Rightsizing your eating is about habits, not appetite. You can use some simple strategies over and over with great results–and without a single measuring cup. This month's hero, Brian Wansink, Ph.D, is author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Thank We Think.
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Credit: Photo: Brian Woodcock

It's important to know that, as America's portion-control guru, Brian Wansink loves food, from the fancy French kind to fast-food french fries. He and his wife, a Cordon Bleu–trained cook, have twice-weekly dinner parties. As the head of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, Wansink has personal as well as professional reasons to ask: How do we have our Cordon Bleu and eat it, too? "Weighing food or counting calories isn't something I'm very good at, or something I want to do," he says. "I look at what things really influence how much you serve."

Wansink's research shows that very small serving savings can net big changes: "In most of our studies, we've found people can eat 20% less without noticing ... and if we make three small, 100-calorie changes each day, by the end of the year, we'll be as much as 30 pounds lighter." Here are six ideas for making that 20% cut while enjoying your food—and never counting calories.


  • Slow down. It's almost a cliché, but, like many clichés, it's true: Because it takes a few minutes for your stomach to relay signals of satiety to your brain, eating too fast means you pile on calories unawares. Slow down and you'll feel your body's signals sooner and eat less. When you sit down for a meal, make an eat-slower pledge.
  • Abandon the Clean Plate Club. In one Wansink study, Parisians were asked how they knew when to stop eating. Their answer: when they felt full. Chicagoans' answer: when everyone else is done eating or when my plate is empty. Think like a Parisian.
  • Be selective about what you put on the table. Plate entrées in the kitchen, and then serve lower-calorie veggies and salads family-style at the table. Proximity can make the 20% difference.
  • Think about the color of your dishes. "If you're having mashed potatoes, you'll eat 18% more if they're served on a white plate than if they're served on a plate that offers more contrast," Wansink says. The reason is that the higher the contrast, the more aware you are of how big your serving is. "I use darker plates when I'm having pasta, and I find that helps me eat less," Wansink says.
  • Face your food. "Never eat directly from a package," Wansink says. "Always portion food out into a dish so you must face exactly how much you'll eat." Wansink says we consume 20% to 30% more when eating straight from a box or bag. And the bigger the package, the more we consume. If you buy in bulk, repackage snacks into individual containers or zip-top bags.
  • Remember the movie-munchie rule. Moviegoers who ate popcorn from a large bucket ate 53% more than those who chose a medium-sized bucket. The takeaway: Get in the habit of choosing and serving smaller portions all around. "Give people a lot, they eat a lot," Wansink says. "It's just human nature."