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Be wary of oversized portions, sneaky salads and music designed to make you eat more
TRAP 1: Bits on the side
You may think a meal served with salad ups its health cred, but leafy sides may be your undoing.
“The way in which food is presented can make you think that there is more, or less, calories than there really is,” according to University of Melbourne senior marketing lecturer Dr Jill Lei. It’s what accredited practising dietitian (APD) Emma Stirling calls the “health halo”, whereby the nutrition merits of one food are transferred to a less healthy partner food.
WATCH FOR: Desserts served with fruit are a classic trap. “If you order a chocolate cake which is topped with freh fruit, then you’ll think it’s a healthier, lower-calorie meal than if it was served without the topping,” Dr Lei says.
TRAP 2: Menu manipulation
Ever wondered why fast food joints bother with ‘extra large’ options? The fourth size category is anything but arbitrary, with people more likely to order a large when there are four options than three, says Dr Lei.
WATCH FOR: Just because that pizza isn’t the biggest option on the menu, doesn’t mean it’s not more than you need. To minimise the risk of being seduced by size persuasion, decide what you’ll order before you step into the store. You’ll probably find little difference between the satiating effect or enjoyment from the extra large and small. If you’re eating a sundae to satisfy hunger as well as your tastebuds, eat a balanced meal first and you won’t feel like finishing the large – even if you order it.
TRAP 3: Large portions
If you’re hitting the all-you-can eat, beware the big bowls. While they may provide more bang for your buck, they can cause you to serve yourself over 15% more than you might with smaller servingware, according to a Cornell University study.
WATCH FOR: A quarter full bowl is a recipe for feeling deprived and feeling entitled to seconds (or thirds). Instead, fill a smaller bowl to the brim. Your brain won’t recognise the size – only the abundance. Take that.
TRAP 4: Unrestrained melody
Music’s power to influence mood states and behaviour isn’t lost on restaurateurs, who are pumping up the volume (of food you order) with background tunes. Music, regardless of style, lulls diners into a relaxed state conducive to ordering – and eating – more, according to a Georgia State University study.
WATCH FOR: You’d be hard pressed to find a silent eatery, but you can evade the sonic saboteur by setting a time limit for your dining session.
TRAP 5: Friendly fire
You know the friend who eats like a horse and still makes Angelina look tubby? She may be driving you to more than envy, with research linking dining with a calorie-immune companion to over-eating. Noshing with an overweight acquaintance, however, is thought to curb calorie intake.
WATCH FOR: Short of cancelling all appointments with your thin friends? No matter who your lunch date, pay attention to your food, as well as the conversation. Being distracted by conversation can lead to mindless eating, research shows.
Photo credit: Thinkstock