Big Portions for Big Status: effect on binge eating and obesity


I just read a Stone Hearth article, "People eat too much because they feel powerless."

My immediate response was that old dazzling glimpse of the obvious not attended to.

"Of course," I thought, "And the good news is that we know something about operant conditioning.  In this situation we can look for ways to psychologically de-conditioning ourselves, e.g. cause our conditioned response to become extinct.  Keep in mind that the "big" consumption results in the positive consequence "power and high status." That connection can be broken. 


The research, as quoted in the Stone Hearth article says:

Many cultural norms associate larger products with greater status—for instance, the size of a vehicle, house, or TV. The authors tested whether or not consumers used the size of food products to express their status. “Because vulnerable consumers are prone to express their status in order to compensate for their undesirable position and respond to daily threats, this research further proposes that the tendency to use the size of food options within an assortment will be particularly strong among those consumers who feel powerless,” the authors write.

In one of the authors’ experiments, they confirmed that consumers equate larger sizes of food options with greater status. For example, participants perceived that consumers who chose a large coffee had more status than someone who chose medium or small, even when the price was the same.

We've seen people behave like this.  Sometimes those people are us. The authors found this applied to purchasing bagels and smoothies, too. But we don't need more elaborate research results on this topic.  We can use our own experience, memories and obsevations.
  • the lone woman in an almost empty movie theater eating the giant of the most supersized giant popcorn bag;
  • the eager look on the man or woman's face as they walk along the restaurant buffet piling their plates with food to the point of near overflow;
  • the man at the restaurant who gaily orders the spectacular special consisting of all the high end offerings on the menu;
  • you, gathering up masses of binge food when alone, sitting in front of the TV, wearing comfortable binge clothes, certain of no interruption.

As I think about this going for the power feeling phenomena, even now in my many years of eating disorder recovery, I have to admit I do feel like I am in a somewhat lesser status category when I order a small regular coffee at a coffee cafe when others around me are supersizing exotic blends.

And there's the business angle too.  If I'm selling small, medium and large of anything and the trend is for the large purchase, then I'm going to experiment with size to see if an even larger size will sell better.  And, being logical about this and looking for the best profit making product, I'll keep experimenting. If the largest continues to be the best seller I'll keep offering larger choices.

It may turn out that the large size has little or nothing to do with how much quantity the purchaser actually wants.  The issue may often be about getting the largest size for the greatest experience of power and high status.

If you purchase food or anything else in large quantities or in the big size or at the "top of the line" level on a regular basis, please examine yourself and see if you get a rush of momentary power and increased status.  If you do, then you are caught in a conditioned response.  And that, if recognized and addressed, can be deconditioned to extinction.

Then you can develop your sense of power and status based on real ability and achievement.

What do you think?








0 # Interesting article JP, and I do know soshh 2011-10-22 04:25
Interesting article JP, and I do know someone who posts on Facebook every time they buy foods, cook them, or eat something a little extravagant, in the same way that he brags about his cars and work achievements and the size of his house, it's almost like a superiority yes I do think he has issues with power, status, and control, but I don't particularly see it in the same light as disordered eating.

For me personally, buying food ties in with self-worth. I often feel not deserving of much, and I rarely buy larger pack sizes, as that would be placing more value (financial and volume of food - wise) on myself and my needs than I am worthy of, and when I do buy high calorie (high fat & sugar) foods, I usually buy the least expensive things I can find, and buy them as a treat to try to make myself feel like I am a deserving enough person to be worthy of having treats.
0 # Points well taken, Shh. Buying and eatinpinkjoanna 2011-10-22 08:27
Points well taken, Shh. Buying and eating on the high end of cost or quantity or both may result in obesity but not be indicative of an eating disorder...or an eating disorder as we define it in the DSM.

But it is a kind of consumption disorder that is reflected in the western world and may be spreading to the entire world. More and more, bigger and better may give a person (or a nation) a sense of power. And as the people and the nations "swell up" the cost to health, the environment and our ability to recognize what is truly valuable to a quality life diminishes.

For some deprived people living in impoverished conditions, more is indeed better. But for the adequately supplied people, less may indeed be more.

For me, I think the answer, if anyone is asking the question, is about being mindful. When we put ego and status seeking aside we have a chance to be in the present moment. Then we can take the amounts and quality level of what is right for us now.

