Studies suggest that seeing food contributes to our enjoyment of it and we may eat less of what we cannot see
Experts doubt that eating in the dark could be an effective weight loss strategy
The relationship between seeing and eating could be flipped on its head at restaurants during enjoying dining experiences
Here’s an experiment to test and tease your senses: Next time your partner or friend is making you dinner, put on a blindfold before the meal is served. How does not being able to see affect your dining experience?
If you are like the people who have participated in studies exploring the relationship between seeing and eating, you might eat less and not enjoy it as much.
In a study published in February, researchers in Germany asked 50 volunteers to wear a blindfold while they ate ice cream and compared their reactions with those of 40 participants who saw what they ate. The blindfolded group rated the ice cream as less palatable and pleasant than those who had all their senses at work. They also ate slightly less, but estimated that they had consumed a lot more, based on weight, compared with the no-blindfold group.
Another small study found a similar phenomenon at play when participants had a lunchtime meal. Those who were blindfolded ate 22% less food than the control group, but reported feeling just as full.
It could be that there is some truth to that old expression that you were probably annoyed to hear as a child: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” In other words, if food looks appealing, you could be driven to take more of it, and maybe also eat more of it. Take vision out of the equation and you could rein in the tendency to overeat.
But does dining in the dark really take a bite out of how much you enjoy your food? And in the real world, could eating blindfolded really work as a strategy to control your consumption and manage your weight?
“The single most important aspect of food is how it smells and tastes,” but all five senses are involved in our perception of taste, and taking any away, such as sight or sound, could also make you enjoy food less, said Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University.
If you were to start sporting a blindfold at mealtimes – or even wear a nose clip so you couldn’t smell – you might eat less at first and even lose weight.
“My guess is that it’s only going to help for the short term,” Breslin said.
For one thing, your other senses could become heightened and make up for your lack of sight by enhancing your enjoyment of food in other ways.
Dining in the dark
When Abigail Hitchcock started doing Dinners in the Dark 10 years ago at Camaje, her bistro in New York’s West Village, the goal was certainly not to dilute the culinary experience. She and artist Dana Salisbury actually thought blindfolding guests could enhance their interaction with food.
“Dana’s inspiration was she was having a picnic and closed her eyes when she started to peel an orange and thought it was so much more intense … and I agreed [eating in the dark] could make it more intense,” said Hitchcock, who is the chef and owner of Camaje.