Increasing portion sizes

Food portion sizes are increasing, and so are our waistlines. We investigate the connection.
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04.We eat with our eyes

Supersizing would be less of a problem if we had more control over how much we eat. Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab in the US has conducted numerous studies confirming that people tend to judge that they’ve finished eating when their bowl or the pack is empty, rather than when they feel full.

  • In one study, 54 diners were served soup in bowls, half of which were being imperceptibly refilled via hidden tubing under the table as their contents were consumed. People eating soup from the “bottomless” bowls ate 73% more, but didn’t believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as feeling any fuller than those eating from the normal bowls.
  • In another study, 158 movie-goers were randomly given a medium or large container of free popcorn that was either fresh or stale (two weeks old). Those given fresh popcorn ate 45.3% more popcorn when it was given to them in large containers. But the influence of container size was so powerful that even when the popcorn was disliked (because it was stale), people still ate 33.6% more when eating from a large container than a medium-size one.

Research by the lab has also shown that when people use large bowls, plates and serving utensils, they serve themselves – and consume – more food (and therefore kilojoules). 

  • In one study, 85 nutrition experts were asked to serve themselves a bowl of ice cream. Researchers gave out a variety of bowl and scoop sizes. Those with larger bowls served themselves 31% more ice cream without being aware of it; when they used a large serving spoon, they dished 14.5% more into their bowls.

So whether it’s food we serve ourselves or pre-packed food that we buy, limiting portion size is crucial.


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