Leave the Leftovers
Cleaning your plate isn’t always for the best — even if your grandma tells you to. But for many, it’s the simplest way to recognize that you’ve finished a meal. Unfortunately, if a person feels full before they’ve cleaned their plate, they may keep eating until everything’s gone, which leads to excessive calorie consumption.
Lauren Block, a professor of marketing at Baruch College, has been studying food choices for some time. In a new paper published in the journal Appetite, she and a team of researchers from Hofstra University and Vanderbilt University studied how “consumption closure” factors into overeating.
Block introduced the term “consumption closure” in previously published research; it refers to “a state characterized by perceiving a given eating occasion as finished or complete.” When it comes to leftovers, people may derive a significant source of pleasure from finishing their entire meal.
The researchers conducted four different food-related studies, and found that people tend to want to eat more when there’s not a lot left on their plate. In the first, they gave 190 undergraduates a specific number of Oreos — three, four, five, or eight — but the participants were told to eat only three. That meant there would be a certain number of leftover cookies, depending on the amount the students originally received.
With just one or two Oreos remaining, students tended to want to continue eating, while those who had five or more Oreos leftover did not have that same level of desire.
Curiously, when people want to eat unhealthy food, like Oreos, they rationalized that the cookies weren’t actually that unhealthy. The researchers called that the “justifying by healthifying” effect in which the desire to keep eating shifted how people justified eating typically unhealthy foods.
While Block and team admit there’s still much more to explore with this phenomenon, they noted that taking leftovers home in doggy bags could help facilitate “consumption closure” as could resealable bags, which help store excess food.