Overall calories, the types of foods we eat, decreased expenditure and an loss of self-integrity are the biggest contributors to plus-sized cultures. Due the nature of our metabolic inefficiency, more people than ever before have tremendous challenges in losing weight and keeping it off.
Consumers feel they are being infantilized and food marketers feel they're being squeezed as they typically extract higher profits from bigger portions.
But new research has found that people can be encouraged to choose smaller, healthier portions, without compromising on enjoyment. In their article, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, Pierre Chandon, the L'Oreal Chaired Professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD and Yann Cornil, Assistant Professor of the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, find that people will choose smaller portions of chocolate cake when they are asked to vividly imagine the multisensory pleasure (taste, smell, texture) of similar desserts.
Eating great food -- no matter how simple or how elaborate -- is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s rare to see people eating while walking or shopping in France or Italy. There are no cup holders on caddies, or even in most cars. You eat at the table, not in front of the TV or computer screen, then you leave the table and do something else. When eating at restaurants, Europeans are never asked by their servers "are you done with that?" because the meal is a pleasure, not a task.
When people eat anywhere in the house, other activities they do while eating will often trigger a signal in the brain to start eating.
Many Americans eat while watching TV, or just start snacking. Confining all eating to the kitchen can put a dent in that.
How can focusing on the pleasure of food make people want smaller portions? When it comes to eating, pleasure is inversely related to size. It is at its maximum in the first few bites of the food. Each additional bite becomes then less enjoyable and it is the last bite which determines the overall impression of how much we enjoyed the food. When people choose portions based on value for money, or the fear of being hungry, they end up choosing one of today's supersized portions which are just not that enjoyable to eat toward the end.
Cornil and Chandon also show that unlike health warnings, this multisensory imagery does not reduce expected eating enjoyment or willingness to pay for the food. In fact, "focusing on the pleasure of eating, rather than value for money, health, or hunger, makes people happier to pay more for less food," said Chandon.
Cornil and Chandon conducted five different experiments using different groups such as French schoolchildren, adult Americans and young Parisian women. In the first study, 42 French schoolchildren were asked to imagine -- incorporating their five senses -- the pleasure of eating familiar desserts and were then asked to choose portions of brownies. They naturally chose portions of brownies that were two sizes smaller than the portions chosen by children in a control condition.
In another experiment, Cornil and Chandon imitated high end restaurants by describing a regular chocolate cake as smelling of "roasted coffee" with "aromas of honey and vanilla" with an "aftertaste of blackberry". This vivid description made 190 adult Americans choose a smaller portion compared to a control condition where the cake was simply described as "chocolate cake". The study also had a third condition, in which people were told about the calorie and fat content of each cake portion. This nutrition information also led people to choose a smaller portion, but at a cost: It reduced the amount that people were willing to pay for the cake by about $1 compared to the multisensory condition.
A third study showed that people underestimated how much they will enjoy eating small portions of chocolate brownies. They expected to enjoy small portions less than larger ones, when actually both were enjoyed equally. This mistake was eliminated by multisensory imagery, which made people better forecasters of their own future eating enjoyment.
In Europe, you won't find many all-you-can-eat feasts, such as buffets, tailgate parties and unlimited pasta and dessert bars, where it's easy for the calories to add up quickly. They realize that they will get to eat again in a few hours. They usually stop when they're 80% full and don't continue to gorge when they're full if and when they ever get there.
"Having more descriptive menus or product labels that encourage customers to use their senses can lead to positive outcomes for consumer satisfaction and health, but also for profits," said Cornil. "This could make for a more sustainable food industry, which struggles to grow in the face of today's obesity epidemic."