This Food Looks So Gross, It Makes You Eat Less

The “eating designer” Marije Vogelzang is designing objects that promote healthy portion control through visual trickery.

Contrary to common logic, eating is a visual activity. Your sense of taste gets you started, but what slows you down is your eyesight. According to social psychologists, seeing how much you’ve eaten factors in largely to how full you feel. Our stomachs and our memories aren’t as good as barometers as our vision.


[Photo: Studio Marije Vogelzang]
Armed with this information, designer Marije Vogelzang has found a way to use design to downsize our food portions by tricking the mind’s eye.

The objects she designed for her new series, Volumes, created for the Food Revolution 5.0 exhibition at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, Germany, have a certain slimy, visceral quality to them that would likely make you lose your appetite on their own. But their real utility is based on the science: By placing the object on the plate with the food, it tricks the eater into thinking that he or she is consuming the entire volume of food on the plate, while actually eating less.

The concept is based on studies conducted by food psychologists such as Brian Wansink of Cornell University. Wansink studies eating behavior and has written books about designing environments to encourage healthier eating. In Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, he writes that we generally don’t feel full until about 20 minutes after we’ve stopped eating. Our visual capacity, however, allows us to see the volume of food at hand, recall how much we normally eat, and eat that much—generally, the amount that is on the plate. We register we’re full after we’ve perceived that we’ve eaten it all, or 20 minutes later when the fullness hits, which is too late to monitor. Vogelzang’s Volumes take advantage of this over-reliance on our eyes to judge how full we are.

Vogelzang is an “eating designer,” a label she created for herself after working for well-known Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius and running two restaurant-slash-studios with chef Piet Hekker, one in Rotterdam and the other in Amsterdam. She has since opened the Dutch Institute of Food & Design after heading up the Design Academy Eindhoven’s Food Non Food department. Volumes falls in line with her other research-based food installations and designs, which include a 2015 exhibition at Salone del Mobile in Milan called EAT SHIT and an Italian Futurist-inspired performance called Pasta Sauna in 2013. Suffice to say, Vogelzang looks at food differently than most of us.

With Volumes, she taps back into her product designer roots to create the series of peculiar-looking objects, made from stones and covered in heat-resistant silicone. The stones add weight, but they also serve as heating and cooling elements when kept in hot water or the freezer—they keep the food at the perfect temperature, all while enforcing proper portioning. The reason why they look like mutant slugs or slimy, succulent sea creatures is unclear, besides the fact that Vogelzang wanted to put in nodes and hooks to aid in food styling.

“Food styling is not just vain aesthetics,” she writes in the project description. “Food styling makes people eat with more care and attention.”


[Photo: Studio Marije Vogelzang]
Styling aside, the most important functionality of the Volumes is taking up room on the plate, which in turn tricks the eater’s mind into thinking the plate is fuller than is actually the case.

Vogelzang tackles the problem with design objects that are simple and functional, but with her trademark quirk. As for the mucous-y spores that adorn her food-styling objects? They certainly don’t hurt appetite suppression, either.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.