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Which is More Effective for Weight Loss: Trying to Eat Less or Trying to Eat Better?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Mindful eating controls calorie intake

According to a news release from Penn State, when it comes to portion control a new study shows that choosing healthier foods for your plate is more effective than choosing to limit your eating to smaller portions.


This finding came to light after researchers discovered that in spite of test subjects receiving training on how to implement different strategies toward portion control to control how much food they eat at each meal, these same individuals were found to eat increasingly more as their plates were gradually increased with larger portions.

However, although they ate more, they also consumed fewer calories than control subjects who were not provided with the training, but with the same meals. Why? Because the portion control training made the test subjects more mindful of what they ate over how much they should eat.

"The results show that choosing healthy, lower-calorie-dense foods was more effective and more sustainable than just trying to resist large portions of higher calorie options," said Faris Zuraikat, graduate student. "If you choose high-calorie-dense foods but restrict the amount that you're eating, portions will be too small, and you're likely to get hungry."

In the study, 2 groups of women consisting of one group being overweight and the other group being normal weight were compared against a third group--that received training for one year involving portion control strategies--to determine how each group would respond when provided with meals that increased in portion size. The meals provided contained both calorie-heavy and calorie-light dishes. Calorie intake was determined by analyzing how much was eaten after each of the meals.

What the researchers found was that, when the portion size increased by 75 percent, the average amount of food eaten increased by 27 percent in all 3 groups. However, what differed is that the portion size trained group actually consumed fewer calories in spite of eating more.

"All the groups were served the same meals, but their food choices differed. The participants who went through the training consumed more of the lower calorie-dense foods and less of the higher calorie-dense foods than the untrained controls," Zuraikat said. "Consequently, trained participants' calorie intake was less than that of the control groups, whose intake didn't differ by weight status."

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The researchers state that their study's results add to the support that portion size does work, but that reducing the energy density of meals is an effective way to keep calorie counts down when large portions are provided and individuals are inclined to consume more than they would have with a smaller plate of food.

"The study supports the idea that eating less of the higher-calorie-dense foods and more of the nutritious, lower-calorie-dense foods can help to manage hunger while consuming fewer calories," said Barbara Rolls, professor and the Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State. "You still have a full plate, but you're changing the proportions of the different types of foods."

The study is published in the April 2018 issue of Appetite.

For a related article about making changes to your eating habits, here are 5 Steps for Achieving a Sustainable Change in Your Diet.


Penn State News "Learning to make healthy choices can counter the effects of large portions" Jan. 25, 2018

"Comparing the portion size effect in women with and without extended training in portion control: A follow-up to the Portion-Control Strategies Trial" Appetite, 2018; 123: 334; Faris M. Zuraikat, Liane S. Roe, Christine E. Sanchez, Barbara J. Rolls.

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