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Weight Update

Amy Campbell

June 25, 2012

Ah, summer is finally here. In my opinion, it seemed to have snuck up on us awfully fast. I don’t quite feel prepared. Millions of people are probably feeling the same way as they pull on their shorts and bathing suits for the first time and realize that the waistband is a bit too snug or that the bathing suit seems tighter than it did last summer.

Reaching and staying at a healthy weight is never an easy task (although it’s doable) and while sensible food choices, portion control, and regular physical activity are the mainstays of weight management, it never hurts to see what else might be new and useful to try. So, that’s my focus for this week.

The Delboeuf Illusion
Never heard of Delboeuf? He was a Belgian philosopher who discovered that two identical circles will appear to differ in size if one of the circles is inside a much larger circle and the other one is inside only a slightly larger circle. (The circle that’s inside the much larger circle looks smaller due to the contrast in size.)

Scientists at Cornell University’s Food & Brand Lab applied this concept to dinner plates. They did a recent study aptly named the “Plate Size and Color Suggestibility” study. In it, researchers took advantage of a college reunion (a good venue to do a study) and randomly gave 60 participants either a red or white plate. The buffet line consisted of pasta with tomato sauce or pasta with Alfredo sauce. Once the folks got their plates of pasta, the portions were measured. The people who had a low contrast between their pasta and their plate color (that is to say, they put Alfredo pasta on a white plate or tomato pasta on a red plate) served themselves 22% more pasta than those who ate the Alfredo sauce on a red plate or the tomato sauce on a white plate. So, it seems like if your food blends into your plate, you probably will eat more.

Lessons learned. If you’re trying to limit your portions, eat your meals off plates that have a high contrast with your food. If you want to eat more of a certain food, go with a similarly colored plate: eat your spinach off of a green plate. And the color of your placemat or tablecloth can make a difference in your portions sizes, too. If it’s not possible to have a rainbow assortment of plates, use a placemat or tablecloth with a low color contrast to your plate to limit the chances of overeating. While you’re at it, dig out your smaller plates to eat from, rather than the larger-diameter plates that prompt you to eat more.

Be Nice to Yourself
Words can hurt, and if your tendency is to complain about your weight or the way you look, or essentially put yourself down, you may be more likely to feel depressed and have a poor body image. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, researchers gave college students questionnaires to learn about the impact of “fat talk.” The questionnaires addressed issues such as eating and exercise habits, becoming overweight, and self-perceptions of body weight and image. The more a person engaged in negative “fat talk,” the more likely the student was to be depressed, have a poor body image, and feel pressure to be thin.

Lessons learned. Beating yourself up about your weight, putting yourself down, or complaining about your thigh size to someone isn’t going to help you much in the long run. In fact, “fat talk” may make it more likely that you’ll feel bad about yourself. Instead, try using more positive, empowering statements, such as “I walked three miles today” or “I chose broccoli over the French fries at dinner.” Be nice to yourself as well as to others!

Bet you CAN Eat just One!
Who here can stop eating after one (or twelve) potato chips? One of the reasons why people overeat and subsequently gain weight is that they have a hard time stopping eating once they get started. One of the researchers from the plate study, mentioned above, addressed this very issue in a study published in the journal Health Psychology.

College students were given a tube of stackable potato chips, some of which contained chips that were dyed red. The red chips were inserted at specific intervals, such as after one serving of chips or after two servings of chips. The students had no idea why the red chips were there, but the researchers found that they ate about 50% fewer chips than those given a chip tube without the red chips inside, saving themselves about 250 calories. In addition, the “red chip” group was able to better estimate how many chips they actually ate. Sticking those red chips in the chip tube was a way of signaling the person to stop eating.

Lessons learned. Mindlessly munching on any food boosts the chances that you’ll overeat (especially if you’re doing something else at the same time, like watching television). While it may be a little difficult to place red potato chips in your food, using other types of visual cues may help curb your eating may help. What else helps? Using a smaller plate, not doing other things when you’re eating, and eating preportioned snacks (rather than from the box or bag). Maybe there should be an app for that…



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