Halloween candy science!

Candy does a lot of crazy stuff.

If you let gummi bears soak in water, they’ll grow to twice their normal size.

If you put M&M’s or Skittles in warm water, after a few minutes the letters float right off. The color’s gone, too, and you’re left with all-white candy.

As I mentioned before, Wint-O-Green Lifesavers can spark in your mouth. So can just plain sugar. To get the best look at it, crush the candy or sugar with pliers in a dark room after letting your eyes adjust. (Weirdest of all, ice will do it, too. You have to quickly take it out of a freezer and into a dark, hot room). It’s something about the breaking of the crystalline pattern, but nobody fully understands it.

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This is what happens when you smash certain Lifesavers with a hammer. Image by Ted Kinsman, who clearly knows how to play Candy Crush better than anyone else.

Do you know of anything else candy can do?

Update: I did all these experiments and a few others with my nieces on Halloween, and they all work. Cool!

Calories Add Up… or Down

Cassie Craig, author of Confessions of the Fitness Expert, points out another thing going on right under your nose: Your stomach. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it’s full, so we often don’t realize when we’re overeating until it’s too late.

Good to know. We eat every day, but we usually don’t think about how we eat.  That leaves us susceptible to outside influences.  But being aware of it helps us avoid such pitfalls.  Thanks, Cassie!

3 Ways Psychology Can Help You Lose Weight Without Thinking About It

The Link: mindlesseating.org

The Story:

You can use the tricks your mind plays on you to your own advantage.

Psychologist Brian Wansink has made a career out of doing fun, sneaky experiments exploring the way people are led to either eat right or overeat when their environment guides their behavior one way or the other.

You assume that you’re 100% in charge of all your decisions, but your mind plays tricks on you.  We fall for all sorts of illusions.

For example: You’ve probably seen this optical illusion.

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The Ebbinghaus illusion

It looks like the orange dot on the left is bigger, but they’re both the same size.

Even if you already understand this illusion, it still tricks you. Wansink found this type of illusion tricks you into eating more when you have a bigger plate or glass—even if you’re consciously trying to avoid it.

No matter how smart or well-informed you are, you’re way more likely to put extra food on a big plate. On a big plate, a regular serving seems insufficient.

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Video: The Ebbinghaus illusion on your dinner plate.  The less full your plate is, the less satisfying it seems.

There’s a surprising amount of psychological influences on the way we eat.  We often see what we expect to see and taste what we expect to taste. Samira Kawash, a former Rutgers University professor who writes the Candy Professor blog points out that many people think Tootsie Rolls are chocolate-flavored because they’re chocolate-colored, but they’re not chocolate at all.

When people gain weight, we do it almost without noticing it.  Our environment leads us in that direction. We live today in an environment that encourages bigger portions.  You can buy plates in an antique shop that were normal for the time, but which people today mistake for little tea saucers.

Wansink did a study of artworks depicting food, like The Last Supper, dating back 1,000 years.  As time goes on, plates get bigger and bigger.  By now, maybe they’ve gotten a little too big.  Cookbooks, too, have been supersized.  Looking at old editions of The Joy of Cooking, Wansink found that the average serving jumped from 268 calories in 1936 to 436 in 2006.  “What served four people in 1986 would have served almost seven people by 1936 standards.” he says.

We’re being swept along in this ubiquitous trend, gaining weight along the way.  But we can lose weight the same way, by taking control of our own environment and setting ourselves up to succeed.

Here’s 3 of Wansink’s ideas that can help you eat better without even thinking about it, with linked video explaining each:

  1. Put healthier food where you’ll see it first, and junk food in the back of the cupboard.  Out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Drop off your platter-size dinner plates at Goodwill, and get some nice mid-size plates.  Use tall, skinny glasses instead of short fat ones.  A huge plate means a huge serving.
  3. See what you eat: Never eat straight out of the bag or container.  At a meal, put everything you want to eat on one plate.  An experiment with people offered unlimited chicken wings had one group’s chicken bones left in front of them while they ate, while another had them taken away immediately.  People who didn’t have the reminder of how much they’d eaten sometimes ate twice as much.

A few examples of those fun, sneaky experiments (bad language warning):