Controlling Portions

Does putting food on a smaller plate really help you lose weight? Maybe. Studies say most people eat whatever is in front of them. A smaller plate could help reduce portions, calories and hip size.

A recent study showed that portion size might matter even more than flavor and food quality. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reported in late 2005 how researchers gave 158 movie-goers popcorn in either large- or medium-sized tubs. Some were treated to fresh popcorn and others, believe it or not, were given popcorn that was two weeks old.

Although participants who got the old popcorn described it as “stale” and “terrible,” those who were given a large bucket of it ate 34 percent more than those who received smaller tubs. Those with fresh popcorn ate even more — 45 percent more than those who received smaller tubs.

Sure, you might say: Give people more food, and they’re going to eat more food. But more revealing was that most participants didn’t believe portion size mattered: 77 percent of those given large tubs said they would have eaten the same amount if they had received the smaller container.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. In a 2003 Penn State study, people given 50 percent more pasta ate nearly all of it, but were no more full than when they received a smaller portion. Another Penn State study gave participants 6-, 8-, 10- or 12-inch sub sandwiches on different days, but ratings of hunger and fullness were not much different after eating 8- or 12-inch subs.

It seems we cannot rely on internal cues to know when we’ve eaten enough. And, in this day of super-big-value-sizes, we can’t rely on what we think are “normal” portions, either. So what can you do?

Start weighing and measuring foods until you have a good idea what a true portion size is. It also might help to take the National Institute of Health’s “Portion Distortion Quiz,” 

Follow the edict of eating only until you’re “80 percent full.” Just thinking about this while you’re eating will help prevent you from mindlessly cleaning your plate just because the food is there.

Trick yourself into eating more fruits and vegetables by super-sizing those portions. Fill half your dinner plate with vegetables. Serve salad in large individual bowls. Fill a large container (not a snack-size bag) with baby carrots. If you’re going to eat larger portions than normal, it might as well be healthful foods.

Source: Chowline, from Ohio State University Extension