When You Come To A Fork, Take The Bigger One

Recall that old perennial cliché that we learnt at out mother’s knee, “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” but later, when we were fourth or fifth grade, it was a warning against taking on older, bigger people who could “whoop us good”. When we were small, it also went along with “your eyes are bigger than your belly.” But how much do we bite off?

We get advice about weight control that tells us to choose smaller portions and we struggle with this, especially in restaurants where the portions are usually large so that we feel we are getting value for money. Recent work by Mishra et al that is published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that nibbling away at our plateful isn’t going to help (1).

These guys ran a restaurant study where the customers were given forks of different sizes. Dishes of food were weighed before serving and on return. The groundbreaking discovery is that those with the large forks left more food than those guys who had little forks.  The big forkers ate 30% less than the little forkers. Don’t you just love unexpected results?

The explanation offered is that you go into a restaurant focused on doing a job, namely satiating your appetite and you expect to expend some effort in forking, chewing and paying to get the job done.  Bigger forkfuls make you think that you are making great progress so you rest up early, while little forks make you think that your doing a second rate job and keep you going longer. Don’t even smile now, the results were reproducible even if they flew in the face of lab experiments.

So, back to the lab. A large group of undergrads, (always good for food consumption experiments,) were told that it was a simple consumption experiment based on pasta salad (not lunch). They could  stop when the didn’t want to eat any more. The big forkers ate more!
The message is clear. If you are just idly snacking until you happen to feel full, use a tiny fork. You’ll get bored with the activity. But if you’re going restauranting for a serious meal, speak softly and carry a big fork!

  1. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/660838

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