Contrasting Colour of Plates and Food Affects Eating Habits
It’s a known fact that the size of your plate can affect how much you eat. Now research has found the contrast of a bowl or plate’s colour versus what’s placed inside it may also be a contributing factor to obesity.
Low colour-contrast between dinnerware and food– a large helping of vanilla ice cream in a white dish, for instance, increases the odds that you will over serve yourself. The opposite also holds true – a high contrast between plate colour and the meal that’s on it decreases the tendency to overeat.
Researchers Brian Wansink, of Cornell University’s Food & Brand lab, and Koert van Ittersum say an optical illusion is responsible for this behaviour.
“It’s not simply that the bowl holds more,” says van Ittersum, the study’s lead author. “Even when you give people a specific target amount, they’ll pour more than the target into a big bowl, and less into a small bowl, because of this illusion.”
The Delboeuf Illusion states that if two identical circles are placed side by side, one surrounded by a much larger circle and the other by an only slightly larger circle, people falsely perceive the inner circles as dissimilar in size.
“If you want to reduce the amount of unhealthy food you eat, you want to choose a plate that really contrasts with it; if you plan to eat healthy food and want to eat more, you want to choose a plate with a lower contrast,” says van Ittersum, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia Institute of Technology.
If Wansink and van Ittersum are right, it may be far easier to change your immediate environment than it is to change your mind. Choosing dinnerware that isn’t the same colour as foods you usually eat may be a key to halting overeating at meal times.