If you have ever tried to diet before, you know just how difficult it can be to maintain. Between calorie counting, nutrition benefits, and dietary fads, trying to keep track of all the relevant factors can be a full time job. Now, Cornell University reports in “The Perils of Large Plates: Waist, Waste, and Wallet,” that research shows an additional factor affects how much we eat: plate size. Effectively, the size of the plate we use acts as an optical illusion, misleading us as to how much we are truly eating. The effect is deceptively simple: basically, we estimate how much we are eating based on how much of the plate is covered. If a medium-sized portion is served on a small plate, it will fill the plate and so we will estimate that we are eating a lot. However, if the same portion size is served on a large plate, it will leave considerable empty space on the plate, leading us to believe that we are not eating much.

The cumulative effects of this simple fact are obvious: if we consistently use large plates, we will end up consuming more without even realizing it. Even more insidious, we will feel unsatisfied in consuming a smaller portion if we are still using large plates – making dieting even more difficult. With facts like these aiding in comprehending how and why we eat as much as we do, it is even more important to understand and counteract the factors controlling our dietary habits – whether we are trying to lose weight or not.