The Importance of Portion Control

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Tell yourself all you want that you won’t wolf down the entire heaping pile of pasta – you’ll just eat until you’re full – but you’ll likely wind up polishing off more than you meant to. Recent research proves it. According to a study published in the ‘Journal of Health Psychology,’ when a giant portion of food sits in front of us, we’re much more likely to pig out, despite our best intentions to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia educated 100 adults about eating slowly and only until they were full. Next, they gave one group a 600-gram portion of macaroni and tomato sauce and the other group 350 grams of the same meal. Overall, the large-portion participants ate 34 percent more food than those given the smaller helping.

What’s troubling is that these people generally didn’t realize they were eating too much, even though they’d just been taught how to not overdo it, says study author Lenny Vartanian.

“It seems that being mindful isn’t enough to prevent overindulging,” he says. “This may be because the appropriate amount to eat is usually pretty ambiguous, and we rely on external cues for guidance, such as portion size and how much others are eating.”

So the message is crystal clear: Limit portion sizes. But how can you avoid gorging at holiday feasts and Memorial Day barbecues, where there are dozens of dishes to try? “These occasions combine two factors that increase how much people eat: larger portion sizes and sensory-specific satiety, which means you’ll eat more of a variety of foods than you would of one food,” Vartanian says. “Set a limit on how many different items you sample. You don’t have to eat every one today; there’ll be other occasions to try the others.”

And when a dinner party host hands you a big plate of food? “This is a tough situation because you don’t want to be rude,” Vartanian says. “But occasional indulgences like this aren’t the real problem, so don’t sweat them too much. It’s more our everyday behaviors. At home, be mindful of how much food you serve, and then put the rest away. Research shows that the amount of food available influences intake, so if there is extra on the table or stovetop, you’ll probably eat more.”

And forget the smaller plate trick. “Using smaller plates often does not work, because if the food is there, people just pile more onto to the plate or go back for seconds,” Vartanian says. “Again, putting the remaining food in the fridge right after dishing up takes that possibility away.”