An increase in portion size over the past 30 years is without a doubt linked to an increase in weight problems. Supersized portions of food are found at restaurants, supermarket shelves, and in our own kitchen. For example, between 1977 and 1996 the average size of salty snacks increased from 1 oz (132 calories) to 1.6 oz (225 calories). The additional 93 calories from the increased snack size would pack on an additional 10 pounds a year if eaten daily.
Research shows that increased portion sizes lead to increased weight gain since people eat more when given larger portions of food. For example, one study showed that people ate a whopping 30% more calories just because they were served the large portion of food compared to the small portion.
The increase in consumption with portion size also has very little to do with hunger levels or even how much they enjoyed the food. One study showed that people ate significantly more popcorn when given the large bucket of popcorn compared to the medium bucket, regardless of how much they enjoyed the taste of the popcorn. Furthermore, people given the smaller portion of food eat less but feel just as satisfied as people given the larger portion.
Overeating has very little to do with our hunger levels and a lot more to do with our environmental cues, such as portion size. Avoiding supersized portions is not always realistic but setting up your environment to support healthy eating and limit overeating can be extremely helpful. Here are some smart strategies to cut portions and calories:
- Eat More and Weight Less
Eating big portions of food doesn’t have to lead to weight gain. Many foods that are low in calories such as vegetables, fruits, and broth soups can be included in your meals to decrease overall calorie consumption. Research shows that consuming a low-calorie soup or salad before a meal decreases calories consumed during the meal by 12%. Try to have 50% of your plate fruits and vegetables, 25% of your plate whole grains, and 25% of your plate a lean protein. Using a visual image of a healthy plate can help you eat more low energy foods.
- Downsize Dishware
Eat with smaller utensils, plates and bowls. People rely on visual cues, such as plate size, to help gauge portions. One study showed that people at 31% more food when using a large bowl instead of a smaller one and 14.5% more when using a large spoon rather than a small version.
- Keep a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary for situations that are particularly hard for you to control how much you eat can help you identify and plan around these overeating pitfalls. Writing down information about difficult times, such as work events, buffets, and family gatherings, sheds a whole new light on actions you can take to make the situations easier.
- Eat Distraction Free
Distractions, such as the TV, can increase how much you consume at each meal. One study found that hearing a book on tape while eating increased calorie consumption by 70 calories at each meal. Try eating without TV, driving, reading the newspaper, or surfing the web.