British Columbia

Lose weight by making food a sensual experience, says UBC study

A new study from UBC suggests that approaching food as a pleasurable, sensory experience may help you eat less, and ultimately lose weight.

Focusing on calories and health not as effective as highlighting pleasure according to research

A new study from UBC suggests that approaching food as a pleasurable, sensory experience may help you eat less, and ultimately lose weight. 

"It's a question of mindset," said UBC assistant professor of marketing Yann Cornil, who co-authored the study.

"If you approach food choices as a sensory experience ... you're going to think that smaller portions are just as good."

In the study, Pleasure as a substitute for size: how multisensory imagery can make people happier with smaller food portionsCornil explains that sensory pleasure while eating peaks in the first few bites, then quickly declines — so smaller food portions get you more pleasure bang for your buck. 

UBC assistant professor Yann Cornil recently co-authored a study about how to make people happier with small food portions. (CBC)

The study also examines cultural differences in attitudes towards food. 

"In cultures like in France, Japan or South Korea — and perhaps also in Vancouver — people have a food culture in which they appreciate food aesthetics and food sensory experience slightly more," said Cornil. 

The fact that those cultures traditional have less obesity is no coincidence, according to Cornil. 

The study also explains that encouraging people to eat less purely for health reasons isn't as effective as getting diners to focus on pleasure — an experience that begins with how food is described, and includes the entire dining experience. 

That's something that chef Daniel McGee at Vancouver's French café Au Comptoir understands all too well. 

"What we try and do is try and give [customers] higher quality — more local ingredients, organic — and trim it down a little bit so you're not leaving so full, and you can still go and enjoy the rest of your day," said McGee.

Vancouver café Au Comptoir serves small portions of high-quality food. (Kirk Williams/CBC)

In fact, Cornil's study suggests that smaller food portions and sensory food experiences are a win-win scenario for foodies, restauranteurs, and marketers alike. 

The study concludes by suggesting that "it is time to stop caricaturing eating enjoyment as the simple fulfillment of visceral impulses, and to rehabilitate the pleasure of eating."

With files from Kirk Williams