Remember the phrase, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach?” Well, new research from scientists at the University of Bristol puts an interesting twist on that saying. In the study, researchers showed volunteers either a small or large portion of soup just before lunch, then altered the quantity of soup the diners actually received, using a pump that secretly refilled or emptied the bowls.

Immediately after the meal, the soup slurpers’ self-reported hunger levels paralleled the amounts they had actually consumed, rather than the amounts they were shown. However, two to three hours later, those who had previewed a larger portion reported feeling significantly less hungry. And a full day later, more of the subjects shown the bigger quantity believed that their soup serving was enough to satisfy their hunger.

I love this study, because I’ve often seen, for both myself and my clients, that larger portions tend to trigger greater satisfaction. And the good news is, you can fill up without filing out.

It’s actually a myth that bigger portions always mean more calories - it just depends on what you’re eating. Within each food group, the portion that corresponds to one serving can vary widely. For example, three cups of popped popcorn, about the size of three baseballs, counts as a serving of whole grain, the equivalent to one slice of 100% whole grain bread (size of a DVD), ¼ cup of uncooked oats (about a golf ball), or ½ cup of cooked quinoa (half a tennis ball). Sometimes when I’m craving volume, I’ll leave the whole grain out of a recipe, then leisurely munch on organic popcorn after the meal, one flake (the technical term for a popped kernel) at a time.

If your eyes tend to rule your belly, use these savvy strategies to create large, healthy meals, that won’t result in nutritional overkill:

Rely on raw veggies. I built two veggie servings into each S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim lunch and dinner meal. One serving of raw veggies is a full cup, so two servings can be used to create generously sized salads or stir fry meals.

Choose fresh fruit. To offset smaller portions of foods like bread or nuts, add fresh fruit to pump up your meal portion, like this Berry Almond French Toast or Open Faced Pesto Egg Sandwich. Because fresh fruit is filled with water, an ideal serving is about three times larger than that of dried fruit or juice.   

Use popcorn and “fluffy” whole grains rather than compact options. Even with its small portions of dried fruit and cheese, this Cranberry Parmesan Herbed Popcorn is a substantial snack. A cooked, chilled and fluffed serving of wild rice or quinoa can also bulk up a garden salad. And an ideal portion of a puffed whole grain cereal is about three times bigger than a serving of dry oats.

Opt for beans or lentils as your lean protein. In addition to being hearty and loaded with fiber, beans add the illusion of volume to any meal, like this Mediterranean Lentils Over Couscous dish or California Sunshine Salad snack. This may be one reason why regular bean eaters have a 22% lower risk of obesity.

Think solid over liquid plant-based fats. In S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim, one tablespoon of oil, or one quarter of a ripe avocado are a few of the plant-based fat options in the "5 piece puzzle" meal building strategy. Choosing the avocado creates more bulk in a meal, and allows you to enjoy a sizeable dollop of guacamole on your lunchtime tacos.

With few simple swaps, you can eat larger portions (without consuming extra servings), to create meals that are substantial enough to feel indulgent, but are secretly sensible! What’s your take on this topic? Have you struggled to eat enough to feel satiated without going overboard? Please tweet your thoughts @CynthiaSass

Subscibe to Cynthia's Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with Cynthia's latest news and events.