Serving Food on Larger Plates Will Make You Eat More

Not a huge surprise, but we'll just keep plowing through whatever's in front of us—even if it's way more than we should be eating in one sitting.

Alex Swerdloff

Photo via Flickr user Dave Crosby

It's information that probably won't shock anybody, but it's compelling enough that it might just convert the Jonathan Waxman in us all to pick up a pair of cooking tweezers.

A study recently published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and conducted by University of Cambridge researchers explores the causality between portion, package, and tableware size relative to the incidence of overeating. The project was a review or meta-analysis of more than 60 different previous studies, some dating back to the 1970s, that in total included more than 6,700 participants.

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And it found that, yes indeed, "people consistently consume more food and drink when offered larger-sized portions, packages, or tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions."

So, how much more are we eating on average than we should?

Quite a bit. The study's researchers are saying that if diners were continually, across-the-board, served smaller portions, they could effectively reduce their food consumption by around 16 percent—or 280 calories each day. Interestingly, this didn't really change much even among those who were keeping an eye on how much they ate.

And just in case you were feeling totally underwhelmed by all of this, the researchers probably aren't going to blame you for it. Health psychologist and lead study researcher Dr. Gareth Hollands recognizes that people might find the study to state the obvious; but that the findings also challenge the belief that self-control is the only contributor for overeating.

"Helping people to avoid 'overserving' themselves or others with larger portions of food or drink by reducing their size, availability, and appeal in shops, restaurants, and in the home, is likely to be a good way of helping lots of people to reduce their risk of overeating," he said.

Dr. Alison Tedstone—Chief nutritionist at Public Health England—agrees with Hollands on the study's relevance. "Given that almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, it's important to keep an eye on portion sizes when cooking, shopping, and eating out to avoid overeating and help maintain a healthy weight" she said.

One interesting result of the study found the shape of the vessel from which we eat or drink also affects how much we consume. Adults who were provided with shorter, wider bottles drank larger amounts of water from them, compared to those provided with taller, narrower bottles, say the researchers, although further study of this is phenomenon is recommended.

The researchers also found that their results held true for adults and not children: "We … found that adults, but not children, consistently chose … more food (including non-alcoholic drinks) when offered larger-sized portions, packages, or items of tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions."

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Overall, the researchers say, "this review provides the most conclusive evidence to date that acting to reduce the size, availability and appeal of larger-sized portions, packages and tableware has potential to reduce the quantities of food that people select and consume by meaningful amounts."

A thimbleful of wine and a bottle cap of pasta for dinner tonight? Hey, it would make it pretty easy to clean your plate.