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Dr. Susan Albers

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What da Vinci's Last Supper Reveals About Mindless Eating

Posted: 03/24/10 02:25 PM ET

Brian Wansink, a food behavior scientist at Cornell University, recently teamed up with his brother, Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at the Virginia Wesleyan College and ordained Presbyterian minister, to study the food depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's painting the Last Supper.

They examined over 52 paintings of the Last Supper and digitally compared the size of the food on the table to the head size of the disciples and Jesus between the years 1000 and 2000.

What did they find? The main dish increased 69% in the paintings, the size of the plate increased 66% and the bread 23% over the time period they studies. They suggest that this is telling about our food portions and how they have grown throughout the years.

Most depictions of the Last Supper show bread, fish and wine on the table. Think about what you serve at celebrations today. It's not just an increase in the size of the food but the types of food being eaten that are contributing to mindless eating-full of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, chemicals we can't pronounce, trans fat and sugar. These are all highly addictive food that encourage mindless eating. These foods skew and warp our taste-buds to find healthier foods blander than they actually are.

Consider how scientists might evaluate what we eat 200 years from now. Will they look at commercials or pictures of people eating in popular magazines? What would these forms of media tell your great grandchildren about the way we eat today?

It might be worth taking a look at photos of your family celebrations (Thanksgiving, Passover, Christmas etc.) Have your meals changed over the years? Have your portion sizes gotten larger? Are you eating healthy foods or meals that prompt mindless eating?

For tips on mindful eating: www.eatingmindfully.com
By Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of the new book, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Mindful Eating 101 and Eat, Drink & Be Mindful.

*The largest Last Supper: depictions of food portions and plate size increased over the millennium
B Wansink, C S Wansink. International Journal of Obesity (23 March 2010)