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A Mindful Mouthful

Side Dishes: Can't Get Enough? It's Psychological


Published June 13, 2007 at 10:03 p.m.

Everyone knows that when you're hungry, your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Brian Wansink offers scientific proof in his 2006 Bantam book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

Last week Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University, presented some of his research to a well-heeled group at Shelburne Farms. Only seven of the 60 or so listeners were men.

Wansink's shtick? American eaters are victimized by three myths: 1) "The size of plates and bowls doesn't influence how much I eat"; 2) "I know when I'm full"; and 3) "I know what I like to eat." In a series of outlandish experiments conducted over the past 21 years, he has lured unsuspecting gobblers into gluttony to prove his point. For those who want to mend their munchy ways, he suggests "reconstructing" food "environments" - i.e., move the damn M&Ms off the corner of your desk, replace your short-'n'-wide glasses with tall-'n'-skinny ones, etcetera.

Forty-seven-year-old Wansink - who weighs 175 pounds - understands that presentation is key. His talk was full of super-cheesy, crowd-pleasing one-liners that seemed better suited to a Catskills nightclub than the elegant Shelburne Farms Coach Barn.

Nonetheless, the stale humor appeared to do the trick: When an emcee announced at evening's end, "Please help yourselves to the bread, cheese and cider," almost no one did.