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Smaller Plates Equals Smaller Portions?

Smaller Plates = Smaller Portions

By Elaine Francke

We hear this all the time: use a smaller plate and you’ll eat a smaller portion. This is taught at weight loss programs, suggested by doctors, and actually does seem to make a lot of sense for those attempting to lose weight. If the plate you use for your meal is smaller, you’ll eat less, won’t you?

It may have become conventional wisdom that you can trick yourself into eating less if you use a smaller plate. But a UConn Health study finds that trick doesn’t work for everyone, particularly overweight teens.

“It has been assumed that overweight or obese consumers are more likely than others to underestimate the size of a food serving and accordingly overeat–particularly when the food is presented on a large dinner plate or in a large container,” says psychiatry professor Lance Bauer. “For this reason and others, it is frequently recommended that these consumers use smaller plates to defeat the illusion.”

But when Bauer and UConn Health Alcohol Research Center colleagues Victor Hesselbrock and Dr. Jonathan Covault tested teen girls’ attentiveness and quizzed them about their perception of a constant portion size relative to varying plate sizes, they found a surprising result.

“The study found that, on average, overweight or obese adolescent girls were less attentive than normal weight girls to visual cues of different types,” Bauer says. “This finding suggests that changing the size of their dinnerware may be less effective than we thought. It also suggests that presenting them with detailed charts summarizing diet rules or calorie counts might also be less effective than we would like.”

Bauer just presented his group’s findings at the annual scientific meeting of American Psychosomatic Society in Savannah, Ga. The study involved 162 girls ages 14 to 18 in the Greater Hartford area, categorized by body mass.

“The study’s results imply that diet education for overweight or obese adolescents should be clear, simple, repeated, and interesting,” Bauer says. “The next step might involve incorporating information about an overweight or obese child’s cognitive abilities in his or her weight loss treatment. In diet education, one size might not fit all.”

So instead of changing the plate size for yourself or your overweight loved one, it’s probably best to have a real understanding of what you’re eating and what you CAN eat … calories, fat, sugar, salt. What are your limits for each meal and how can you make sure you enjoy what you’re eating within the restrictions that make sense for your diet?

Here at QL Food, we’re also fans of changing the perception of dieting for weight loss. Most view it as a chore, not a challenge. If we can switch our thinking from dieting to healthy lifestyle and view it as the new recipe for a better life, we might find more long-lasting success.


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