02/12/2012 10:55 pm ET

Offering 'Downsized' Portions Could Get People To Cut Calories: Study

If you're the sort of person who finishes every bit of food on your plate, even when you're aware that you're eating too much, then this is an idea you might get behind.

A new study in the journal Health Affairs shows that when given the option, some people are actually willing to "downsize" their fast food side dish portions -- even when they have to pay the same amount as the full-size portion.

"Culturally, Americans do not respond to the cue of 'feeling full,'" Schwartz told ABC News. "The cue to stop eating is only when the plate is empty."

The study suggests that a person may pick a smaller portion size if they're given the option, especially since they won't have to sacrifice being able to eat what they want to eat, Schwartz told ABC News.

The research was conducted by asking patrons of a Chinese fast food restaurant if they wanted to get half portions of the rice and noodle side dishes. In one study, people were offered a 25-cent discount to get the smaller portions; in two other studies, they weren't offered any discount, HealthDay reported.

"The restaurant thought people wouldn't be willing to do it," study researcher Janet Schwartz, a psychologist and assistant professor of marketing at Tulane University, told MSNBC. "Some people don't want big supersized portions and they're willing to pay a premium for it by paying the same amount for less food."

Particularly, the researchers found that 33 percent of people who were offered the 25-cent discount decided to choose the smaller side portions; 21 percent and 18 percent of people who weren't offered the discount opted for the smaller portions, MSNBC reported.

Plus, people who chose to downsize their orders didn't end up going back to the counter to order more food, so researchers noted that they were actually consuming fewer calories in their restaurant meal than people who wanted full-sized orders, HealthDay reported.

Past research shows evidence that our portion sizes are growing. A study conducted by Rutgers University researchers showed that we as Americans are eating bigger servings of food than we did 20 years ago.

Researchers found this by looking at the portion sizes study participants opted for during a buffet-style meal -- from corn flakes, to milk, to fruit salad -- in 2003, and then comparing that data with 1984 data from a similar experiment, the Associated Press reported.

Independently of the new study, a social initiative called Halfsies has come on the scene that offers restaurant-goers the choice to eat a smaller portion size in order to cut down on food waste and support the fight against hunger.

Through Halfsies, people who eat at participating restaurants (which bear the Halfsies logo) can choose to pay for a full-sized meal, but receive half the portion. Proceeds are then donated to local and international non-profit organizations dedicated to fighting hunger.