Porto: A crinkly plate, designed with ridges that cunningly reduce the amount of food it holds, may be heading for the market to help people concerned about their weight to eat less.
The plate is the brainchild of a Latvian graphic designer, Nauris Cinovics, from the Art Academy of Latvia, who is working with a Latvian government agency to develop the idea and hopes to trial it soon. It may look like just another arty designer plate, but it is intended to play tricks with the mind.
“My idea is to make food appear bigger than it is. If you make the plate three-dimensional [with the ridges and troughs] it actually looks like there is the same amount of food as on a normal plate — but there is less of it,” said Cinovics.
“You are tricking the brain into thinking you are eating more.” The plate will be made of clear glass and could turn eating dinner into a more complex and longer process than it is usually for most of us. Negotiating the folds in the glass where pieces of fish or stray carrots may lurk will slow down the speed with which people get through their meal.
Cinovics has also designed heavy cutlery, with the idea of making eating more of a labour — that therefore lasts longer. His knife, fork and spoon weigh 1.3kg each. “We tested this and it took 11 minutes to finish a meal with this cutlery rather than seven minutes,” he said. “Our brain takes at least 20 minutes to receive the message that we should feel full, so if we eat really fast we think we need more food — if we eat slowly the message gets through sooner so we eat less.”
Cinovics unveiled his idea at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal, where experts said they were interested in the notion. “This seems like a good idea,” said Dr Paul Christiansen from the University of Liverpool’s school of psychology. “If people think they have eaten a full plate of food they will feel more satisfied.
Right size plate
“Many people think you have to finish the food on the plate. If you can satisfy the perception that they have a nice big portion on their plate, they will think they have eaten a full meal. If, on the other hand, you put a small portion on a big plate, they will think they are not satisfied by it and will want more.
“For ‘plate clearers’ if you can feed the perception that you have a reasonable amount of food here they may eat less.” Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the Nuffield department of primary care health sciences, Oxford University, also thought the concept had possibilities.
“It is an interesting idea because it will reduce portion size and you can have a meal with other people and it looks like you have the right size plate,” she said — although she added that because a trial has not yet been carried out, there is no evidence as to how well it will work.
Professor Jane Ogden, professor in health psychology at the University of Surrey, thought it was an exciting possibility which could be very helpful. “There is lots of evidence that we eat for other reasons other than biological need — it is about habit, it is about perception, it is about what we visually perceive,” she said.
“Anything that can manipulate any of that could well be an effective way of eating less. Of course we need to see some evidence that this works, but if you can tell your body that you are eating more than you actually are then you might eat less.”
Professor Charles Spence, a behavioural psychologist at the University of Oxford who specialises in the perception of food and taste, said: “This is a nice idea. There are a number of ways of tricking the eye, from use of smaller plates to make it look like there is more, through heavier bowls. The crinkle plate seems to provide much same impression though I do worry how you get the bits out that fall in crevices. “Slowing down is one thing, I am all for that — though the danger is people might get irritated if they perceive it to be difficult.” He said his own research suggests a wavy shape is something most people associate with sweetness — which in itself may help satisfy them.
More than 2.1 billion people — 30 per cent of the world’s population — are obese or overweight, Cinovics pointed out in his poster presentation at the conference. “There are many ways to reduce weight — exercises, stress reduction, diets and others — however, it has been little studied how tableware design can contribute to weight loss by changing eating habits.”
He cites consumer psychologist Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University, and famous for inventing the concept “mindless eating” as his inspiration. Wansink and colleagues pioneered the idea of moving from a 12 inch plate to a 10 inch plate, which their research suggests causes people to serve themselves more than 20 per cent less food. He is also credited with the concept of 100 calorie snack packs. Crinkles may be unusual in dinner plates, but the idea of redesigning crockery and cutlery to trick our brains and our stomachs into believing less food is sufficient has been around for some time.