Diet Trick May Outsmart Candy Binge

Candy Bowl Could Wear Down Your Willpower, Study Shows

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
on Friday, February 10, 2006

Feb. 10, 2006 -- Watching your diet but feeling tempted by a bowl of Valentine's candy? Tweaking the candy bowl might get you back on track, a new study shows.

People eat less candy when the candy bowl is opaque (not clear), has a lid, and is out of easy reach, the study shows.

In short, if you can't see the candy or reach it easily, you're less likely to gobble it up.

The researchers included Brian Wansink, PhD, a Cornell University professor of nutritional science, agricultural and consumer economics, and business administration. He has previously written on diet topics including portion size and serving-plate size.

The new study is due for publication in the International Journal of Obesity. The findings were also presented last fall in Canada at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity's annual scientific meeting, which was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

A Month of Temptation

The study included 40 women on staff at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where several of Wansink's colleagues work.

The women volunteered for a study on candy. They weren't told to change their diets. Instead, they got bowls of wrapped chocolate "kisses" in their office every day for four weeks.

The researchers promised to refill the bowls every night, using different bowls and possibly changing the bowls' location. Help yourselves, but don't share or take them home, and don't move the bowls, they told the women.

Meanwhile, the researchers counted how many candies were left at the end of each day. Each Friday, they also asked each woman to guess how many of the "kisses" she'd eaten that week.

Lured by the Candy Bowl

The study's secret was in the candy bowl.

All of the bowls had covers. Some bowls were clear; others were opaque. The researchers wanted to see if visible candy (the candy in the clear bowl) would mean more munching.

Wansink's team also tapped the golden rule of real estate -- location, location, location.

On some days, they put the candy bowls on the women's desks. On other days, they put the bowls about 6.5 feet away -- far enough to make the women get up from their chairs and walk over to the bowl to indulge.

Having to make an effort to get the candy could curb snacking, the researchers reasoned.

See It, Reach It, Eat It

Women ate the most chocolate when the bowls were clear and on their desks. They ate the least amount when the bowls were opaque and further away.

Here's their average daily candy consumption in each setting:

  • Clear bowl on desk: Nearly 8 pieces
  • Clear bowl farther away: Nearly 6 pieces
  • Opaque bowl on desk: Nearly 5 pieces
  • Opaque bowl farther away: 3 pieces

The women underestimated how much candy they ate from the distant bowls. They probably took several pieces from those bowls to make the trip worth their while -- compared with taking one at a time when the bowls were on their desks -- and then forgot about those extra pieces, the researchers note.

Take-Home Message

The study isn't just about snacking on the job.

"This has important implications for people who are trying to be accurate in monitoring and controlling their intake of food," write Wansink and colleagues.

They note that the same patterns probably apply for cookies in plain sight on a kitchen counter and those tucked away in a cupboard. People could also use the results to eat more fruit, the researchers add.

"Encouragingly, if visibility and proximity increase the consumption of chocolate, it may also work for healthier foods, such as raw fruits or vegetables," they write. "What makes the candy dish nutritionally dangerous might bring the fruit bowl back in vogue."

In other words, don't bury them at the back of the refrigerator. Instead, make them easy to see and convenient.

SOURCES: Wansink, B. North American Association for the Study of Obesity's Annual Scientific Meeting, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Oct. 15-19, 2005. WebMD Medical News: "Big Portions May Prompt Overeating. WebMD Medical News: "Party Tip: Big Serving Plates = Big Calories." News release, Cornell University.

© 2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved


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