How to Eat Less: Becoming Portion Aware

The eleventh Healthy Habits challenge: Be portion aware. Find simple strategies that can help you eat a little less—without even thinking.

10 Top Secrets of Portion Control

So many invisible factors cause us to eat more than we want. Here, easy-to-remember tips for becoming "portion aware."

Portion Control: Divide Your Plates

Portion control tip: before eating, divide the plate.

Photograph: Randy Mayor, Illustration: Brett Ryder

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  1. Before Eating, Divide The Plate
    Here’s a simple rule to portion a plate properly: Divide it in half. Automatically fill one side with fruits or vegetables, leaving the rest for equal parts protein and starch. This way, you begin to see what a properly balanced meal looks like. Spaghetti and meatballs? Steak and potatoes? They’re only half a meal, incomplete without fruits and vegetables.
  2. Pre-Portion Tempting Treats
    The bigger the package, the more food you’ll pour out of it. When two groups were given half- or 1-pound bags of M&Ms to eat while watching TV, those given the 1-pound bag ate nearly twice as much.
  3. Head Off The Mindless Munch
    Five minutes after eating at an Italian restaurant, 31 percent of people couldn’t remember how much bread they ate. If you’re worried you might do the same, have the bread removed from the table.
  4. Downsize The Dishes
    If you’re one of the 54 percent of Americans who eat until their plates are clean, make sure those plates are modestly sized. On a standard 8- to 10-inch dinner plate, a portion of spaghetti looks like a meal. On a 12- to 14-inch dinner plate, it looks meager, so you’re likely to dish out a bigger portion to fill the plate. When researchers gave study participants 34- or 17-ounce bowls and told them to help themselves to ice cream, those with the bigger bowls dished out 31 percent more ice cream.
  5. Limit Your Choices
    The more options you have, the more you want to try. In one study, researchers gave two groups jellybeans to snack on while they watched a movie. One group got six colors, neatly divided into compartments; jellybeans for the other group were jumbled ­together. Those given a mix ate nearly two times more.
  6. Use Your Power For Good
    Most homes have a “nutritional gatekeeper” who controls 72 percent of the food eaten by everyone else. The person who chooses food, buys it, and prepares it wields power. If that’s you, take advantage of it.
  7. Avoid A See-Food Diet
    Office workers who kept candy in clear dishes on their desks dipped in for a sample 71 percent more often than those who kept their candy out of sight.
  8. Turn Off The Television
    The Vast Wasteland leads to vast waists. It’s not just the couch-sitting. TV distracts you from how much you’re eating, and the more you watch, the more you’re likely to eat. In a study comparing how much popcorn viewers ate during either a half-hour show or an hour-long show, those who watched more television ate 28 percent more popcorn.
  9. Think Before You Drink
    Pour cranberry juice into two glasses of equal volume: one short and wide, the other tall and thin. Most people pour 19 percent more cranberry juice in the short glass because the eye is a poor judge of volume in relation to height and width.
  10. Serve Good-For-You Foods Family-Style
    Not all portion-control strategies are about eating less. You can have as much as you want of some foods. Place the foods you want your family to eat more of―salads and vegetable sides―within easy reach on the dining table. In a soon-to-be-published study, Wansink found people who kept baby carrots in plain sight ate 25 percent more during a day.

     

 

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