Big Portions for Big Status: effect on binge eating and obesity
- Category: Food and Weight
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:
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.
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.
- 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?