January is all about resolutions and “turning over a new leaf”. So all this month, we’re talking about the big nutritional benefits you can get from making just a few small changes. Now let’s take a look at ways you can start to eat less without leaving your tummy grumbling.
We started with little adjustments you can make when you’re buying food, and in the last post I suggested some ways in which you could make changes in the way you prepare your foods to shave calories and make them healthier. You might already be reaping some benefits if you’ve been trying to make these changes – and you may even be thinking that there isn’t a whole lot more tweaking you can do. Maybe you haven’t given it much thought, but a little fine-tuning in the way your foods are served can also affect your food intake, too.
When you’ve taken the time to shop smart and cook healthfully, it’s easy to assume that how much you eat doesn’t really matter that much. But I see so many people in my practice who eat really, really well – they just eat way too much. So controlling your portions does matter – even when your plate is filled with ‘healthy’ foods – if you’re trying to keep your calories in check.
The idea that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” really applies here. When you’re loading up your plate, you’re relying on what you see to determine your portion… and that is often a lot more than you can – or should – eat. And we’re programmed to finish whatever is put in front of us – whether it’s a lot or a little. That’s your ‘portion’. And the only way you know that you’re finished eating is when the empty plate tells you, “I’m done”.
Since the amount of food you’re likely to eat is usually determined by how much food is actually in your bowl or on your plate, it makes sense to step back and look at how your food is served, because it can greatly influence how much you eat.
Serve yourself anything – from soup to nuts – from a large container, and you’ll allot yourself more than if you’d parceled out your portion from a smaller box or saucepan. And the difference isn’t small – we serve ourselves up to 45% more food when the package we’re serving from doubles in size!
You’ll serve yourself more if you use a large serving spoon than you will from a smaller one, so be aware of how much you’re putting on your plate. “Just a couple of scoops” of anything can add up really fast when the scoop is the size of a shovel.
When you use a smaller plate, it looks as if it holds more food – which means your eyes are telling you that this plate of food will be more filling. So if you’re trying to cut calories by cutting portion sizes, trim the size of your plate, too.
If you’re trying to curb your intake of liquid calories, consider the size and shape of the glass you use. Tall skinny glasses appear to hold much more than short, wide ones – which fools your eyes into thinking that your stomach will be getting more.
Serving food family style makes it easy for everyone to help themselves … which is precisely why it’s not such a good idea if you’re trying to control portions. With serving dishes on the table, it’s just too easy to have “just another spoonful”. Instead, portion out your meal in the kitchen. The only serving dishes you should keep on the table are those holding low-calorie veggies and salads.
I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy new plates, but keep in mind that the color of your plate can affect your ability to visualize how much you’re eating. When there’s a large contrast between the color of the food and the color of the plate – picture a dark square of chocolate cake on a bright white plate – it’s easier to visualize the portion, which makes it easier to control how much you are eating.
I first wrote about how most people fill up on higher calorie foods first in a post last September and it’s an interesting concept to think about. When you’re really hungry and you’re serving yourself a plate of food, you’re likely to serve yourself more of the highest calorie foods that are available – and to also dig into them first once you sit down to eat – which means you’re going fill up on those high calorie foods first, too. If this sounds like you, try digging into your salad or veggies first – that way, you’ll start to fill up with the lowest calorie items first, which leaves less room for the heavier stuff.
Catch up on my other posts about how small changes can help you take control – and stay in control – of your eating habits:
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.
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