Diabetes Diet

Using Contrast to Help People with Diabetes to Lose Weight

A new study reports that a low-contrast between what we eat and what we eat it on — like red pasta on a red plate or white pasta on a white plate — can lead us to eat a lot more. Like 22 percent more than when we eat on high-contrast dinnerware.

Not that I would recommend that any of us who have diabetes eat any color pasta on even the most awful plate. Even yellow pasta on a violet plate might not be a wise choice for those of us who are trying to keep our blood glucose levels in check.

For most of us who have diabetes, managing our weight is probably the key way to manage this disease. Fully 85 percent of us have a body mass index, or BMI, above normal, according to a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That makes the color of the plates and bowls we eat from even more important than it is for most Americans. “Only” about two-thirds of Americans struggle unsuccessfully with their weight.

Fooling ourselves is generally not smart. But even though we might know that we are fooling ourselves with our choice of dinnerware, it can work to our advantage.

A new study by an associate professor of marketing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a professor of marketing at Cornell University shows how a corollary to a famous illusion can help us lose weight. Originally, we owe this insight to a 19th Century Belgian philosopher named Franz Joseph Delboeuf.

The Delboeur Illusion shows us graphically that if the same circle is placed inside two different concentric circles, its size will vary. The new study uses this insight into our misguided brains. You can read a pre-publication print of the study online. Page 6 of this study shows how the authors adapt the illusion to the size of the dinnerware we use.

Big dinnerware calls out for big portions. That the bigger plates that our stores sell now are about 23 percent larger than they were in 1900 is no coincidence.

In the 1990s I was a big eater and a consequently big person. I will never forget the wonderful meal I got at Theo’s Restaurant in Soquel, California, when I lived nearby in Santa Cruz. I don’t remember what I ate, but I do remember the plate.

The restaurant served delicious — but tiny — portions on a huge plate. Checking on the status of that restaurant just now, I am not surprised that it is closed.

Big plates call out for big portions. Small plates are what we need when we want to control our portion size.

Contrast is a basis of the Delboeur Illusion, and not just contrasting size but also contrasting colors. Even choosing contrasting tablecloths can help us lose weight.

Finding blue or other off-color dinner might not be easy, because this is not a popular color for plates and bowls. Most people like more appetizing colors. But if you find it, you have a better chance of getting dinnerware that the store has therefore marked down.

This study has one limitation that you need to bear in mind. If the person you want to help lose weight is colorblind, this strategy might not work.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Bea February 8, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Very interesting! I’ve been thinking about using smaller dinnerware for a while. And I’m trying to serve my food on the smallest plates I have.

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