Over consumption for power and status is an eating disorder related issue that quickly rises to national and international levels in terms of human behavior and development.

Thank you for your comment. You always add value, Shh.
0 # I agree there JP, I think a lot of whatshh 2011-10-23 05:10
I agree there JP, I think a lot of what we consume is done to gain the respect and approval of others or to make ourselves feel on par with others, without much thought for what true value we place on it ourselves.

But if we agree that affiliation is a basic need (as in Maslow's hierachy of needs), then it could be quite a difficult concept for people to actively buck this trend if they feel that it will have a detrimental effect on the way they are perceived and treated by their peers.

Obviously this is an over simplification, and I do agree that it would be a wonderful thing for us all to be more mindful and challenging of our consumption, I just wonder how easy it is though for those with eating disorders to behave in a way that we know will set us aside from others rather than be conducive to the "fitting in" that we desperately desire? I think it is very much a concept that is important to recovery - the ability to trust our own internal values, to trust ourselves, and to go with that and not feel the need for external approval.

Much food for thought JP! x
0 # Not my comment but that of Gerry Cavanaupinkjoanna 2011-10-27 19:04
Not my comment but that of Gerry Cavanaugh, UC at Berkeley professor. From his syllabus, The Seven Deadly Sins.

"The root of the matter---Gluttony. To maintain our present
level of consumption, we need one and one-half earths. So it is
today, every day, being demonstrated that exponential economic
growth in a finite world is suicidally impossible."

What would Maslow say?
0 # It is very true JP - the Global Footprinshh 2011-10-28 12:00
It is very true JP - the Global Footprint Network calculated that in 2008 we used 1.4 times the Earth’s annual sustainable we just can't carry on like this!

The issues lie though in changing the social acceptability of what is almost a "disposable society". It's complex stuff, which believe it or has evolved in part from the need for sexual equality and the acceptability now of women as well as men going out to work, and increased divorce rates etc. I did a very small piece of work on this in the summer as part of my uni work - but only really scratched the surface.
0 # Please say more about that, Shh. Or writpinkjoanna 2011-10-28 17:15
Please say more about that, Shh. Or write up an article.

The metaphors in all this hold for the individual even thought individuals may not like to see it. A disposable society is more likely to treat people as well as objects as disposable.

Write up what you discovered and your thoughts about whatever you found. I'd love to see it, and I have a feeling readers of this site would too.

It all certainly relates to eating disorder states of mind and eating disorder recovery. When people treat themselves as objects they accept their being disposable. Then, when they have periods of time when they are not numb, they feel the anguish and despair of uncaring isolation.

There's lots to say about this. Let's hear what you've got so far. :-)
0 # JP, the work I did was about the value oshh 2011-10-29 15:47
JP, the work I did was about the value of rubbish in society and was quite academic, and probably a bit broad for here.

But part of it included how society has evolved from family households where the woman would stay at home doing the cooking, cleaning, making and mending, and goods were used and repaired until they were completely worn out and the user had, had their money's worth.

To the current situation where it is common for both partners to go out to work, making time a more valuable commodity, and making it the norm for people to replace rather than repair goods & clothing, to buy pre-prepared and foods and all the packaging that comes with them, to eat take-away foods fairly frequently etc, and also by virtue of both partners working there creates a need for 2 cars rather than one, more clothing, the need to own more technology & more up to date technology, and even the need to use leisure time in a more consumerist way. Add to this how common it is thesedays for couples to divorce resulting in one family dividing and living in 2 homes with 2 sets of everything a family home needs.

All of this contributes to our consumerist society.

I think unfortunately, thesedays there is a tendency to measure everything on it's material value and the sense of belonging, power, status etc that comes with that...and the true worth of things on a personal level is has been disvalued and overlooked.

This also ties in with the concept of "disposable society"...and people buying into this so strongly that they can't see the benefit in taking part in activities that are only of value to themselves rather than a part of their consumerist, material focussed, norm, that is endorsed by their peers.

I agree JP that in this society where everything can be bought, and everything is "easy come - easy go", that that concept is easily extendable to people, friendships, relationships etc.

It's such a multifaceted, complex topic, that it's difficult to find a focus and not digress on here!

But I would say that in eating disorder recovery work, it is essential to move away from these attitudes and examine the real person that we are inside, to discover what we enjoy, what makes us happy, what helps us to relax etc, and to pin a suitable amount of importance on our internal values.

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