Perhaps you experienced it over the holidays, as casserole dish after casserole dish went around the dinner table and you dutifully spooned the contents of each onto your plate, even the less-than-appealing creation from your less-than-dear aunt. As the cycle came to a close, you were staring at a (perhaps) carefully constructed tapestry of food covering almost every square inch of your plate. And then you ate it all. And it was a lot of food.
Suddenly, you're feeling sleepy and rather sick, with turkey and red wine mixing like the waters between Scylla and Charybdis down there. And though you really only have yourself to blame for stuffing your face, perhaps there's a way to shift some of the blame.
Science says you would have eaten less if only your plate had been smaller.
After years of research and more than 50 ventures into research on how plate size affects food consumption, one study has looked at them all and come back with a conclusion: you're more likely to stuff your face if you've got a big plate in front of you. Researchers at Bond University in Australia surveyed the scientific literature available and found that
The 56 studies in the Cornell survey, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, looked at all kinds of foods, including ice cream, cereal, rice, fruit, vegetables, popcorn, and other miscellaneous snacks, and found that a smaller plate meant eating less no matter what you're cramming into your head.
A couple factors, however, affect the small plate theorem, and perhaps account for some of the variation among previous studies that went back and forth on their conclusions. First, diners had to serve themselves on smaller plates to eat less. Diners tend to take less food in the first place when using smaller dishware, and consequently eat less. Secondly—and hopefully this doesn't apply to your daily eating routine—diners had to be unaware that their consumption was being monitored. (If you aren't eating in a lab or at a buffet where some guy with a clipboard is watching your every move and furiously scribbling, this one probably doesn't apply to you.)
The researchers who published the survey suggest using a smaller plate to reduce overeating and encourage weight loss.
"Just changing to smaller plates at home can help reduce how much you serve yourself and how much you eat"," Natalina Zlatevska, the study's co-author, said.
Perhaps all those years of being a member of the clean plate club has led us to eat whatever is in front of us. And with all that extra real estate on a big plate, you're likely to load up.