How to End “Clean Your Plate” Mentality

Last month, we addressed the “why” of eating. An interesting topic to explore! A recent study from Cornell University prompted my curiosity on something similar to this: the “how” we eat.

This Cornell study analyzed how much of what we put on our plates gets eaten. The findings may surprise you!

I’ll tell you more, but before we discuss this study, I want to explore this word: how. How do you eat a meal? What are you doing before, during and after you eat? How fast or slow do you eat?

Let’s take a look at an example of when ‘how’ we eat can backfire:

Have you ever reached the Thanksgiving dinner table and felt like your eyes were bigger than your stomach? Plated a little of everything, regardless of the total amount of food you ended up with. Then ate. -Perhaps aware you were eating beyond the point of feeling full. Perhaps it happened so quickly that you weren’t-  A short while later you sat down, slouched and loosened the belt a few notches, and thought “Wow, I ate too much”.

A few things may be relevant in the example above: being really hungry going into the meal, eating quickly, eating the starches then the proteins and veggies, etc.

If you relate to the example above, (duh! It’s Thanksgiving..), then you’re certainly not alone. That Cornell study I was referring to? Found that people ate on average 92% of the food they dished up for themselves.

92% is a great test score! But not a great indicator that we, on the whole, are mindful of knowing when we are getting full and saying no to eating food just because it is there.

So if you’re relating to what I’m saying, but thinking what do I do about it? Here are a few tips and tricks to get you on the road to breaking this bad habit:

1. Use a smaller plate (or start with less).  This may seem silly, but how effective it can be! 92% of a 6 inch plate, or even a 9 inch plate can be a lot less food than 92% of a 12 inch plate! Whatever your size, consider downgrading slightly. If for no other reason than to have a stopping point where you can check in with, “am I still hungry? Am I full?” before filling the plate again. At a restaurant: ask for half in a to-go box right away, split an entree with a friend or dish half onto a separate plate (before you take your first bite) and push the other half aside.

2. Fill your plate with purpose. Go heavy with veggies, they’re really low in calories and quite filling (plus great in nutritional value!) Go cautious with carbs and high-fat foods. If you can’t break the habit of plate-cleaning, you can still reduce your calories by changing how you plate it in the first place. This can be highly effective and still satisfying for that craving to just eat a lot, and most of what you are given.

3. Destroy your food.  OK, you don’t have to literally destroy your food but if you make it look a lot less appetizing, it can be a lot easier to stop eating when you know you’re physically full but still craving.  Example: pouring water on fries at a restaurant, or putting hot sauce on the rest of the dessert. Anything that makes the food look gross will make it easier to say no to!

There are many strategies you can use with being more mindful of “how” you eat as it relates to your portions. Experiment, and stick with what helps you. Plate cleaning is a hard habit to break, but a worthwhile one on the road to balanced and mindful eating!

More information on the study:

Like that? Try this.

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