We Eat 92 Percent of the Food on Our Plates

Serving size is destiny, a new study finds. 
Neil Conway/Flickr

Consider: You are at a local China Sun buffet, purveyor of wonder, merchant of mu shu. You snap up a plate and eagerly start piling on your favorite food item. It is shrimp lo mein. It is glistening with oil of indeterminate provenance. It is MSG-free.

It is ... overlarge. Even you realize that what you've amassed is far too much for one sitting. You tell yourself you will eat only part of it, thus saving room for the boneless spare ribs or perhaps some chicken in the style of General Tso.

But will you really stop midway through your noodle Everest?

A new study suggests that it might be harder than you imagine. For the paper, published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers examined 14 studies that looked at how much of the food on their plates people actually ate.

It turns out study participants consumed 92 percent, on average, of what was before them. They ate slightly less (81 percent) when the food was unhealthy—possibly because unhealthy food is more calorically dense and thus fills people up faster.

Surprisingly, subjects ate more of the "continuous foods," like cereal or pasta (93 percent) than "unitary" foods, such as carrot sticks (72 percent). And in another counterintuitive finding, people ate more when they were alone and not distracted (97 percent) than when they were watching TV or talking to people (89 percent).

So if you really want to cut calories, try eating a bunch of little pieces of something healthy while watching House of Cards. Or limit yourself to the Sun's "Diet Menu," with its "Bean Curd w. Vegetable." Mmmm.

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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