April 15, 2013

Aristocrat in the Kitchen: Plate Size

A heavily laden Thanksgiving table where the serving dishes are vegetables and all the food is natural.
From November 2011 of Martha Stewart Living

Food is one of the most important and most complicated things we do to our bodies. Passion  lifestyle, memories, and health all center around your diet and yet there is so much confusing and conflicting information about what to eat and what is healthy to eat. Untangling those problems is a series of posts for another day.

What I want to talk about today is plate size.

I have a confession: despite my schooling, intentions, and better knowledge, I don't eat until I feel full or, better yet, until I'm not hungry. I eat until my plate is empty. As with everything, there are several reasons: I eat at my desk while studying, I don't pay enough attention, I put off hunger until my blood sugar drops, I am loath to throw food away, etc. Many of you probably have similar problems.

However, as we all know, over eating is a huge problem in America and the developed world. The body is overwhelmed by the calories, the processed sugars and carbs, the sheer glut of food- and becomes sluggish and unresponsive. I lack the self discipline to leave that last half of toast on the plate or those last four bites of pasta in the bowl. If I try to impose such discipline on myself, then the struggle exhausts my will power and I end up caving in somewhere else. Studies show this is a common phenomenon.

Pretty Pink Lolita dining ware, perfect for a spring tea.
Found on Haute Design by Sarah Klassen

This is all to explain why I am so happy with my latest discovery in the realm of life hacks: little plates and bowls.

There are two principles I am working from:

First, the human body is designed for feast and famine situations. It wants to over eat because it lives in constant fear that this will be the last meal ever, despite seeing the full fridge and cupboards every day. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do to overwrite this biological predisposition. Will power only gets you so far.

Second, the reversal of the shopping cart phenomena. Stores use huge shopping carts to encourage shoppers to buy more. After all, the contents of your grocery list look pitiful in the expanse of empty wire. Why not add a few chips?

Nine bowls, each filled with a different dish, that are served along with Korean dinners. Goodness in small quantities.
Korean Banchan

My room mates have in addition to their normal plates and bowls, a set of salad and small soup bowls that hold about a cup of soup. For the past week, I've been trying to exclusively eat with these smaller dinner ware and these are my results:

~ One cup of soup- the recommended portion size on the side of the box- looks pathetic and sad in a regular bowl. In a small one, it looks like a full meal. A single scoop of vegetables or pasta seems dwarfed by the vastness of a regular plate. On a salad plate, it looks overflowing. By restricting the size, I've simulated over abundance and satisfy my bodies worry of not having enough.

~ I am not hungry.  Despite reducing my portions by sometimes up to 50%, I don't feel hungry at the end of the meal. I remain satisfied until the next meal. It might be the visual cue of an empty plate which sets off my

~ There are more meals in my fridge. Because I'm still cooking the same amount but eating much less, I can usually squeeze another serving from the food prepared. A lucky find for grad students on a budget!

~ I pay more attention to what I'm eating- this could just be the  novelty of using smaller dinner ware and will fade as I acclimate, but I enjoy having a bowl I can hold in the palm of my hand. Which means that-

~  I usually eat slower, chew more and enjoy the food more. All essential proponents of better digestion.

~ I feel better. Both physically for eating better and less and psychically for being virtuous and dainty by using smaller portions.

~ There's more room in the dishwasher. A very small point, but it makes me happy to increase the space between unloading.

Beautifully detailed, textured Iranian plates
Beautiful Iranian plates

 I'd like to add an addendum to a rule mentioned in an earlier post:

A Neo-Aristocrat knows how to manipulate his or her environment to best suit his or her well being.

Rather than worry about weight gain, struggle with ingrained habits, and feel bad about my lack of discipline  I manipulated the world and did away with the problems. If you want to do the same, here are some tips:

~ Go to the thrift store and purchase a small plate and small bowl. Salad size or smaller. It shouldn't cost more than a few dollars. Naturally, don't buy doll size plates. Choose something that will reduce your food intake without taking you to the opposite extreme of anorexia.

~ If you can't afford that at the moment- believe me I understand- try just putting less food on your plate. It doesn't have quite the same effect, since the food looks so soft and pitiful and I feel like I'm not eating enough, but it make work for now.

~ Make sure you do the same technique for your other snacks. Don't bring a bag of chips to the desk- bring a small bowl. Try buying smaller fruit to eat. Make sure that there is a definite limit to your food.

Are there any other tips for portion control that you have?

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