Monthly Health Message:

Small Steps to Losing Weight: Cutting Calories and Portions

January 2011

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Department
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

People are eating more food these days because food is available everywhere: in homes, fast food restaurants, supermarkets, corner stores, vending machines, gas stations and more. We eat without thinking about how much or how often food is available. Sometimes the food eaten even has little taste or eye appeal, but it is consumed anyway, which creates a caloric nightmare.

People eat food for many reasons morning, noon, and at night. Many external cues--the clock, another person eating, and seeing food ads on TV--provide reminders consciously and unconsciously to grab a snack or meal. Unconscious eating prompts many people to ingest more calories than they need.

According to James O. Hill, Ph.D., University of Colorado School of Medicine, an extra 100 to 200 calories a day adds up to 25 lbs of weight gain in a year for the average person. Doing the opposite will help you lose that 25 lbs. per year. Below are some small steps to cut calories without cutting out your favorite foods:

  • Serve meals on small dinner plates that are 9 or 10 inches in diameter. Research from the University of Illinois shows that, the bigger the plate, the more we eat. A smaller plate that is full of food satisfies just as much as a bigger plate that is a filled. The only difference is that the smaller plate, on average, contains 135 fewer calories.
  • Serve meals "blue plate" style which means that the cook puts food on dinner plates from the stove and serves the plate to each individual at the table. Use tablespoons as serving spoons and everyone will put less on their plate. Keeping main serving dishes on the stove or counter means you will eat 20% less than serving food at the table. Putting serving bowls on the table increases the amount that individuals eat at a meal because it provides an option for bigger portions and second helpings.
  • Don't eat snacks when you are not hungry. Research indicates that people will eat stale popcorn, yucky chips, and food with no flavor automatically if the food is available. Put away the candy dishes and food on the kitchen counter or table. Put food away from sight in the pantry or cabinets and you will consume fewer calories, especially around the holidays.
  • Use tall thin glasses for beverages instead of short, squat glasses. Tall glasses hold about 25-29% less so you consume fewer calories. Choose small to medium size glassware to cut beverage calories at meals and for snacks and drink more water rather than sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Re-package snack foods such as cookies, nuts and dried fruit, crackers, chips, and pretzels in small, single serve, plastic snack bags. You will eat 20% less in-between-meals and the small bags will help to keep the snacks at 100-200 calories per bag.
Practice transforming your food environment into one that allows you to make conscious decisions to eat smaller food and beverage portions at meals and for snacks. Eating less means consuming fewer calories which will help you to lose weight and put you on the road to a healthier 2011.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences