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Most Adults Are Members Of The Almost Clean Plate Club, So We Need Smaller Plates

It turns out that adults are pretty good at guessing how much they want to eat, regardless of nationality or gender.

Most Adults Are Members Of The Almost Clean Plate Club, So We Need Smaller Plates
[Image: Clean plate via Shutterstock]

You know the saying that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs? Not true.

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A new study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab reveals that whenever adults serve themselves food, on average, they eat 92% of what they put on their plate, regardless of nationality, dining setting, and a host of other factors.

“If you put it on your plate, it’s going in your stomach,” writes one of the authors, Brian Wansink, director of the lab.

It’s good news in the sense that maybe we really do have a better idea of how much we want to eat than we think. But it also means that subtle factors influencing how much we put on our plates in the first place–such as larger serving spoons and plates–can really influence how much we consume. After observing 1,179 diners from the U.S., Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands, they found that the results were pretty identical across different nationalities and genders.

There were several interesting subtleties to the data. The average child ate only about 59% of the food they self-served, a lot less than adults, probably because they gave themselves too much. And people ate more of their food (97%) when they were focused on eating, as opposed to when they were distracted and only cleaned about 88% of their plates. People also ate more of their meals (93%) than their snacks (76%).

The researchers, writing in the International Journal of Obesity, say the study will help buttress the findings of many other studies in nutrition, psychology, and consumer marketing that analyze how much food people serve themselves, but not how much people actually eat. This study shows that the two are pretty closely related.

Keep this food for thought in mind next time you visit the buffet.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire

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