Weight loss. You want it, and sometimes it’s hard to achieve. But that happens because it’s not all about counting calories, exercise, and deciding what exactly to have for dinner. There is a psychological component, and plate size is a surprisingly simple way to work with your mind.
Having fully monitored, healthy items on your dinner table might not be enough, if they’re on the wrong plate size. The Cornell Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University has been studying the psychological side of eating and also the American habits when it comes to what they put on their plates.
One of the findings? The average size of the American dinner plate has increased 22 percent over the last century, from 9.62 inches to 11.75 inches. This actually has a contribution to the obesity epidemic and the portion control problems.
In the 1960s, plates were roughly 9 inches in diameter. Two decades later, they grew by about 1 inch. By 2000, the average dinner plate was already 11 inches in diameter. And these days, it’s not unusual to find plates which are 12 inches in diameter or larger. The larger the plate, the more calories to add up every meal!
The good news is that, if you go smaller when it comes to your plates, this might help you lose weight. It’s not a magical solution, but it’s a way of defeating your brain and stopping it from tricking you into overeating. Another thing you can do? Try mindful eating.
How about that weight loss?
According to another study of the Cornell team, we tend to eat about 92 percent of what we put on our plates. Naturally, we tend to add more food to a larger plate. What do we get if we reduce the plate size from a 12-inch diameter plate to a 10-inch one? About 22 percent fewer calories in our diet. It’s a smaller serving, but not small enough to make you want a second serving.
So, if we consider that an average size adult eats about 800 calories for a typical dinner, the smaller portions that would result from using a tinier plate could theoretically lead to a weight loss of about 18 pounds a year! Or 1.5 pounds a month.
The optical illusion applied to plate size!
Researchers Professors Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum explored in 2006 the ways in which plates, bowls, and spoons can influence the volume of the food you are consuming. It all comes down to an already established optical illusion, which leads you to estimate the serving size inaccurately. It’s called the Delboeuf Illusion, and it tricks your eyes into misjudging the size of identical circles when they are surrounded by larger circles, with varying sizes. A circle appears to be smaller when it’s surrounded by more white space.
Because plates and bowls are mostly circle-shaped, The Delboeuf illusion definitely applies to our dinnerware. A large plate can make a serving of food appear smaller, while a smaller plate makes the same serving appear larger.
In research conducted at a health and fitness camp, the participants who got larger bowls were proven to eat 16 percent more cereal than those with smaller bowls. At the same time, they wrongly estimated that their cereal consumption was lower than those eating from smaller bowls. This means that large plates and bowls can trick us into eating more. But it can also trick us into believing we’re eating less!
Why avoid overeating
It's also important to have smaller meals and smaller portions, because of how your stomach is built. An empty stomach is the size of a fist, but it can expand up to 10 times its starting size if you eat a lot. Once you take advantage of that, you risk stretching your stomach. And once expanded, over time, it can lose its elasticity, and it won’t shrink back to its original size.
How to use plate size to your advantage
By switching up the size of our plates, you can use this illusion to your advantage. In more ways than one.
The obvious way is to eat hearty dinners on smaller plates. The least healthy the food is, the smaller the plate. But you can use this illusion in the opposite direction as well. You can serve fruits and veggies on large plates so that you increase your consumption of healthy foods every meal!
The sizes of drinking glasses have also grown, which means that you are more likely to have more soda with your meal if that’s your poison. Use a tall, slender glass to drink, because that is how you’ll consume the least volume of juice.
You can try to apply these tricks whenever you go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, where the temptation is even stronger. Just grab a smaller plate and then the portion will be smaller as well. That will cut down on the amount of waste as well. Because waste is a huge problem these days.
Wansink and van Ittersum found that the extra food we eat from larger dishes tends to go unnoticed. Another thing we don’t notice? The extra strain on our wallets that double portions lead to. It’s not all about your waist. Smaller portions eaten on smaller plates lead to some extra money in your pocket at the end of the month.