Many different triggers prompt overeating, cues clinicians might use to a dieter's advantage.
Dr. Zanni is a psychologist and healthsystems specialist based in Alexandria,Virginia.
Twenty years ago, few psychologistsstudied eating behaviors,but interest in food psychologyhas expanded with America's waistline.Some of the most interesting findingsare featured in Mindless Eating, a bookby Brian Wansink, PhD. Dr. Wansinkconducts research on eating behaviorsat his Cornell University laboratory,which resembles a restaurant, a cafeteria,and a television den, and simulatesenvironmental, social, and cognitivevariables.
Consider this environmental cue:serving bowl size. Participants servingthemselves from either gallon-sizebowls or half-gallon-size bowls ate 59%more snacks from the larger bowl.
And cognitive expectations? Whileeating identical meals, subjects receiveda complimentary bottle of wine fromeitherNoah's Winery, California, orNoah's Winery, North Dakota. The bottlescontained the identical inexpensivewine. Those with the California label ate11% more food, lingered an extra 11 minutes,and rated the food and wine higherin quality, compared with those receivingthe North Dakota label. The participants'belief that California wines arebetter affected their entire meal (knownas the halo effect). Similarly, peoplewill order Belgian Black Forest DoubleChocolate Cake with greater frequencyand rate it higher than the same menuitem simply called Chocolate Cake.
How strong are cognitive expectations?In one study, approximately 60%of participants in a darkened room whowere given chocolate yogurt, but toldit was strawberry, rated it as having agood strawberry taste.
Knowledge is not power in this area.Subjects who attended a 90-minute lectureon food psychology still fell victimto cues. Food psychology helps identifycues and thoughts fueling overeating—cues that clinicians might use to a dieter'sadvantage.