Imagine for a moment that you’re out to dinner with your favorite people, and you’ve just eaten the most enjoyable meal. The ambiance matches your mood. You’re having the best conversation with your loved ones. You ordered your favorite foods, which were cooked to perfection and presented in the most appetizing way possible, and you’ve had just the right amount to eat – not too much, and not too little. In short, your appetite and emotions are absolutely satisfied.
Now, imagine that the waiter appears at the table with one dish of plain vanilla ice cream on a tray. There’s no chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, or even a measly cherry; it’s just a scoop of ice cream in a white dish. How likely would you be to order this dessert?
Finally, imagine that the waiter comes back with a whole tray of desserts. In fact, his tray is loaded down with all of your favorite sweets, and he lingers so you can get a good look at each and every one. How likely would you be to eat dessert in this case?
If you’re like most people, the sight of these desserts will prompt you to order something right away – or at least strongly consider the possibility – while it would be much easier to pass up the blah-looking ice cream. What’s going on here?
You’ve heard the old adage that we eat with our eyes. And it’s very much true, which means that our eyes have appetites and cravings. Here are two more examples from Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating:
The human eye is capable of distinguishing between 8 to 12 million different shades of color
- In a controlled study, adults were presented with a big bowl of M&M candies to eat. Some people received a bowl containing 7 different colors of candies, and other bowls had 10 colors. Researchers secretly measured how many total M&Ms each person ate, and they found that, on average, the people with 10 colors ate 75% more! Since all M&Ms taste the same, regardless of color, researchers concluded that people expect to like their food more when they can see more variety.
- A World War II Navy cook had a rebellion on his hands: on a long tour out at sea, the cook discovered that he had accidentally ordered only one kind of jello – lemon – instead of the usual variety. After months of eating lemon jello for dessert, a fight broke out among the sailors, who were seriously unhappy about the lack of dessert options. In a fit of genius, the cook added red food coloring to the usual lemon jello and served it as cherry jello. The sailors congratulated the cook on finding the cherry jello and were happy as clams with the new variety; they never suspected that they were eating yet another lemon-flavored dessert because their eyes said “cherry”.
When eyes are hungry, what they need is beauty. Eyes enjoy interesting colors, textures, shapes, and contrasts that may come in the form of a food – think colorful salads, a fruit bowl, a buffet, or a candy store – or things that having nothing to do with food – a sculpture, a view into the distance, a flower garden, or a painting. At times, the eyes might crave something calm or serene, like a field of grass or a Zen rock garden. Click on a picture below to learn more.
If you’re curious about your own eye hunger, here are some experiments to try:
- Before your begin to eat your next meal or snack, pause for a few moments and focus your attention on the sight of your food. Allow your eyes to feast on everything that’s present – every color, shape, and texture. Contrast this experience with a time when you don’t look at your food, such as when you’re watching TV or reading a book while eating. What do you notice?
- Become aware of your appetite when you see food advertising. For example, what kinds of images make your eyes hungry? What kinds of images are a turn-off? Consider billboards, TV commercials, printed ads, and food packaging, as well as displays of actual food like a bakery case or salad bar. See if you can just observe how your appetite reacts to the sight of food.
- Go out of your way to make a beautiful meal for yourself, as if you were cooking for a guest. Treat your eyes to colorful foods and garnishes with all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and textures.
- Surround yourself with beauty at mealtimes by setting the table with a candle, flower, cloth napkin, a special photograph, or something similar.
Next: Mouth hunger