How to eat less without dieting

Why how much you eat depends on the plate colour, how you serve, and where you sit…

Now here’s a thing.  I have a customer who collects diets – as in “ways of getting slim”.  He says it is an interesting hobby, and the only problem he has with it is keeping up with the mountainous volume of new articles and books that he is sent each week.

Now I can understand that, because every day I go into a bookstore or even my local supermarket there will be new books on display about healthy eating.  My customer collects these, plus all sorts of newspaper articles about diets, and then the problems with those same diets, and details of why they don’t work, and, of course, the next diet.

I was fascinated by all this, and realising that I was face to face with an expert I decided to make the most of the opportunity and ask him exactly which diet I should use if I wanted to reduce weight (which of course I don’t, because I am not overweight, absolutely most certainly not at all, no, definitely not.  Not a bit.).

“There are now considered to be two solutions to overeating,” my customer said.  “The first is sheer willpower.  You simply eat less, and then once you are established eating less, you eat a bit less than before.   What you mustn’t do is succumb to the notion that “I’ve been very good of late so I deserve a treat.”  That really doesn’t work.

“The second approach is less well known but much more effective, and it takes eating out of the zone in which we endlessly think about eating, and instead makes it something we don’t think about at all.

“The approach has been written about a little, but not very much.  Certainly the food industry doesn’t like it, because it challenges the way in which they encourage people to eat less.  It is all to do with the psychology of perception.”

Now I have to admit that I am a bit of a sucker for a good conspiracy theory, and I’ve heard that these psychology of perception people really do think that the way we behave is all down to what we see.  That always sounds farfetched to me, so I asked for an example.

“If you have plates that are the same colour as your food,” my customer said, “you will inevitably put more food on your plate.  But 99.9% of people who are told this, believe that this will apply to other people, but not to them, so they ignore the advice and thus put more on their plate.”

“Is that really true?” I asked.

“It’s an experiment psychology departments do all the time in universities.  They have a free buffet for the students, so they all turn up; anything for a free lunch.  At random they give people either red or white pasta, which they can ladle onto red or white dishes which are handed out at random.   At the end of the self service the student has to put the dish down on what looks like a normal part of the serving area but is actually a weighing machine, while they swipe their student card.

“The person behind the counter records which of the options the student has used – red pasta on red dish, white pasta on a red dish, red on white, white on white, and that is noted against the weight from the machine.

“People who take white on white or red on red invariably take 18 percent more pasta than those who used either of the other two options.  A check of the level of eating showed that the red/red and white/white people were more likely to eat everything and leave no leftovers.

“That’s a fairly obscure finding,” my customer added, “but there are more obvious ones.  If you keep a big pack of whole-grain breakfast cereal like Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or muesli in a place that is easy to see in your kitchen, you will eat more of it and put on weight.  In one experiment, women who had kitchens in which the cereal was visible all the time were found to weight 9.5kg more, on average.”

“But why?”  I pondered.

“Because the packages are covered with pictures of healthy women with healthy sparkling teeth,” my customer said, showing me a cut out of a typical package.

“Here’s another one.  If you sit down for a meal with the serving dishes on the table, rather than the serving dishes on the side or serving straight from the dish you cooked in, you will eat 19% more.  We always serve ourselves more when given the chance.  The cook gives us less.”

I was shocked.  I was stunned.  I was amazed.  I was annoyed.  Could this be true – is it the way we do things and arrange things that makes us fat?

I tried another approach.  “What about alcohol?” I asked, “Do you have a psychology of perception way of reducing the amount I drink?”

“We drink less from tall thin glasses than wide glasses.  And put your glass on the table when you pour your drink in – we all pour far less into a glass that is on the table rather than one we are holding.  Also move from white wine to red wine.  People always pour less red.”

“Because they see it more easily?” I asked.

