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Big Fork, Small Meal? Utah Researchers Say Yes

July 16, 2011

Looking to eat less next time you go out to eat at a restaurant? You might want to try using a bigger fork, according to a new study recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Three University of Utah authors–Arul Mishra, Himanshu Mishra, and Tamara M. Masters–conducted a field study at an unnamed Italian restaurant, providing two different sizes of forks to diners in order to “manipulate bite sizes,” according to a July 14 press release from University of Chicago Press Journals, publishers of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Those who used larger forks, and thus took larger bites while they dined, ate less than those who used smaller eating utensils, according to the three researchers. This was especially true when the initial quantity of food provided on a plate was more, they added, while fork size had less of an effect on the total number of food consumed when diners were given smaller initial quantities.

In an article discussing the survey’s results, the AFP wire service noted that the larger fork held one-fifth more food than the restaurant’s normal utensils, while the smaller one held 20-percent less than average. Each order was weighed before being delivered to the customer and after the meal was completed and sent back to the kitchen.

A similar test, conducted in a lab setting where participants were informed that they were participating in a scientific study, produced opposite results, with those using the larger forks consuming more total food than those using the smaller ones, according to the AFP.

“We observe that diners visit the restaurant with a well-defined goal of satiating their hunger and because of this well-defined goal they are willing to invest effort and resources to satiate their hunger goal,” the authors wrote, according to the press release. “The fork size provided the diners with a means to observe their goal progress”¦ The physiological feedback of feeling full or the satiation signal comes with a time lag. In its absence diners focus on the visual cue of whether they are making any dent on the food on their plate to assess goal progress.”

“Grandma’s advice tells us to consume small bites, but remember, she also tells us to chew well so that our body has enough time to let us know that we are full,” the Utah researchers wrote, according to the AFP article. “Given people’s busy lives and the growing trend of eating in restaurants, if we are not chewing longer, then consuming from a larger fork may actually be more helpful in controlling overconsumption.”

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