Most of us assume we feel satisfied when our stomach is full. Turns out, it’s not that simple. Research shows that we determine how much food is “enough” based in part by how much food we started with.
Take one study in which a group of people were served incrementally larger sandwiches over the course of 4 days (starting with a 6-inch sandwich on the first day, and ending with a 12-inch sandwich on day 4).
Not surprisingly, the bigger the sandwich, the more people ate: Women consumed 31% more when presented with a 12-inch sandwich than they did when served a 6-inch one (a difference of 536 calories). Men consumed 56% more –a difference of 1130 calories–!
What was really interesting is that the sandwich eaters reported feeling similarly satisfied on each occasion, despite the massive difference in food intake. Researchers concluded that the bigger portions changed people’s expectation of how much food could fit in their stomach. And that, in turn, affected when they felt full.
So the bad news is that your mind has been playing tricks on you — tricks that have likely contributed to weight gain. The good news is that you can now use that knowledge to your advantage.
4 Tips for Starting Smaller
1. At home, serve yourself a healthy amount of food. Yes, you want to start with a modest amount. But if a portion is too small, you’re likely to feel deprived — like someone on a strict diet — which tends to backfire. Restrictive eating at one meal leads to overeating at the next, and a greater intake of calories overall. What’s the perfect amount to put on your plate? Follow this handy portion guide.
2. At restaurants, take charge of your portions. Restaurant meals can be gigantic. A single entree can provide half the calories you need in a day. Make a habit of splitting entrees. Or ask your server to bring a to-go container to your table at the same time as your food. Pack half of it up before you begin eating. Wrestling with the urge to devour it all? Remind yourself that you can have the rest the next time you feel hungry.
3. Check your pleasure level often. Ideally, between bites. As you continue to eat the same food, the amount of pleasure you get from each bite typically decreases. This is a subtle biological response that helps prevent us from eating until it hurts. After taking a bite, ask yourself how much you’re enjoying it. Was it better than the previous bite, or not quite as good? When food stops tasting delicious, it might be a good time to stop eating.
4. Wait 20 min before getting seconds. It can take some time for your stomach to stretch and send “satiety” or fullness cues to your brain. These signals tell your brain to stop eating. So before you get a second plate, wait a bit to let your brain catch up to your stomach.
Pedersen SD, Kang J, Kline GA. Portion Control Plate for Weight Loss in Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, a Controlled Clinical Trial. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Jun 25;167(12):1277-83. DOI: 10.1001/archinte.167.12.1277.
Barbara J Rolls, Erin L Morris, Liane S Roe, Portion Size of Food Affects Energy Intake in Normal-Weight and Overweight Men and Women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1207-13. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/76.6.1207.
Julia A Ello-Martin, Jenny H Ledikwe, Barbara J Rolls. The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake: implications for weight management. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 82, Issue 1, 1 July 2005, Pages 236S–241S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/82.1.236S.