The secrets of portion awareness

One of my favorite diet gurus is Dr. Brian Wansink, who is the head of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in Chicago. He is also known as the mad scientist of portion-control experiments and has done many fascinating experiments on human behavior around food and drink.

Wansink’s recent article from Cooking Light magazine talks about how you can lose substantial amounts of weight just by paying attention to the size of the portions you eat every day. His research shows that very small serving savings can net big changes in body fat percentage and overall bodyweight.

“In most of our studies we found people can eat 20-percent less without noticing … and if we make three small 100-calorie changes per day, by the end of the year we can be 30 pounds lighter,” Wansink said.

Here are some quick and easy-to-use strategies from Wansink that can help you make that 20-percent cut while still enjoying the food you love. 1. Slow down. It’s almost a cliché, but like many clichés, it’s true. It takes your stomach 10-15 minutes to relay signals of satiety to your brain. Pledge to eat slower and chew longer.

2. Abandon the clean-plate club. In one study, Parisians were asked how they knew to stop eating. Their answer? When they felt full. Chicagoans’ answer? When everyone else is done eating or until my plate is empty. Think like a Parisian.

3. Be selective about what you put on the table. Plate entrees in the kitchen, then serve lower-calorie vegetables and salads family-style. Proximity to food can make the 20-percent difference.

4. Think about the color of your dishes. Studies show that, if you are having mashed potatoes, you’ll have 18-percent more if they are served on a white plate as opposed to a plate that offers more contrast. Darker plates also work when eating pasta. The higher contrast makes you aware of the size of the portion you are eating.

5. Face your food. Never eat directly from a package, Wansink says. Always portion it out in a dish so you must face exactly how much you eat. People eat 20-30-percent more when eating directly from the box or bag. And the bigger the package, the more we consume.

6. Remember the movie-munchies rule. Moviegoers who ate popcorn from a large bucket ate 53-percent more than those who chose a medium-sized bucket. Get in the habit of choosing smaller portions all around. If people are given a lot, they will eat a lot. It’s human nature.

7. Small baby steps done daily can create enormous changes. It’s all about staying aware and not eating mindlessly.

Happy eating!

Jim Hart is a registered personal trainer at 12th Street Gym. For more information, visit or