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How 'Edible Stop Signs' Can Help Us Eat Less


You know how it's almost impossible to eat just a few chips? How somehow you and a friend have eaten half of the bag instead of the recommended seven-chip serving size while watching TV? Well, one researcher has devised away around this tricky little portion-size problem: edible stop signs.

Well known for his work in the field of eating and psychology, Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, recently found that when people had a visual marker to help them to be better aware of how much they were eating, they ate less. Published in the journal Health Psychology, researchers served tubes of Lays Stackables to two groups of college students while they were watching videos in class. One group was given Lays with some chips dyed red—interspersed at intervals designating one suggested serving size (seven chips) or two serving sizes (14 chips). In a second study, this was changed to five and 10 chips. The other group had regular chips.

According to ScienceDaily, the students were unaware of why some of the chips were red, but those who had the red chips consumed about 50 percent less than those without the red chips. They were also more accurate at estimating how many chips they had eaten than those without the red chips. In fact, those without the red chips underestimated the amount of chips they had munched on by about 13 chips, while those with the red chips were able to guess within one chip.

This research shows that visual clues can help to put the brakes on overeating, says Mary Hartley, RD and online nutritionist at

"I’m amazed that one little marker, without an accompanying explanation, could have such a precise effect," she says. "Without the marker, the estimation was so far off. It shows me that we are either very unaware whenever we don’t pay attention or we are subconsciously choosing not to acknowledge our actions."

Hartley says that women must be aware of their food portions because, once started, the body is programmed to keep eating. While it's not unlikely to think that food manufacturers could begin to use visual cues in their packaging (kind of like the new 100-calorie snack packs), Hartley says that you can create your own edible stop signs at home. She suggests eating off smaller plates and bowls, drinking from tall, slender glasses, slicing meat before serving to promote smaller helpings, and serving small portions of all foods. (You can always go back if you're still hungry!) When served a large plate of food when eating out, she recommends using your utensils to divide the portion and push half away.

Overall, this research reminds us to pay attention to visual cues.

"It’s a given: People use visual estimates, over physical signs of satiety, to guide their food intake," Hartley says. "We are a little like dogs in that way."

What do you think of this new research? Would you buy snack food with edible stop signs? How do you keep your portion sizes down? Tell us!


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