Have you ever fallen victim to the “fill it up” mentality when going out to eat?
At a buffet or Thanksgiving dinner, you find yourself filling up your dessert plate with more food than your stomach can digest. One donut would’ve sufficed but the bare white space on your plate said otherwise.
At a self-serve frozen yogurt shop, you fill up your cup to the brim with every yogurt flavor and topping it’s capable of holding. All you wanted was a bit of mango yogurt sprinkled in with bits of Oreo crumbs on the top, but the half-filled cup told you to not hold back.
You then garnish your plate or frozen yogurt with a couple of strawberries to make you feel better about your Mount Everest of excess calories.
Our unhealthy habit of overconsumption is partly due to the idea that humans have an affinity for filling the empty.
Empty space in our room? Put an end table.
Empty space on our end table? Put a picture frame.
Empty space next to the picture frame? Put another picture frame.
Similar to how homeowners feel the need to occupy every empty space in their home with decorations, consumers feel the need to fill up every empty space on their plate with food.
This type of mentality has undoubtedly contributed to our scary rates indicative of poor health, such as:
- The obesity prevalence rate of 42.4% among US adults.
- 1 in 3 (88 million) US adults have pre-diabetes, with up to 84% of them not even knowing they have it.
It’s safe to say that the dinnerware we use plays a role in the accumulation of poor dietary habits.
Luckily, these behaviors aren’t entirely our fault.
By analyzing how portion sizes are marketed to consumers, we can gain insight on how to challenge the status quo of “more=better,” so that we can live a life free from the excess that is robbing us of our joy and health.
Biting Off More Than We Can Chew
“People use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs” — Brian Wansink
Look in your kitchen and I’m sure you’ll find dinner plates large enough to serve two people or bowls that can house up to 3 times more than the recommended serving size of your breakfast cereal.
As someone who grew up eating Reese’s Puffs and Froot Loops for breakfast, I can assure you that nobody restricts themselves to the suggested serving of 1 cup. With the huge bowls found in the average household, you’ll find me and many others — especially kids — munching on double or triple the amount of the serving size of our sugar-filled cereals.
Our dinnerware-induced overconsumption doesn’t stop in our homes either.
Head to an all-you-can-eat buffet, and you’ll find yourself heading back to get seconds and then seconds for your seconds — all with a large dinner plate that buffets tempt you into filling it up with the most random array of foods.
In a study done by nutritional science professor, Brian Wansink, and researcher, Koert van Ittersum, they experimented to analyze the influence dinnerware can have on the consumption of food, and the results weren’t surprising:
“The trouble with these dinnerware-suggested consumption norms is that they vary directly with dinnerware size — Study 2 shows Chinese buffet diners with large plates served 52% more, ate 45% more, and wasted 135% more food than those with smaller plates.”
No matter the size of our plate or cup, we take the empty space as an invitation to decorate it with irrational portions of food our body cannot handle.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with filling up our plates with comfort food every now and then.
It’s when that “every now and then” becomes “every time” — setting us up for a weekly trip to the doctor’s office and pharmacy in our older years if we fail to refrain from the portion distortion created by our dinnerware.
As Wansink said it best:
“People use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs.”
This is where a minimalist approach to food comes into play.
Challenging the Status Quo of Our Portions
“Our hunger isn’t fulfilled by eating more, it’s attained by eating enough.”
Minimalism is a practice to allow us to live a lifestyle free from the burdens of what no longer gives us value. One of those lifestyle changes we ought to rethink is our approach to food, as our dietary habits are a crucial part of turning our ideal lifestyle into a reality.
We need to challenge the status quo that “more equals better.”
Portion distortion has ingrained in our heads that smaller portions equate to less value, but that simply isn’t the case.
When your bank account is starving because your food choices ate up all of its funds, is that better value?
When you need to pay for medication and hospital bills because of poor eating habits, is that better value?
Habitually adding excess to our plates will eventually create an excess of stresses in our health, wallet, and well-being.
By shifting our mindset from “more equals more” to “less is more” on our plate, our health and bank account will thank us in the long run.
Practical Ways to Reduce Overeating
Minimizing the excess from our stomachs can be as simple as swapping out our plates and bowls with reasonably-sized ones.
However, the most sustainable and cost-efficient way would be to educate yourself about optimal nutritional habits and what your body needs. I highly suggest learning about what your daily caloric needs are, and educating yourself about basic nutrition.
When it comes to eating out, it can seem like a daunting task to maintain a minimalist approach to our food consumption. Thankfully, we don’t need to fall victim to the gargantuan portion sizes of a restaurant’s entrees.
At a restaurant, if you can’t finish your meal, don’t be afraid to take it to go. Forcing yourself to gorge it down isn’t going to help.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to order from the appetizer or kids menu. Not only is it typically cheaper, but the portion sizes are a lot more reasonable.
Lastly, don’t feel obligated to eat all of the complimentary breadsticks or chips. I know that they’re easy to binge on, but take those opportunities to practice patience and control, rather than indulgence.
By being served entrees big enough to fulfill two people, the temptation to overeat can be difficult to resist — but your wallet and health will thank you for your strength in saying no.
Stack Your Dollars, Not Your Plates
Although the odds are stacked against us, as consumers continue to stack their plates for another run at the buffet line — we have the power to resist portion distortion from dragging our health into the grave.
If McDonald’s was able to banish Supersized options from their menu, I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to reduce our temptations to super-size our portions according to the plate.
Viewing our approach to food through a minimalist lens will save us hundreds of dollars not only on food but from spending our money on medicine to alleviate the symptoms catalyzed by the poor dietary habits our dinnerware promotes.
Our hunger isn’t fulfilled by eating more, it’s attained by eating enough.