Nutrition and You!

Is Your Dinnerware Making You Fat?

It could be, depending upon the size and color of the plate, according the researchers, Koert Van Ittersum and Brian Wansink. Their study published in the Journal of Consumer Research describes a visual perception bias, referred to as the “Delboeuf Illusion.” This optical illusion could be at play in determining how much food you put on your plate and subsequently eat.

Continue Reading Below

The Delboeuf Illusion is illustrated below:


While both black circles are the exact same size, increasing the circumference of the outer circle makes the dark, inner circle look smaller compared to the other example with a smaller outer circumference. When you apply this optical illusion to food on a plate, here is what it will look like:

Illusion effect.jpg

Even though the portions of food on each plate are the exact same size, the meal on the larger plate, seems “puny,” compared to when it is served on a smaller plate. Thus, using large dinnerware may entice you to heap more food on your plate and encourage you to eat more, especially if you were raised with the habit of “cleaning your plate.”

Past research by Wansink and his colleagues uncovered just that. When given larger dinnerware, subjects served themselves more than when given smaller dinnerware. Since the average size of a dinner plate has increased by almost 23 percent – from about 9 ˝ inches to about 12 inches -- since the 1900s, our larger dinner plate norm of today is creating an optical illusion that is making it more challenging to keep to reasonable portions at our meals.

Building on this research, Van Ittersum and Wansink then tested if the color contrast between the dinnerware and the place setting background (tablecloth or placemat) would also create a Delboeuf Illusion. When they tested this among 47 subjects, they discovered that by reducing the color contrast between the dinnerware and the background (putting a white plate on a white placemat or tablecloth) reduced over-serving by as much as 10 percent.

Here’s more on the study:

Reducing the size of your dinner plate and reducing the contrast between the plate color and the background may be an interesting way to give your meals the illusion of being larger than they really are. Just ask Gail Curtis, the creator of Elegant Portions.

She created this dinner plate that is only 10 ˝ inches in diameter and has subtle markings on it to help you keep your dinner portions of your food groups in check. Since the dish is clear, it utilizes the “Delboeuf Illusion” when it rests on a white background:

Elegant portions.jpg

It worked for Gail. She lost over 55 pounds by just reducing her portions and that’s not an illusion.

Be well, Joan

Follow Joan on Twitter @JoanSalgeBlake