So many diets, so little evidence that they work. Many of the better plans boil down to basic strategies: eat lots of fruits and vegetables, stay active, and keep portions under control.
Most people have struggle with portion control
If you’re reading this article, you live in a society with too much food. Food production has become more industrialized and cheaper. Healthy food is not just more expensive than unhealthy food, but less convenient. Portion sizes have increased spectacularly in the past several decades—and that includes packaged foods in the grocery stores, meals served at restaurants, and plate sizes at home.
Dr. Brian Wansink, formerly director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2001,) has shown that plate size prompts portion size. In study after study, he has found (some of his data analyses have been questioned) that the bigger the plate, the more you eat. This trend derives from an optical illusion—the same amount of food on a bigger plate seems smaller.
Whatever size of plate you choose, you’re likely to fill it. As a result, if you reduce your plates’ diameters from 12 inches to 10 inches, you’ll significantly reduce the amount of food you dish up. Besides, per Wansink, using a smaller plate gives the illusion that you’re getting more food. That’s a first step towards addressing your concerns about your health or waistline.
Visual aspects of a meal, such as portion size and plate sizes, can influence how much you eat
British food writer and food historian Bee Wilson’s brilliant First Bite: How We Learn to Eat (2015; my summary) states,
Being able to regulate the amount of food we eat according to our needs is perhaps the single most important skill when it comes to eating—and the one that we least often master. The first stage is learning to recognize whether the stomach is empty or not.
The first and most obvious step to weight loss is reducing the portion size—and thus the number of calories you eat. When you’re consuming fewer calories than the body uses, you’re likely to start losing weight.
- Consider one of those “portion control plates” to help reset and reinforce in your mind what a portion size should be. Sectioned and color-coded, these plates take the guesswork out of getting nutrition from all food groups and reduce the risk of overeating.
- Slow down when you eat, take time to chew and savor your food, and pause between mouthfuls. Stop when you are already full. You don’t need to eat every morsel of what’s dished out for you.
- If you’re uncomfortable with not filling up your plate and risking disrespecting a host, say at a holiday party buffet, spread your portions around the plate and leave a bit of space around each food item. Your plate will look full but will have fewer calories.
Idea for Impact: Small plates help make portions look more substantial
If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, keep the portions down. You certainly don’t need as much food as you think you do.
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