TODAY   |  April 22, 2014

Rossen Reports: Can you trust your stomach?

Experts say you can actually trick your mind into thinking you’re full, even when you’re eating less, by thinking about factors like the plate you use. NBC national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reports at a surprising social experiment.

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>>> we're back now at 7:42 this morning. on "rossen reports," can you trust your stomach? a lot of us eat until we're full, but experts say there's a way to get that feeling much faster while eating less. and this isn't a diet. "today" national investigative correspondent jeff rossen is here with more.

>> a lot of people just perked up there. it's not a diet. summer is right around the corner and that means we're all, and i do mean all, trying to lose weight all over again. what if i told you stop obsessing about food. you can peel off the pounds just thinking about the plate you use, the utensil, and even just the order of what you eat. eat less without even realizing it. experts say it's true and they can prove it. this morning, we're putting that theory to the test.

>> come on, let's go eat! come on!

>> we're serving a free buffet lunch to "today" show viewers and our cameras are rolling. what they don't know, this is really a test.

>> i'm just totally shocked.

>> cornell university professor brian wansing says he can manipulate how much they eat by tricking their minds.

>> how much we eat and what we eat almost has nothing to do with how hungry we think we are.

>> it's all psychological.

>> it's all psychological. it's about the things around us. it's about the order of the food, the size of plates, the size of the serving spoon .

>> reporter: you guys ready to eat?

>> yeah!

>> reporter: to test it out, we split our viewers into two groups. for the first group, we lay out the buffet like this. fruit and salad first. then fatty pasta dishes at the end. we give them normal size plates and normal serving spoons.

>> it's fabulous.

>> reporter: look, they're piling on the healthy stuff. not much room left on the plate for this gooey pasta. why do you like the fruit? it's the first thing you saw?

>> yes.

>> the first food you see in a buffet is a trigger food. it triggers every other decision you make after that. if it's healthy, everything else you take is more than likely going to be healthy.

>> reporter: they have no idea, but behind the scenes , we're tracking how much they eat. when they're done, we reset for group two, with some changes. now we're going to switch the order of the food so the healthy stuff goes in the back and we're leaving the fatty stuff at the beginning. that will be the first thing they see. we're also giving group two slightly bigger plates and slightly bigger serving spoons. you guys ready to eat?

>> yeah!

>> reporter: okay, time to bring them in. remember, the food itself is exactly the same.

>> i don't think i have enough room on my plate.

>> reporter: they dig in. and watch. hoop spoonfuls of pasta right out of the gate, their plates piled high.

>> this is mac with cheese. it's amazing.

>> they are bingeing on that pasta because it's the first thing they see. it's the trigger food.

>> reporter: exactly where you start in the buffet line matters.

>> we find about 70% of what people are taking end up being the first three foods they see.

>> reporter: when they're finally full, we bring both groups together for the big reveal. we've been secretly weighing the food in the back to see what you guys ate. this group here with the bigger plate and the bigger spoon ate 56% more food. jaw-dropping, i know. 56% more food. most of it pasta. the group with the smaller plate and the smaller spoon, an average of 890 calories per person and person. group number two with the bigger plate, 1,520 calories per person in pasta alone.

>> i'm going to the gym today and starting a diet tomorrow. .

>> i thought because i had a larger plate and it looked emptier, i wasn't eating as much. i thought i was doing good.

>> reporter: is the natural inclination to fill that food up?

>> like when you're small, your mom would fill up your plate and you just eat it.

>> a big eye opener.

>> reporter: for all of us, smaller plates, smaller spoons, smaller waist. can you trust your own stomach?

>> no way! we eat with our eyes and our mind, not our stomach.

>> as you can see, even just using smaller plates can work wonders. trimming you down, experts say, by one to three pounds every single month. you'll disappear after a while. best part is you won't even realize you're eating less, and this isn't just for restaurants either. you can actually use these tips at home with your own family. bring out the salad first and use the smaller plates.

>> that really gets me. the order of the food. and now i'm thinking back to the buffets i've been to and i do stock up on that first dish.

>> and you're ballooning up, too.

>> you've really got to go on a diet.

>> that's great.

>> jeff, that was great. thank you very much.

>> think before you eat.