down on the amount of food taken.  

The Nerd and I were intrigued by this research and so today we went to IKEA and purchased some new plates and bowls for every day use.  It helps that our everyday plates are 22 year old IKEA plates that have been gradually whittled down over time - - I am down to 4 of the original 8 plates, and 5 bowls.  It's the perfect time to pick up new dishes.

Our old plate is shown here on the left, with the new glass plate on top of it.  The new plate fits within the inner ring of the old plate.  This is not a huge difference on its face, but in fact the working area of the plate is about 1-2 cm smaller around the entire edge, which adds up quickly.

The difference in the bowls is more dramatic.  

As you can see here, the new bowls fit completely within the old bowls, and are narrower in width. 
Once again, there is about a 1cm difference in width between the old and new bowls, which adds up to less room for food.

My challenge is that each time I lose around 1.5 pounds, I get to consume 10 fewer calories the next day.  My base calorie limit right now is 1,530 calories (and dropping!), and it is difficult to meet that number with the old full-serving portions I used to eat. 

The Nerd and I have adapted to this challenge by stretching recipes that call for 4 servings to make 5-6 servings, effectively reducing the calories consumed by 20-30%.  This has been working well for us because we get all the flavour of the full recipe without all the calories.  We don't really notice the smaller portions because the meals are only fractionally smaller, but I am hoping the new dishes will make the food we have look more generous.  It is not that we have been feeling particularly deprived, but anything we can do to make this lifestyle change easier on ourselves, the better it is for us.

Plus, new dishes!  Who doesn't like that?

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