Enter Cornell University's Brian Wansink, PhD, and Collin Payne, PhD. Their latest study provides a simple strategy to tackle mindless eating during the big game: just look at how much you've eaten.
The researchers found that students invited to a past year's Super Bowl party ate less if the evidence of their gobbling wasn't immediately bused away.
"In general, it is important to have some idea of how much you have eaten," Wansink says in a Cornell news release.
"Serve yourself onto a plate, and then stop when the plate is empty. This is the best strategy for unintended overeating at your Super Bowl party," Wansink says. "Dish it out, eat it slowly, and stop."
Wansink directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. He's also author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
For the study, Wansink and Payne invited 50 graduate students (34 women and 16 men) to an all-you-can-eat sports bar for a Super Bowl party.
The students were randomly seated at 21 tables and were able to help themselves to as many chicken wings as they wanted during the game.
Wansink and Payne had instructed the waiters to regularly clear leftover chicken wing bones off half the tables, and to let them pile up on plates on the other tables.
Students at the tables where the bones piled up ate fewer chicken wings (five wings per person, on average) than those at the bused tables (seven wings per person, on average).
Seeing the stack of chicken bones pile up on their plates may have been a visual cue to the students at the tables that weren't bused that they'd had enough.
But the evidence was whisked off the bused tables, possibly spurring those students to eat more chicken wings, the researchers speculate.
It's also possible leftover bones were simply an unappetizing sight, or maybe the students were embarrassed by their bone buildup, note Wansink and colleagues.
The bottom line from the study: If you have some visual report of how much you've eaten, you may slow down instead of doing an end run around your diet.
The same strategy may also work with drinks, say the researchers.
If your empty drink bottles or cups are left on your table, you might be more aware of how much you've had to drink than if empty drink containers are cleared away.
"This is one ally in the fight against mindless eating or drinking" in a distracting environment such as a Super Bowl party, write Wanskin and Payne.
Their study is due for publication in an upcoming issue of Perceptual and Motor Skills, according to the Cornell news release.
SOURCES: Wansink, B. Perceptual and Motor Skills. News release, Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang