Are Your Plates Making You Fat? It’s Not that Simple

With obesity as a national epidemic and no end in sight, weight loss is a common concern on many people’s minds. Many sources offer conflicting information about weight loss and fitness, and some sources can’t even agree on the exact reasons why Americans are so much heavier than they were just a few decades ago.

One reason for weight problems lies in “portion distortion,” or the tendency for people to eat much larger portions of food than the body actually needs. Serving sizes, especially in restaurants, have grown phenomenally in recent years, and many people don’t even realize that they’re eating two or three times as much as they should be with every meal.

Portion Control with MyPlate

Do Big Plates Mean More Calories?

Portion distortion isn’t pure conjecture on the part of nutritionists: Even plates themselves are larger than they were 50 years ago. Since people tend to fill up their plates when serving meals, a larger plate means more food and subsequently more calories. Correct portion sizes leave a lot of empty room on the plate, leaving dieters feeling deprived. Would a smaller plate make dieting easier?

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What do you think is a better diet plan, the USDA’s MyPlate or Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate?


In theory, yes. Small plates would make the same amount of food look bigger, making the reduced-portion meal more visually appealing. Unfortunately, a recent study from Pennsylvania State University suggests that small plates don’t decrease calorie intake: They only encourage people to eat more helpings.

The study involved three phases. The first time, participants were served food on varying plate sizes from one pot of food; the second, equal portions of food were served on larger and smaller plates; finally, participants were given varying plates and access to a limitless self-serve buffet. In every study, the calorie intake was nearly identical despite the size of the plate. Participants with the smallest plates at the buffet went back for more helpings.

The Bottom Line

Of course, a single scientific study doesn’t necessarily negate the idea of small plate sizes as a manner of portion control. Some people may find using a smaller plate helpful when transitioning to small portion sizes. Some people may actually find themselves eating more by heaping extra onto small plates or returning for several more helpings when they may have felt more satisfied with a single large serving. At the end of the day, dieters need to make the conscious decision to reduce their portions.

[box type=”important”]Self-deception cannot double for solid nutrition and calorie counting.[/box]

Ultimately, the only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than are burned each day. Whether through measuring out food, weighing it, or using eye-balled proportions as a way to decide how much to eat, becoming self-aware of what you’re eating is the first step to changing your behavior. If it’s easier to eat a smaller amount of food by serving yourself on a small plate, by all means buy a set of small dishes! Just don’t expect the new dishes to replace your self-control.

[box] offers information on the latest nutrition studies to help dieters stick to a low-fat, low carb, or 17 day diet plan.[/box]

Contributing Author

This post was written by contributing author at Hive Health Media. If you would like to write for us about health, fitness, or blogging topics, click here.

One thought on “Are Your Plates Making You Fat? It’s Not that Simple

  • December 19, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Listen to the 12 days of Xmas Healthy Eating style for 11 other tips for weight loss. Small plates isn’t everything. Shrink and Carol: 12 Lyrical CBT Tips For Holiday EatingT

    Please feel free to re-post if you think others could use a chuckle
    and some good weight loss tips.

    Happy holidays everyone!

    Warm regards,

    Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss


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