My Plate is My Plate

Most likely, you’ve seen USDA’s new food guide, MyPlate. I agree that it was high time to move away from the ancient pyramids. Choosing a plate as the new symbol of healthful eating makes a lot of sense. A plate suggests a meal; meals lead you to eating at regular intervals and more variety. But then come the rules telling you what and how much to put on your plate. They even tell you to “enjoy your food, but eat less.” In the end, MyPlate is the same old pyramid, just a new shape. Ellyn Satter had some advice for the policy makers (if only they would ask) in her recent newsletter.

Speaking of plates, I still hear the advice to serve food on a smaller one to help with weight loss. Like so many well-meaning suggestions, it really doesn’t work that way.

Researcher Barbara Rolls and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University looked at the effect of plate size on food consumption.  In each of the three study variations, participants were remarkably consistent in eating the same amount whether they ate from a dinner plate or a smaller plate. Participants rated hunger and food taste as the primary influences on their food intake.

“Use a smaller plate” and “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” are two examples of  the many control messages aimed at getting you to eat less than your body needs or desires.

You have internal regulators to guide you in your food selections and amounts.  Give yourself trust messages: “My food looks appealing on a dinner plate,” “I like my fruit in a separate bowl,” “I enjoy my food the most when I ____________.”  You’ll know a trust message when you hear it–it will bring pleasure to your meal.

Rolls B, Roe L, Halverson K, Meengs J. Using a smaller plate did not reduce energy intake at meals. Appetite. 2007;49:652-660.

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7 comments so far

  1. Katja Rowell on

    brilliant! I am particularly skeptical of all the “mindless eating” tricks for reducing intake. because they are tricks, aren’t they? use a smaller plate, use a smaller glass. If you are eating in a tuned in way, it doesn’t matter. I went to a cupcake restaurant with my 6 year old (we have been doing the division of responsibility since she was about 16 months) and I marvel at her ability to self-regulate. She actually moaned when she first tasted the cupcake, it was THAT good, but with about 1/4 left, she said, “I’m full” and just stopped. It is so powerful, but that inborn cue CAN be trusted with the right support!

    • Peggy Crum on

      Thanks for sharing the cupcake story. Children are intuitive eaters if we trust them and give them meals. Funny how well that works for adults as well!

  2. Katja Rowell on

    p.s, do you have a link to the study? Or a title?

    • Peggy Crum on

      Rolls B, Roe L, Halverson K and Meengs J. Using a smaller plate did not reduce energy intake at meals. Appetite. 2007;49:652-660.

      If you don’t have access to Appetite, let me know and I will send you the article.

  3. Ines Anchondo on

    Hi, Peggy,

    Your post is so timely. Thank you for writing about this important topic.

  4. Katja Rowell on

    that would be great!

  5. Stephanie Behunin on

    If only MORE people would let go of their set traditional ways and accept this new way of thinking we’d all be in a happier place. I see my child self-regulate with ice cream, cake and many other goodies ALL THE TIME! And just because I have a smaller plate, doesn’t mean that I won’t fill it up more than once. I enjoy my food most when I pay attention to my body and don’t over stuff myself.


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