Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Portion distortion

Heart Beat

Portion distortion

If you are trying to lose weight, let your eyes do some of the work. The Ebbinghaus-Titchener size-contrast optical illusion might help you choose smaller portions that can nudge your weight in the right direction.

In the illusion, identical circles (the white ones) look larger or smaller depending on what's around them. How can this help you eat, and be satisfied with, less food? The trick is in your kitchenware.

To test the illusion, a Cornell University marketing expert and two colleagues hosted an ice cream social for 85 nutrition experts. Some were given big bowls, others got small ones; some were given big serving spoons, others got smaller ones. Those who used smaller bowls or smaller spoons served themselves less ice cream. Here's the neat part: Everyone thought they served themselves the same amount, about 8 ounces, and were equally satisfied with how much they ate.

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