Think about how small a half cup of ice cream, a standard serving size, looks in a large bowl. When it doesn't look like much, the tendency is to compensate and add more. The more room on your plate, the more food you are likely to eat.
If a smaller plate is not available at your next holiday party, resolve not to fill your plate to overflowing.
Most of us have the tendency to eat whatever amount of food has been offered. Researchers call this "compulsion completion." It means that when you see a portion of food, your mind drives you to finish the entire amount regardless of the size of the portion.
Food portions have increased substantially in the last 20 years. You can see the change yourself by going to http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion and taking the portion distortion quiz. One example given is for cheesecake. The typical piece of cheesecake is now more than twice as big, which translates into 380 extra calories.
Another reason you may eat more is because there are more choices. The challenge to controlling how much you eat during the holiday season is due in part to the variety of special foods that are offered. Variety is a driving force behind how much we eat. If we think there are more options, we are likely to want to taste all of them. Try having just a few different foods on your plate at one time.
At your next holiday gathering, before you start filling up your plate, take a minute to see what your options are. When possible, choose a smaller plate. Cut a holiday treat into a smaller size before serving yourself. And, finally, take note of how many choices there are and resolve to eat only a few.
By the time the New Year arrives, you'll be on your way to making that resolution a reality.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.