Can we stomach the math?

Psychology. Soup. Wings. And tips for how to diet and make more sales in a restaurant.


can our stomach count how much we have eaten - sexy slim woman with candy

1-Minute NomNom

Our stomachs are terrible at math. If we had to rely on our tummies to tell us how much we have eaten and thus when to stop eating, we might not do so well.

That is the conclusion reached by Professor Brain Wansink who runs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. According to him, “We don’t have any idea what the normal amount to eat is, so we look around for clues or signals.”  He goes as far as to say that our “stomach can’t count“!

the bottomless tomato soup bowl experimented with how well our stomach knew we were fullHe reached this conclusion after conducting several experiments. One such experiment was a bottomless tomato soup bowl. The soup bowl was connected to a tube – unseen by those drinking the soup – that always kept it half full with tomato soup. Would people stop eating when they felt full, or would they keep eating because hey, there’s still so much soup in the bowl?

Take a guess… (drum roll….)… Turns out:

“People using normal soup bowls ate about nine ounces [~250 ml]. The typical bottomless soup bowl diner ate 15 ounces [~440 ml]. Some of those ate more than a quart [~960 mil], and didn’t stop until the 20-minute experiment was over. When asked to estimate how many calories they had consumed, both groups thought they had eaten about the same amount, and 113 fewer calories on average than they actually had.” (Source: New York Times)

chicken wings and buffalo wings with sauceIn another experiment reported in his book Mindless Eating, he checked if people ate more buffalo/chicken wings if the bones of the wings were cleared. The waitresses at a sports bar were instructed to serve an endless supply of these wings, but to only clear the bones at half the tables.

buffalo and chicken wings and bones - as visual cues to much we eat more so than how full our stomach feelsTake a guess who ate more… (drum roll…)… Turns out that if people had their tables continuously cleared…

“…they continually ate. Clean plate, clean table, eat more… They ate an average of seven chicken wings apiece.. The people at the bone-piles tables [on the other hand]… had eaten an average of two fewer chicken wings per person – 28 percent less than those whose tables were [cleared of bones].” (Source: Mindless Eating)

Professor Wansink concludes that visual cues – how much soup looks to be left, clean plates, piles of bones etc – influence how much we eat more so than how full our stomachs feel. As a result, we often overeat. This is bad news for those on a diet, but perhaps good news for those running an eatery. For the latter, the more readily you clear the customers’ tables, the more likely they might be to order more!

Banana Split Sundae

“Would you like some dessert to go with the table I just cleared and cleaned?”


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photos: in order – depositphotos/LisaA85jirkaejcdigifunantpkrmonkeybusiness

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