When we are very young, we tune into our bodies and instinctively eat the amount we need. However, by the age of four, we learn to override this tendency, ignoring the internal messages that prompt us to stop eating. From then on, if we have a larger portion in front of us, we eat more. Cutting back on your portion size can be a formidable challenge, especially if you habitually overeat. In this article, we look at simple tips to help you keep your portions to the amount you need.

Georgia’s story

Georgia frequently overate. She loved having friends’ round, and the table would be laden with lots of different foods. Even when she was just cooking for her husband and kids, she prepared lots of dishes. Dinner was the focal point of the day, when the family spent time together and the kids were off their devices! Georgia wasn’t really aware of how much she was eating, as she would help herself to the foods on the table throughout the meal.

But she knew she needed to eat less! After we discussed this, she decided to make a few simple changes. Before she ate anything, she would put all the food she planned to eat on her plate. And as we discussed with Emma earlier, she would make sure that half her plate was filled with salad or vegetables.

Then she would make sure she didn’t finish eating until her younger daughter (the slowest eater in the family) did. That way, she wouldn’t be sitting at the table, tempted to eat more. The first week she tried this, she found herself automatically reaching for extra food a couple of times. So Georgia decided that she would serve all the food before putting the plates on the table. To help themselves to more, her family had to get up from the table.

Once she got out of the habit of overeating, Georgia began to notice how her body felt when she was eating. She started to become aware of when she’d had enough. These few changes had a big impact, and it wasn’t long before she started to lose weight.

Portion sizes—we don’t listen to our bodies

Your portion sizes may be significantly larger than you need. Suggested portion sizes on packaging are often inconsistent. Additionally, over the last twenty years portion sizes have increased significantly.

significantly. Being constantly exposed to oversized portions has distorted our idea of what the correct portion size is. This can make it hard to know what size portion you actually need. As portion sizes have increased, so have the rates of obesity. If you have a larger portion, you eat more, rather than leaving the extra food on your plate.

Interestingly though, most people do not feel fuller. Nor to compensate do they eat less at subsequent meals. Infants and toddlers naturally self-regulate their food intake. Just because they are served more, they do not eat more. They are tuned into their body’s signals telling them when they are hungry and when they have had enough.

This self-regulation is still in place at age three. At this age, a child will eat the same amount, regardless of portion size. However, by the age of four, this is no longer the case. Four-year-old’s override the signals telling them to stop eating, they are full.

Instead, they become influenced by factors such as their care’s feeding style, the amount of food on their plate and being praised for eating it all up. Four-year-old’s, given a starter twice the size suitable for their age, will eat 25 percent more.

How to reduce your portion size

A simple way to reduce your portion size is to eat off a smaller plate. Research in America has shown that the average plate size has increased by 23 percent since 1900, from 24.4 centimeters to 30 centimeters.

Your plate size is important because if you have a smaller plate, you serve yourself a smaller portion. Interestingly, even when the portion size is the same, you are likely to eat less from smaller containers.

Even the shape of the container affects how much you consume. Drinking from a short wide glass, you will probably pour yourself more than if you have a tall thin glass. However, you are likely to think you have served yourself less. To help you eat less, try using slightly smaller plates and bowls. Eat off a plate approximately 24 to 25 centimeters in diameter.

Your portion should not be piled high but fit easily on your plate. It can also help to use smaller serving spoons and eat with smaller spoons. With snacks, just like Rebecca did, put the amount you plan to eat from a large packet of food into a small plate or bowl. And seal the packet and put it away before you start eating.

When it comes to drinks, have water in a short wide glass and other drinks in a tall thin glass. It may also help to use plates that have a high color contrast with your food. For example, serve food with a red tomato sauce on a white plate. If your food is white, eat it off a red plate.

Without even being aware of it, we serve ourselves significantly less when there is a greater color contrast between the plate and our food. When staring at food in front of you, it is easy to continue eating. To stop eating takes effort.

To help you eat less, serve food onto plates before you sit down at the table. Put only salad or vegetable dishes on the table for people to serve themselves. These should contain salad and vegetable ingredients only.

By eating your food whole rather than mashed, you are likely to eat less. For example we tend to eat less boiled potato rather than mashed. You may find it helps to limit the number of different dishes with a meal. If you have a lot of different foods at one meal, you are likely to end up eating more.

How to eat the same amount of food at meals but consume less calories

The amount of food we eat affects how full we feel, and we tend to eat a consistent volume. In the previous article, we looked at how fruit, vegetables and salad provide a lot of bulk per calorie.

This is also true of many soups and cooked whole grains. If you find it hard to eat less, remember that if more of your meal consists of these foods, you are likely to eat the same amount but consume less calories.6 Fill at least half your plate with salad or raw or lightly cooked vegetables. If you have a starter, choose a vegetable soup (non-cream-based), crudités or salad.

Other Influences on the Amount we Eat

Eating with other people

Studies show that we are influenced by other people’s behavior around food, even though we think we are not. If you eat with another person, the two of you are likely to eat similar amounts. The more people sharing the meal, the more you are likely to consume. In large groups you may consume over 75 percent more than when you eat alone.

It may help you eat less to notice who eats the slowest, then aim to keep pace with that person. If servers top up your food and drink, it makes it difficult to know how much you’ve consumed, in which case you are likely to eat more.

Read Also About plan to eat

Eating while distracted

Relaxing and taking your time can help reduce the amount you eat. One study found that women ate 15 percent more when they listened to a recorded detective story whilst eating. If you do eat with distractions around, such as TV, radio, books and magazines, computers and texting, try to eliminate them. But if any remain, serve the food onto your plate.

Then do not add more. Relax and focus on your food when you eat. Eat slowly; not only will you eat less, but you’ll feel fuller. Put less food in your mouth at a time. If you take smaller bite sizes, you eat less.

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Your next step

Take a few moments to think about why you overeat at meals. Are you distracted? If you eat with others, are you unconsciously influenced by the amount they eat? When your plate is empty, do you automatically serve yourself more without really thinking about it.

Are you using your eyes to assess the amount of food you are eating rather than the feelings in your body? When you become aware of why you are overeating at meals, you can then start to change this practice. Your next step is, at mealtimes, to put all the food you plan to eat on your plate. Eat more slowly.

And when you have finished, don’t refill your plate. If this is hard, use the tips in this article to help or get up and wash your plate or put it in the dishwasher. If you eat alone, clear the table as soon as you have finished and put any leftover food away, out of sight.

Key things you have learned in this article

  • Your portion size is important, as the amount you have on your plate often determines the amount you eat. If you have a bigger portion, you are likely to eat more, rather than leaving it on your plate. 
  • Using a slightly smaller plate or bowl can help you eat less.
  • If you eat with distractions, such as TV, radio, books or texting, you are likely to eat significantly more. Relaxing, focusing on your food and eating more slowly can help you eat less.
  • Serve food onto plates away from the table. Put only salad or vegetable dishes on the table for people to serve themselves.
  • If you find it hard to reduce your portion size, try increasing the amount of vegetables, salad and cooked whole grains on your plate and reducing the amount of other foods. This way, you can have the same portion size, but consume less calories.


  • Bernice Cardinas
    Posted December 8, 2022 9:13 pm

    Thanks for writing this article. It helped me a lot and I love the subject.

  • Candyce Mcgohan
    Posted December 9, 2022 9:42 pm

    Thank you for writing about this topic. Your post really helped me and I hope it can help others too.

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