Can Eating from a Smaller Plate Really Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight?

New research suggests that the "smaller plate" tip may not work for everyone

Likely you’ve heard this seemingly logical diet tip before: use a smaller plate to “trick yourself” into eating less.

It’s not a completely unwarranted piece of dietary advice. Some research has shown that using smaller plates may help us to better maintain a healthy weight by making portion sizes seem bigger and more satisfying.

According to Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, one study found that participants who ate out of larger bowls consumed 16 percent more cereal when compared with those who ate out of smaller bowls.

Another study, which examined whether or not visual cues related to portion size might play a role in food intake, found that participants who ate from self-refilling bowls consumed 73 percent more when compared with those who ate from normal bowls.

The authors concluded that the findings were consistent with the theory that says “the amount of food on a plate or bowl increases intake because it influences consumption norms and expectations and it lessens one's reliance on self-monitoring.”

Yet, on the other hand, one small study from 2007 found that using a smaller plate didn’t lead to a reduction in intake during meals.

Researchers examined 20 women (10 who were overweight or obese and 10 who were normal-weight) and found there was no difference in the amount they consumed after eating off of two different sized plates on two separate days. The women tended to eat until they became full, no matter what size plate they ate of off.

To add more support to this evidence, a new study out of the University of Connecticut found that the “small plate trick” may not work for everyone, and especially overweight teens.  

“The study involved 162 girls ages 14 to 18 in the Greater Hartford area, categorized by body mass,” Science Daily reported.

Researchers examined their attention to detail and questioned them about “their perception of a constant portion size relative to varying plate sizes.”

What they found: the overweight or obese girls tended to be less attentive to visual cues compared to the normal weight girls.

“This finding suggests that changing the size of their dinnerware may be less effective than we thought,” said Lance Bauer, a psychiatry professor and the study’s lead author. “It also suggests that presenting them with detailed charts summarizing diet rules or calorie counts might also be less effective than we would like."

He said that, instead, diet education for overweight and obese adolescents should be more clear-cut and simple.

The take away: as Bauer put it simply, “In diet education, one size might not fit all.”

Eating from smaller plates may be helpful to some when it comes to reducing portion sizes and overall caloric intake, but it may not be an effective strategy for everyone.

You can use tactical tips like this if you feel they work for you, but for successfully maintaining a healthy weight, it’s likely that your best bet will be to rely on consuming a diet made up mostly of nutritious whole foods as well as paying careful attention to healthy portion sizes.


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