By Amy Chan
This is the winning entry of the inaugural Scientista DiscovHER science writing competition
Paleo? Atkins? FODMAP diet? If those don't take your fancy -- then how about the Werewolf diet? Weight loss and diets seem to plague us no matter where we look. Google ads, Facebook pop ups, Twitter feeds -- the topic of food and weight is never far from our lips...or perhaps our hips for that matter. A new fad diet seems to come and infest our social networks as fast as we refresh our feeds -- and they are all just a click away.
And indeed, it is tempting. With the abundance of food around us 24/7, and the ever-growing fast food industry, it is easy to look for a simple solution to a weighty problem. How great would it be to eat anything you wanted, anything at all, without having to worry about the extra kilos that might pile on? Unfortunately for us, that is not the case and the obesity struggle is a real and global one. The World Health Organization reports a doubling in worldwide obesity since 1980, with 50 percent of people in the WHO European region overweight and another 23 percent of women and 20 percent of men obese. Recent research suggests that obesity may be deadlier than previously thought -- with 18 percent of all deaths in the U.S. accounted for by obesity.
This calls for new measures beyond fad diets. Perhaps science is the answer. If science informs all our other choices -- from car design to human relationships -- then maybe we can apply science to food too? Gastrophysics is the term used to describe how physical science relates to cooking or gastronomy or loosely, food physics. Oxford University has a team of scientists looking at how we perceive food through our senses, and how that perception can be changed by simple physical things such as plate color and shape.
Betina Piqueras-Fiszman has been at the forefront of much of this research, co-authoring the book - "The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining" -- all about the different factors that can affect the way food is experienced. One of studies she designed looked at how the weight of the container holding the food can affect how full we feel. She asked 45 people to evaluate a strawberry yoghurt sample -- one served in a "light" bowl, and one in a "heavy" bowl weighing 75 grams heavier. Whilst holding these bowls, they were shown photos of different foods (pasta, crackers, cookies and grapes) and asked how much of each they would need to eat to feel the same amount of fullness as eating the yoghurt sample. They then had a spoonful of the yoghurt from each bowl, and rated how thick the yoghurt was, and which yoghurt would make them feel fuller.
The study found that yoghurt served from the lighter bowl was expected to be less satiating than yoghurt from the heavier bowl. When looking at the comparison foods, they felt they would need to eat more pasta, crackers, cookies and grapes to get the same amount of fullness from the yoghurt when it was in a heavier bowl. In other words, food from a heavier container was expected to be more filling than from a lighter one.
What's even more interesting though, is not only did they expect to be fuller when eating from the heavier bowl, they also ended up feeling fuller. Over 70 percent said they would feel fuller after eating the yoghurt served in the heavier bowl, and rated the yoghurt as thicker, than when the sample was served in the lighter bowl.
These results show that changing the weight of the container that holds your food can change how full you expect the meal to make you feel before you even eat it, and how full you actually feel after eating it. Piqueras-Fiszman explains the phenomenon as a 'sensation transference' where our feelings about the packaging or plateware holding the food transfers over to how we perceive the food itself. It explains why marketers spend so much money on packaging, and why restaurants spend time plating out our meals on different plateware.
So next time you find yourself considering which new fad diet to try -- think about changing your plateware instead. You never know -- it may just be worth putting that weight on your plate, instead of on you!
Piqueras-Fiszman B, Spence C. The weight of the container influences expected satiety, perceived density, and subsequent expected fullness. Appetite (2012);58:559-562
About the Author
Amy Chan is currently finishing her doctoral degree at The University of Auckland with the Department of Pediatrics and School of Pharmacy. Her study was a clinical trial looking at how a ringtone inhaler device helped with medication taking and asthma in school-aged children. She also works as a clinical pharmacist at Auckland City Hospital. Her journey through her PhD, and work with patients, has opened her eyes to the exciting world of science and research, through which the work of some can help change the lives of many. In her spare time, Amy enjoys writing (both creatively and for a food blog), creating things, exploring new places and is a keen dance performer.