Obesity and your plate: How the size of your dinner plate is making you fat

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It’s not news that America has been getting fatter over time.

There are all kinds of reasons for the rise in obesity, but one of them is portion size and the calorie count of the average meal.

Since the 1960s, dinner plate sizes have gotten larger in diameter, and since 1960, we’ve seen a huge rise in the percentage of obese Americans. If you inherited your grandmother’s china, you might have noticed the plates are much smaller than today’s. In 1960, the average dinner plate was 8 1/2 inches. Today, it’s closer to a foot wide in diameter. Why does that matter? Well, because we eat more when there is more to eat. A study out of Cornell revealed that people serve themselves in proportion to the plate size they have been given. In other words: if you’ve got a big plate, you’ll put more food on it.

dinner plate sizes and obesity

We may not know definitively that grandma’s china caused her to eat less, but it’s not hard to see there may be a link between obesity and plate size.

So how can you use this to your advantage if you’d like to lose weight? Easy. Serve yourself dinner on a smaller plate.

Quite simply, choosing a large plate means you will instinctively fill it with more than you need.  With a smaller plate, you’ll naturally fill it with less. If you’re still hungry when you’ve cleared your smaller plate, by all means eat more. But more than likely you’ll find that the small plate gives you a moment to pause (it takes 20 minutes for the fullness signal to reach the brain) to decide if you are still hungry. The large plate doesn’t allow as much time for this to happen, because the visual cue of the food left on the plate makes us think we need to finish it. That’s for lots of reasons – we may have strong feelings about wasting food, we may not pause to slow down or (and this is something we are all prone to) we may eat simply because “it was in front of me.”

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