Portion warning: Dish it up and you’re likely to gobble it down

Aug. 10, 2014—If you put food on your plate, there’s a good chance you’re going to eat it—nearly every last bite of it, in fact.

That’s the finding of a study in the International Journal of Obesity. And in a nation where more than 1 in 3 people is obese, it’s likely to capture the attention of health experts.

Since consuming more calories than you burn off is a habit that can lead to weight gain, the findings suggest that helping people be more mindful of portion sizes might improve weight control.

About the study

The study involved 1,179 people in seven different countries—the United States, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland and the Netherlands. Researchers gauged the percentage of food people ate when they served themselves and also noted whether certain situations led them to eat more or less.

They found that, on average, adults ate about 92 percent of the food they placed on their plates. And those findings were consistent in all of the countries studied.

However, the 326 participants who were younger than 18 ate just 59 percent of the food they served themselves. Researchers said that might be because children are less certain than adults about whether they’ll like a particular food. They might dish the food up and then decide to leave the food behind when they dislike the few bites they take.

Additionally, researchers found:

  • When people were distracted, they ate less—about 89 percent of what was served, compared to about 97 percent of the food they ate when they were not distracted.
  • People ate more of what they served themselves for meals—92.8 percent—than for snacks—76.1 percent.

You can read an abstract of the study here.

The take-home message
What you put on your plate is likely to end up in your stomach—and quite possibly on your bathroom scale. Simply knowing that, and limiting what you serve yourself, may help your weight-control efforts.

When it comes to limiting what you eat, these tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics may be helpful:

  • Use smaller plates and dishes—since they hold less food, you may eat fewer calories. And do use plates and dishes, rather than eating from a box or bag. It’s easier to keep portions in check.
  • Eat meals slowly—over 20 to 30 minutes. That may enable you to recognize when you’re full and then stop eating.
  • Remember, it’s OK to leave food behind—even if you’re a longtime member of the clean-plate club.

For more information about the subtle mistakes you might be making that could lead to an ever-expanding waistline, click here.


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