Super-Sizing Larger Portions All in the Eye of the Beholder

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August 17, 2006 | 5,758 views

A new study offers evidence that how much people choose to eat is in part determined by cues taken from their surroundings.

The concept is called "unit bias," the tendency to think of a single unit of food, such as a bottle, can, or plateful, as an appropriate amount, even though such units can vary greatly in size.

The idea is not a new one, and experts have previously pointed to the supersizing of fast food and restaurant portions as one explanation for the rise in obesity.

But researchers found striking evidence to support it when they left a bowl of M&M's in the lobby of an apartment building and varied the size of the scoop people could use to take some. Sometimes the scoop could hold a quarter-cup, and other times only a tablespoon. People consistently took more M&M's when the bigger scoop was provided.

A similar experiment was done with a bowl containing either 80 small Tootsie Rolls or 20 big ones. Once again, people consistently removed more, by weight, when the Tootsie Rolls were offered in the larger packages.

It is important to understand that many fast-food restaurants are inclined to use every psychological trick in the book to get you to purchase even more of their food. 

Nothing necessarily wrong with that as long as you understand what you are up against and can make a free choice that this is the quantity of food that you really what to put into your body.

There is some evidence that fast food is actually addictive.

Fighting obesity really has nothing to do with distinguishing the difference between what's healthy or unhealthy to eat. For example, while some of you may not fully appreciate the serious dangers of fast foods, most of you understand that fast-food restaurants are not your first choice for a healthy meal.

But even though most people know this, the average American has four orders of fries a week, despite the fact that they are among the five worst foods you could possibly eat.

Just about everybody knows what's truly unhealthy. Beating obesity is actually a matter of consistently thinking about, and making, the right choices. This new study hammers this point home.

To be healthier and happier, you have to actively choose that path. Eating candies filled with sugars and super-sized portions won't get you there any faster.

There's no better example of how the "super-size" phenomena can ruin your health than Morgan Spurlock's awesome documentary Super Size Me, which you can watch for free online.

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