MICHAEL MOSLEY unveils: Ways to eat less … and still feel full

From sharing snack bags to oversized dinner plates, it’s all too easy to eat more than we need. In the fifth part of a life-changing series, MICHAEL MOSLEY unveils: Ways to eat less … and still feel full

  • The average plate size today is 8 cm larger than the ones used in the 1940s
  • Dr Michael Mosley says large portions contribute to creeping weight gain 
  • Reveals science-backed tips to prevent weight gain and reduce risk of disease

People often stop me on the street to say that they struggle with their weight and don’t know what they can do about it. When I ask about their eating habits, they tell me they are sipping diet drinks and squirting low-fat mayonnaise on to their salads.

But when we get to the bottom of why they are overweight, a lot of it has to do with portion sizes. From super-sized drinks and snacks to huge takeaways, the portions of food we eat at home and when we’re out have grown massively in recent years. And because so many people are conditioned to finish what is in front of them, to scrape the plate clean, we are eating far more than earlier generations did — and often we don’t even realise it.

The average plate size today is 28.5 cm, which is 8 cm larger than the ones our grandparents used in the 1940s. So when you fill it with pasta, curry or spaghetti bolognese, followed by a bigger bowl of dessert, you can be sure you’re going to be eating more calories than your body really needs.

Dr Michael Mosley reveals science-backed tips and tricks to prevent weight gain and reduce the risk of future disease (file image)

It is all these extra calories consumed in large portions and family-sized snack packs which, day after day, contribute to the creeping weight gain that is putting so many Britons at risk of type 2 diabetes.

In this series, I have been highlighting the sometimes hidden reasons why we are all getting fatter and offering expert, science-backed tips and tricks to stop that expanding trajectory and reduce your risk of future disease.

Tricks to beat the portion distortion   

I suppose I’m lucky that I’ve never been the sort to eat vast quantities of food in one sitting. In fact, for many years I often ate less at meal times than my wife, Dr Clare Bailey.

My downfall was the hundreds of calories I’d consume in snacks between meals. And I’m not alone. A 2013 report by the British Heart Foundation found that the size of many packaged foods has grown hugely over the past few decades.

For instance, the survey revealed that ‘sweetmeal’ biscuits had grown by 17 per cent over the 20 years since 1993, adding a potential 3,300 calories to your diet per year if you nibble on just one biscuit per day.

A typical muffin (the sort you’d buy with your takeaway coffee) has puffed up from 85g to 130g in the same time frame, and contains nearly twice as many calories.

Ready meals were found to be around 45 per cent larger, and although a standard bag of crisps still weighs 25g, a typical ‘family’ pack has grown from 100g to 150g — which is a huge difference if, like me, you can happily polish off the lot while watching TV.

Research is clear that portion sizes can influence how much we eat, with larger portions encouraging us to eat more; instead of stopping when we feel full, most of us are inclined to finish a packet, no matter how large it is.

Studies show people also don’t compensate for a huge lunch with a light evening meal as a way of managing their overall intake.

Dr Michael puts himself on a self-imposed regime of Fast 800 calorie-counted meals, when he feels his waistband starting to strain. Pictured: Dr Michael and Clare Bailey

Honey, I shrank my waistline

Occasionally, over the years, I’ve taken my eye off the healthy-eating ball because I’m engrossed in filming, travelling or because I am up against a deadline. When that happens, my weight will soon start to creep up once more.

From talking to weight-loss experts, it is clear that the best way to prevent long-term weight gain, or weight regain if you have been on a diet, is to monitor yourself closely and act sooner rather than later.

How our meals swelled in size

Pictured: A 1940s meal 

Under rationing in the 1940s, you’d be grateful to see a chicken drumstick on your plate with a selection of vegetables, and you’d be expected to fill up on potatoes. Dessert might be bread and butter pudding (made from leftovers). Total: 694 calories.

But a roast dinner today could feature half a chicken with Yorkshire puddings, stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy, followed by sticky toffee pudding with ice-cream and a glass of wine.

Total: 2,212 calories — more than the recommended daily calorie intake for women.

Pictured: Today’s roast dinner

It doesn’t have to be by standing on the scales. I wear a belt, and whenever I feel my waistband starting to strain, I put myself on a self-imposed regime of Fast 800 calorie-counted meals for a few days to bring things back in line.

You may think that having to continually restrain what you eat means you will be constantly battling with hunger. But if you get the proportions of your meals right, you will eat really well without feeling hungry.

The key to keeping your calorie consumption down, without feeling that you are starving yourself, is ensuring that every mouthful packs a punch.

Each meal needs to score highly on what dietitians call the ‘satiety factor’ — the feeling of fullness after eating, which suppresses the urge to graze between meals.

That means good-quality protein with most meals (a piece of fish, meat or perhaps tofu weighing about 100g or the size of your palm), plus some healthy fats, such as olive oil (both of which keep you feeling fuller for longer), and unlimited quantities of vegetables.

Yes, I do eat carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and potatoes, but they take up a much smaller part of my plate than they used to and they tend to be brown — that is, with fibre. ‘Carbohydrates’ has become a dirty word, but along with fats and proteins, they play an important role in our diet.

The ones you need to minimise or avoid eating are rapidly digestible carbs, such as white bread, cakes and biscuits — the sort that are quickly absorbed by your body and which create an instant spike in blood sugar.

If you have raised blood sugar you can end up feeling constantly hungry, so the more you eat, the more you want. It can be a slippery slope.

Rice and potatoes are fine, but it’s not a good idea to pile your plate high with them. Think of them as a side dish rather than a staple and find alternatives among the wide selection of complex carbohydrates (such as vegetables, legumes and wholegrains), which contain lots of fibre, making them harder for your body to absorb.

