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Virtual reality can change our perception of food

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, obesity levels are at a high in Australia — 63 per cent of adults are overweight or obese — and something clearly needs to be done to reduce the increasing burden on the health-care system.

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Our lifestyles and foods have been evolving far too quickly for our bodies to adapt, and our instinct to eat as much as possible is not serving us as well as did in the past. Increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the increased availability of fast foods and the high relative cost of healthier foods are just some of the contributing causes of the obesity epidemic facing many countries today.

Researchers, or “food hackers”, in Japan have been working on various systems to help our bodies and minds catch up with our changing modern lifestyles, and they have developed several virtual reality systems to help us overcome our natural urge to eat everything in sight.

One virtual reality system changes how much you want to eat by increasing or decreasing the physical size of food when held in the hand, leading test subjects to think they’re eating a different amount to what they really are.

According to Simon Klose, smaller cookies looked tastier than larger ones.

“Yes, somehow it tastes more luxurious,” Klose said during the experiment, and a possible reason given by one of the researchers was that we may have a preconceived notion that smaller cookies are more expensive.

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“Our experiments show that 50 per cent bigger food leads to 10 per cent less intake,” says researcher Takuji Narumi in the video from VICE’s Food Hacking Channel. “You can lose weight just by wearing these glasses.”

Another illusion that may help dieters lose weight is known as the “Delboeuf Illusion” — an optical illusion that uses the relationship between the sizes of objects to trick our brains into believing things are bigger or smaller than they really are.

You’ve probably heard of this one before — using smaller plates leads our brains to think we’re eating more food than we really are, making us feel full with lower food intake.

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The plates experiment goes like this: Two circles of light are projected onto the underside of a translucent table and these act as virtual plates. Two identical portions of food are then placed on top of the table within each circle. By changing the relative sizes of the light circles, the researchers are able to make each portion of food appear significantly bigger or smaller than each other.

The takeaway is that if you want to eat less, then eating food from the smaller plate will make you feel full quicker because you think you’re eating more than you really are, while the opposite is true for the bigger plate.

The final experiment captured on video uses a similar headset, this time with the ability to send different smells to test subjects. These smells trick the brain into thinking food tastes different to how it actually does, potentially making it more appealing to eat. The test performed in the video below used a dry-looking biscuit, which was transformed into various appealing visual forms, along with different smells, which were gently pumped into the vicinity of the subject’s nose.

The smells made the food taste different (more appealing in this case) and made the subject appreciate the food more than when eating it without the headset on.

“A more serious way to use it would be to make food taste better in hospitals… [or] space food,” says Narumi.

For more, watch the interesting video below.

Can you think of any other clever uses for this technology? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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