Plate Size Might Influence Weight Gain

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The size of your dishes and eating utensils might influence how much you eat and how much you weigh, according to Cornell University researchers. Their study was based upon a simple idea-that people would take, and consume, more foods when provided with larger serving utensils and dishes than when they were given smaller ones.

To test this idea, the researchers looked at a group of 85 nutrition experts-a population with extensive education about healthy eating habits. At an ice cream social held in 2002 to celebrate the success of a colleague, the nutrition experts were given either a larger (34 oz.) or smaller (17 oz.) bowl or a larger (3 oz.) or smaller (2 oz.) ice cream scoop. The participants were allowed to serve themselves, and their ice cream portions were weighed.

Interestingly, the nutrition experts who had been given larger bowls and larger ice cream scoops served themselves substantially more ice cream than the participants with smaller utensils and bowls. Those with larger bowls took 31% more ice cream than those with smaller bowls, and those with the bigger scoops took 14% more than those with the smaller scoops.

Thinking about these results in terms of calorie consumption, the group with the larger bowls took an average of 6.25 oz. of ice cream per person, corresponding to about 225 calories of a typical brand of chocolate ice cream. Those with the smaller bowls took an average of 4.77 oz., or about 144 calories.

This study further confirms what successful dieters have already learned-that external factors have a tremendous impact on our eating patterns. Many people turn to food for comfort when they're bored, anxious, sad, or lonely. Likewise, celebrating successes and joyous occasions with excesses of food is also a part of our culture. Sharing food is even a social and bonding ritual. The results of this study suggest that those who are trying to lose weight may have greater success when using smaller plates and serving utensils, and in a broader sense, that attention to external cues is an important part of weight control.

For more information, see's Weight Loss article.

Reference: Wansink B, van Ittersum K, Painter JE. Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes. Am J Prev Med. 2006 Sep;31(3):240-3.

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