Mindful eating and eating slowly, savoring the taste and aroma of each bite you take, is one way to reduce how many calories you eat. Doing this helps you feel satisfied with less food. Now a new study shows that simply controlling your portion size works even better.
Portion Size Distortion
We all know that eating out puts pounds on your frame, and buffets can be a disaster for your waistline. That’s because restaurants go heavy on the sauces and don’t use the lowest calorie ingredients – but the biggest problem you have to deal with is portion size. Restaurants have singlehandedly changed how we view a portion size, leading us to believe that the oversized portion of pasta or the burger they place on your plate is a single serving. Then if heed your mother’s warning to “clean your plate,” a single restaurant packs in almost a day’s worth of calories.
Why It’s Important to Watch Your Portion Size
In a study carried out by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia, researchers served a group of 96 women either a large portion of pasta or a smaller one. Beforehand, some of the women read a brochure about how portion size contributes to overeating while another group read an educational brochure about mindful eating and how to focus on the taste, smell and texture of food while dining to avoid eating too much.
Neither of these two educational resources affected how much pasta the women ate. The women served the larger portion size consistently ate about a third more pasta than those given a smaller serving size. This goes along with prior research showing people eat more when there’s more food on their plate. It may be the old “clean your plate” mentality at work again.
What Does This Mean?
The take-home message here is you’ll be less likely to overeat if you reduce the size of the portions you put on your plate. One tip is to use a smaller plate. A smaller plate or dish “tricks” your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you actually are. After finishing what’s on your downsized plate, don’t go back and refill it again unless you’re still hungry after sitting for ten minutes – and never leave serving dishes on the table where you have easy access to them.
Relearn what a portion size looks like. You can find guidelines for this online, but a cup of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball, a serving of mashed potatoes the size of half an apple and a serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Smaller than you expected, huh? Retrain your brain to recognize what a serving really looks like. In other words, become a good eyeballer so you can judge portions when you eat away from home.
When you eat out at a restaurant, assume they’re going to serve you too much and don’t let them bring it to the table. Have them box up half to take home. Just don’t make up the difference by nibbling on the bread in the bread basket.
What about buffets? The best piece of advice here is to avoid them. If you’re stuck with eating at a buffet on a special occasion, start with a bowl of soup or salad and then fill a plate with high-volume foods like vegetables. Add smaller amounts of higher calorie foods as a “condiment.” Then don’t allow yourself to go back more once.
When eating a snack, take the portion you’re eating out of the bag and remove the container from your field of vision. Even better, partition nuts into 100-calorie packs so there’s no guesswork.
The Bottom Line?
Portion size is the downfall of many. Learn to recognize what a single portion looks like, use smaller plates and don’t go back for seconds until you’ve sat for a bit and reevaluated your level of hunger. The calories you save will add up in a big way over time.
Medical News Today. “Serving Size Is What Drives How Much We Eat More Than Anything Else”
Science Daily. “Impact of Portion Size on Overeating Is Hard to Overcome”
Centers for Disease Control. “Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight: Portion Size”