Protein Journal: The Health Report

Concept sketch. 2013, Protein Journal

I was invited to propose a creative solution for inclusion in Protein Journal’s Winter 2014 Health Issue, as part of their feature on the “future of obesity.” From their invitation:
We’re creating a visual essay of innovative, creative solutions that might help people to eat less. We’re inviting 6 of our favourite global designers, innovators and thinkers to respond to an open brief and come back with a creative solution.

Inspired by the Idaho Plate Method, the idea is a set of dishware that works as an adjunct to a household’s existing dinner set. Each set contains a separate container for vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates, to be placed over an existing dinner plate, and the size of each container automatically calibrates the correct proportion of each food type. The sets come in different colors so that they can match a range of existing dinnerware. Each container comes with a lid and the set is microwave safe, so that leftovers can be packaged in correct portion sizes. A timer is provided with each set, and the diner can decide whether or not to add it to the center area of their plate.

The standard dinner plate has become larger over the years, expanding from 9” to 14”, and there is no clear objective measure of how much food you put on your plate, let alone how much in total you have eaten if you take any second helpings.

Many overweight people have significant difficulty regulating portion size, often misjudging the volume of food they are eating. Related to this is a tendency to fill every inch of the plate. The empty circle in the center of the proposed dishware can serve two functions: a) it can be left empty as a symbolic and visual reminder that it’s ok to leave space that is not covered with food, and b) it can hold a timer (see below).

Dishware can be costly to replace and may also have sentimental value, suggesting that people may resist getting rid of what they already own. Therefore an additive solution that works with their existing dishware is best.

Obese people tend not to eat that much when out of the home, so targeting eating habits within the home will have the most impact.

Norms strongly affect eating habits, and resetting the norm within a family is self-reinforcing. Targeting home dining also means that children are reached. Given the tracking of childhood eating and exercise behaviors into adulthood, this is an important factor in fighting obesity. Not only can the dishware reach the whole family at once, but it enables healthy eating strategies that can last a lifetime.

The geometry of the containers makes them appear bigger than they are, because inside the bottom is sloped inward. This works in favor of dieters because research shows that people are more sensitive to perceived portion size than to the actual amount they eat. A reduction in the volume consumed doesn’t register as any sort of deprivation if the portion size appears to be what the diner is used to.

The ability to store and reheat in the dishes encourages portion control for left- overs. Studies recommend that dieters do not bring out all leftovers at once because greater variety encourages greater food consumption.

The timer can be used to help people learn how long it takes for their meal to register in their body and mind, and to help them control when (and if) they feel the need to go back for a second helping. The goal is to train the diner to look for the sensation of “not being hungry anymore” rather than the feeling of “fullness,” since the latter indicates that they have already eaten more than their body needs. The timer can be adjusted within a range of 10-30 minutes, with the idea that the diner will not go back for additional helpings of carbohydrates or protein until the time that they have set is reached. The timer is optional and can either be put onto the plate, or not.

When used, the timer is always flipped over so that the minutes are not visible during the meal.