“Sure thing.  But remember – the key lesson from the psychology of perception is that even when you know about every trick the brain plays, it doesn’t mean you can resist, just by knowing.  You have to just go with it.  As with restaurants…” (he paused to rummage in another box and produced another newspaper report) “… sit in a well-lit part of the restaurant near a window with at least three tables between you and the bar.  If there’s a TV screen, get as far away from it as possible.”

He closed the boxes and packed up.  “We’re doing research in a set of restaurants,” he explained, “to verify some new points.  You can read the rest in my forthcoming book.”

And with that he packed away his boxes and was gone.

You can find more information about our facilities on our website at   Alternatively you can call us on 0800 810 1125.

Admiral Document Storage
Bloxwich Lane
Tel: 0800 810 1125


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Strange Stories

Is it time to think carefully about the
spaghetti monster?

My recent articles on the issue of strange stories that people collect have opened a can of  floodgates or perhaps a tidal barrier of worms – I am not sure which.   Not only are several of my clients in the Admiral storage facility collecting tales of the weird and unexpected (not to say downright ludicrous) but it seems from my inbox that lots of other people have an interest in this.

I’ve had several emails from readers pointing out that if I really want weird, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, also known as Pastafariansm, might be worthy of my attention.

This church certainly came to the attention of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Council of Europe who noted that Pastafarianism celebrates an invisible all-powerful being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster which created the universe in one day.

Supporters of the idea then demanded a place on the school curriculum in the United States alongside evolution on the one hand and intelligent design on the other hand, on the basis that their notion was a third variety – singularly unintelligent design.

It seems that despite the absolute oddness of such a vision, in recent times the followers of Pastafarianism has flourished, for they now have their own very colourful website in which they report many sightings of the spaghetti monster.

Apparently one can buy the t-shirt to show unity with the monster for $25 or one can alternatively send exactly the same amount of money for a certificate that makes one a certified minister of the cult.

The website, incidentally, has a section to which people can write (and be published) if they wish to argue against Pastafarianism or even be abusive towards the believers, which seems fairly democratic.

It certainly raises a new notion for websites.  One has the usual drop down menus at the top with such headings as “News”, “Products”, “Offers”, “Contact us” and then comes “Abuse”.  I am not sure many other websites have added this option, but certainly reading the abuse column on the Pastafarians website is quite, err, educational.  Or at least vocabulary expanding.

Incidentally, through writing this piece on Google Drive I have just discovered that the spell checker accepts the word “Pastafarian” as perfectly correct spelling.

I therefore tested this discovery out by going into Google itself and typing Define:Pastafarian, and low and behold up popped a definition.  How fast notions can grow!

Of course, believing in a Deity or not is an intensely personal affair, and our society does indeed allow us the freedom to believe or not believe, and to argue for our own beliefs and against the beliefs of others.

But I wonder if we haven’t gone too far in believing in giving information technology the same rights.   I particularly wondered that this week when I got an email from my bank which said, “If you cannot see this email click here”.  Isn’t it time to start seeing IT not as a blessing but actually the work of some universal nasty-being which exists possibly in the anti-universe or whatever the latest proposition of physicists is as they attempt to explain what’s what and what’s not in the entirety of space and time?

I was still contemplating that rather overwhelming point when my attention was then drawn (for no reason that will become apparent at this time) to the notion of nominative determinism – the tendency of people to go into areas of work which fit their surname.

You may well have seen, for example, that the last Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales was Judge Judge (actual real name Igor Judge) until he was replaced by John Thomas – on which, of course, I make no comment.

Now there is a report that the population of dentists in the UK has many more men named Dennis, and women called Denise, than one might expect.  On the other hand I did come across Dr Burns at my local hospital recently, which caused me a certain amount of concern.

But I must leave you with a notice from the Driving Standards Agency which helpfully told me that I could “normally book a theory test online 24 hours a day, every day.   Outside these hours you can make a pending booking.”

So time beyond 24/7 really does exist, at least within government departments.  I always thought that might be the case.

You can find more information about our facilities on our website at you can call us on 0800 810 1125.

Admiral Document Storage
Bloxwich Lane
Tel: 0800 810 1125


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