The Color of Your Food Influences How Much You Eat

Little-understood contextual cues--such as how food is displayed and its variety of colors--can lead people to overindulge and unknowingly bulk up. People eat with their eyes, and their eyes trick their stomachs.

  • Adults offered six colored flavors of jellybeans mixed together in the same bowl ate 70 percent more than when the colors were each placed in separate bowls.
  • Moviegoers given M&Ms in 10 colors ate 43 percent more than those offered the same number of M&Ms in seven colors.
  • Moviegoers given an extra-large bucket of popcorn will eat up to 50 percent more than those given a container one size smaller--even when the popcorn is stale.

Many of us are reasonably diligent about what we eat, but we don't put that much thought into how much we eat. People may decide to eat grapes instead of potato chips because it's healthier. Once they make that initial choice, they tend not to monitor how much they eat. And a pound of grapes isn't calorie-free. So here are several practical take-home tips about ways to curb overeating:

  • Avoid multiple bowls of the same food at parties or receptions because they increase perceptions of variety and stimulate overeating.
  • At buffets and receptions avoid having more than two different foods on your plate at the same time.
  • Arrange foods into organized patterns and avoid cramming meal tables or restaurant display cases with too much variety.
  • Arrange fruits and vegetables in less-organized patterns to stimulate appetites.
  • Assemble smaller helpings of more items for children or elderly adults with finicky eating habits.

Journal of Consumer Research May 2004 Full-Text Journal Article PDF File

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