Change Plates, Lose Weight



By Shaun Chavis
It's mid-January, which means about a third of all the resolutions Americans made two weeks ago are already broken. I tend to make a resolution but neglect to plan the steps to help me keep it. (Or if I do plan steps, I often don't take the time to troubleshoot the kinks.) So this year, I'm keeping it simple: I'm changing dinner plates.

If you pull out your grandmom's china, her dinner plate is probably the size of your salad plate: Today's average dinner plate is one-third larger than its 1960 counterpart. Our large, fashionable—well, platters—encourage us to load up on a third more food, and we eat 92% of what we serve ourselves, according to research by Brian Wansink, the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and the author of Mindless Eating. Bigger plates lead to bigger hips.

Obviously, portion control is in order, and I like Wansink's approach. Just get smaller plates! You can save the measuring cups and scales for actual cooking, and skip the partitioned dieter's plates that remind you of being in a school lunch room. This month, Wansink launched the Small Plate Movement Challenge: Eat one meal from a smaller plate every day for at least a month. By switching from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch plate, you'll cut calories by 22%. So, according to the Small Plate Movement, if your normal dinner on a 12-inch plate is around 800 calories, switch to a 10-inch plate and you'll lose 18 pounds in a year.

One thing the Small Plate Movement doesn't address is what to load your plate with. It's a safe bet that a 10-inch plate full of fettuccine Alfredo isn't what the dietitian ordered. Many dietitians, however, do teach the "plate method" of portion control: Fill half your plate with veggies, a quarter with meat or another protein, and the last quarter with starchy foods like pasta.

Easy, makes sense, effective—I'm in! If you decide your diet strategy lies in new dinnerware, don't be tempted to pull out miniscule salad or dessert plates—Wansink's research shows that if you switch to plates that are too small, you'll know that you're skimping yourself, and you'll be tempted to pile big helpings on your plate or go back for seconds and thirds. Folks at the Small Plate Movement suggest a 10-inch plate. My usual dinner plates are 10.5 inches, so I'm switching to a 9-inch plate, which I think will be big enough to keep me from feeling deprived. Another tip: No square meals. A 10-inch square plate has about 21 square inches more surface area than a 10-inch round plate. If none of the plates in your kitchen measure up, I've scouted out a few suggestions in this slideshow.

How are your resolutions going? Are you switching plates? Changing what and how (or maybe even when and where) you eat? Taking on a different challenge to help you live healthier? I'd love to hear your about your weight and diet resolutions, whatever they may be, and your strategies to keep them.