Eating with our eyes

The United States is plagued with an obesity problem, but what is the cause of this issue? Is it the availability of unhealthy food options? Is it the absurd portions offered in the United States? Is it a combination of all of these?

Growing up the idea of finishing what is on our plates is ingrained within us. Children are constantly being rewarded with eating more through sayings such as being a “clean plate ranger”. These reinforcements do not go away as we grow up. I am sure everyone has heard someone tell them “are you not going to finish that? Come on there are starving kids in Africa you can’t just leave it”. Are these mantras goals that we should really strive for?

Dr. Brian Wansink is a scientist from Cornell who is very interested in this topic. I looked at two of his studies. The first investigates visuals cues and how they affect our eating habits. The second looks into whether the size of vessel the food is presented in makes a difference in food consumption.


The first study takes a sample size of 54 participants who eat in groups of four. These groups are presented with four bowls, two of the bowls are 18 oz and the other two hold 12. Of these four bowls two slowly refill themselves. This investigates whether the reinforcement of finish what is put in front of you creates visual cues which trick the mind into thinking that it is full when the food is gone rather than the actual intake of calories. After a timed 20 minute meal is finished the participants are asked how much food they ate and how full they feel. The post meal questionnaire showed that the participant who ate from the refilling bowl was unable to accurately identify how much they had eaten. The experiment found that participants with refilling bowls ate on average 73% more soup than their counterparts. Interestingly although two of the participants ate more than the other two both sets reported the same rating of fullness.

This shows that the mantra of eating till it is all gone changes people’s perception of food eaten. These results were consistent with the hypothesis that visual cues have become our consumption norm. We rely on our eyes and perception of a serving size to tell us how full we are.


The second study takes this experiment one step further by introducing the variable of taste. In the first experiment participants were given the exact same soup in this experiment a single blind randomized trial was done on moviegoers.  Participants were randomly given large and medium sized popcorns to eat during a movie. On top of the size of the popcorn 14 day old stale popcorn was given in some of the buckets and fresh popcorn was given in others. The results of this experiment found the people with fresh popcorn are 45.3% more popcorn than other participants with smaller sized  fresh popcorn. The visual cues are so ingrained in us that subjects with stale popcorn still ate 33.6% more popcorn from large containers even though in a post study questionnaire they complained about the taste of it.

Container size is so deceptive to our minds and stomachs that the supersizing of american food has created larger consumption norms in our population. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute serving sizes over the past 20 years have doubled or even tripled. I believe that obesity is such an issue in our culture that there should be moves to create legislation to reverse the trend towards supersizing and try to change america’s portion size within restaurants to smaller portions much like in Europe to try and save our country’s future health.   


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Wansink, Brian. “Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake as Much as Taste.” Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake as Much as Taste. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Sept. 2005. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Wansink, Brian. “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake.” Wiley Online Library. N.p., Jan. 2005. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

2 thoughts on “Eating with our eyes

  1. lkr5215

    I liked your topic! i think it was very interesting and relevant today with obesity being such a problem. My mother always told me i ate with my eyes. I liked your flow in the blog along with the incorporation of the studies.

  2. Benjamin R Tuohey

    This is a very interesting post. I definitely agree with a lot that you have to say without this post. I think that a lot of the problems lie within our culture as a whole. Im not sure if you’ve heard of this, but there is a diet where you just eat half of the proportions you would eat. Like at a restaurant you would immediately cut all your proportions in half and only eat half of them. I attached an article that talks about this diet

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