Smaller pieces, smaller waistline?

In honor of being done with spring semester and sophomore year (how scary is that??), I want to tell my dear readers, few though you may be, about the healthy eating tip I learned while researching my final paper.

The instructor of my research seminar called this phenomenon “Eating the Numbers.” I will demonstrate it with an example: you’re having a party and you have a pizza.

You could cut it into 8 slices or 16 slices. If you serve the 8-slice pizza, your guests will eat significantly more pizza than if you served the 16-slice pizza. This has been demonstrated many times in empirical research. Essentially, the more units into which a food is divided, the less absolute volume of food will people eat. So if you serve half oz fun size candy bars, people will voluntarily eat less total chocolate than if you served regular size 2 oz bars.

This occurs, we think, because people judge quantities in terms of number of units much more automatically than weight or volume. That is, if you see the same quantity of chocolate in one piece versus five pieces, you will tend to think there is more chocolate when it’s divided into five units. “Five is more than one” is the most automatic judgment you can make to compare the quantity. And some researchers think we have a “unit bias” which makes us feel that a unit of food provides a benchmark for the appropriate amount to consume. So the more units we eat, the less appropriate it becomes and the more full we expect to feel, so we stop eating sooner.

How can we use this to our advantage? Obviously, we can divide things into units. Cut the cake into smaller pieces. Or better yet, make cupcakes. Make mini cupcakes! Repackage that box of crackers or cookies into smaller servings. You get the idea. Set yourself up to eat less without even noticing!

Happy summer!


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