If you cut out white carbs, your blood sugar levels should improve and the normal feedback system will re-establish itself, leaving you feeling comfortably full after eating.

Load up on leafy vegetables

When it comes to vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables, the health benefits are so high, and the calories so low, you can throw all caution to the wind and eat as much as you like.

Vegetables, of all sorts, are a great source of fibre, which will help keep you feeling full for longer, and they are packed with health-giving nutrients.

Dr Michael said vegetables are a great source of fibre, which will help keep you feeling full for longer (file image)

At home, we pack our meals with vegetables, plus we tend to have at least one fully vegetarian, meat-free day each week.

We eat like this because we enjoy it. It is also because of numerous studies which have shown that consuming lots of fruit and vegetables can help reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure and boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system.

When researchers from Harvard Medical School analysed dietary data and death rates, they found that, compared with people eating two servings of fruit and veg a day, those eating five portions had a 13 per cent lower risk of death from all causes, including a 12 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), a 10 per cent lower risk of death from cancer, and a 35 per cent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.

Most people don’t come close to the recommended five-a-day in this country. The latest health survey information from NHS Digital shows that in 2018, only 28 per cent of adults said they were eating five portions daily.

The average was 3.7 portions. And even those figures are optimistic, since people tend to overestimate their consumption of healthy foods and underestimate the portion sizes of the stuff they know is unhealthy. But if you do increase your vegetable intake, your waistline — and your health — will thank you.

Studies show we are less likely to get up and help ourselves to more, but very likely to pile in if there are extra roast potatoes in a bowl right in front of us (file image)

And let’s face it, when your plate is piled high with greens or salad, there’s less room for unhealthy foods. Hopefully, you’ll be so full you’ll feel less inclined to reach for a biscuit afterwards. So it helps you control your weight, too.

Now Put it into practice

  • Serve your food and leave any extra on the kitchen side, not on the table. Studies show we are less likely to get up and help ourselves to more, but very likely to pile in if there are extra roast potatoes in a bowl right in front of us.
  • Eat slowly. It takes time for food to travel from your gut to your small intestine, where receptors tell the brain, ‘I’m full.’ If you wolf down food you will eat more.
  • Sit at the table to eat, with no TV, no books, no distractions. This will allow you to enjoy your food mindfully, and you’ll be less likely to eat more than you need.
  • Shrink your plate size. Use medium-sized dessert plates for everyday meals and save your big dinner plates for special occasions. The same applies to wine glasses. Studies have shown that if you serve alcohol in big glasses, you drink more — a trick restaurant owners are all too aware of.
  • Eat less as you get older. Your calorie requirements reduce with age as your metabolism slows and your muscle mass shrinks, so get used to putting less on your plate. If you’re losing weight to try to reverse your type 2 diabetes (good for you!) be aware that your smaller body means you will be burning fewer calories than before, and you can’t go back to the feasts you may have once enjoyed without risking gaining weight again.

There are plenty of healthy recipes, like those above, in the Fast 800 Recipe Book by Dr Clare Bailey.

Delicious dinners 

Salmon salad bowl 

This salmon salad bowl is best as a delicious lunch or supper

PER SERVING 542 calories

PROTEIN 33g FAT 35.5g



  • 25g wholegrain brown rice, or brown and wild rice mix
  • 75g frozen edamame beans or frozen peas
  • 2 x 120g salmon fillets
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • Pinch crushed dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • 2 large handful spinach leaves or mixed baby salad leaves
  • ½ medium avocado, stoned, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, trimmed and coarsely grated
  • 2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
  • 4 radishes, trimmed and sliced
  • Lime wedges, to serve

For the soy and lime dressing

  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp runny honey

1 Preheat the oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 6 and line a small baking tray with foil.

2 Half fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the rice and cook for 20 minutes, or until tender. Add the edamame beans or peas and return to the boil, stirring. Drain immediately.

3 For the dressing, combine the ingredients and whisk well.

4 Place the salmon, skin-side down, on the prepared tray and drizzle with 2 tsp of the dressing. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and chilli flakes, if using. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just cooked. (It is ready when the salmon easily flakes into pieces.)

5 Divide the rice and beans or peas between two bowls. Add the leaves and arrange the avocado, carrot, spring onions and radishes alongside. Flake the salmon into the bowls (leaving behind the skin), drizzle with the rest of the dressing and serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

Serve the salad warm as a delicious lunch or supper, or take it to work for a nutritious and filling packed lunch. 

This chocolate mug cake is best served with a handful of fresh raspberries 

Chocolate mug cake

PER SERVING 216 calories




  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 soft pitted dates (around 30g), finely chopped
  • 1 medium egg, beaten well
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 7g cocoa powder (around 1 tbsp)
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 square (around 5g) plain dark chocolate (around 85 per cent cocoa solids)
  • A handful fresh raspberries, to serve
  • You will need a microwave-proof mug (to hold around 300ml)

Try this for instant, gooey-centred chocolate indulgence.

1 Place the coconut oil in the mug and melt in the microwave on high for a few seconds. Do not allow to overheat.

2 Add the dates, egg, almonds, cocoa powder, baking powder and a small pinch of flaked sea salt to the mug and, using a fork, mix the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Add an extra 1-2 tsps water to loosen the mixture, if needed.

3 Press the square of chocolate vertically into the top of the cake batter until submerged and microwave on high for about 1 minute, or until the cake is risen, firm and beginning to shrink from the sides of the mug.

4 Holding the hot mug carefully, turn the cake out on to a plate and cut in half to reveal the melted chocolate. Divide between two plates and serve each half with a handful of fresh raspberries. 

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