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Sensing food

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Sensing food

Is the old adage that someone’s eyes are bigger than their stomach the real reason why some of us are more susceptible to over-eating than are the thinner people around us?

Dr Mei Peng (Department of Food Science) is researching how our five senses interact with our eating behaviour: the look, smell and taste of food, the feeling of food textures in our mouths, and even the sound food makes when we bite and chew it.

“At this stage, I am looking at normal eating behaviours,” Peng explains. “I am interested in why someone eats more than others; why someone likes to snack more than others.”

Peng, who has a background in experimental psychology, has been laboratory testing the sensitivity of community volunteers, one sense at a time.

“I have found significant differences among people in terms of their relative sensitivities across the senses. For instance, I have found that some people are more sensitive to smell than to visual stimuli, whereas in other people it is the opposite way around.”

Peng is seeking funding for further research on the interaction between the senses and eating behaviour, but initial results suggest that the adage does have some validity.

“The preliminary finding comparing vision and smell is that people who rely more on vision are more likely to over-eat.”

Peng says that better understanding of the interaction between the senses and human eating behaviour opens up the possibility of targeted intervention to help people with eating disorders.

Photo: Graham Warman