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Woman Eating Big Candy Bar
Written by August 16, 2012

Gina Cortese-Shipley, MS

Associate Director of Education
The Cooper Institute

Tags
portion
portion control
portion distortion
portion size
serving
serving size
weight loss
One of the Secret Skills to Weight Loss

A picture of chocolate and the word secret—sure got your attention didn’t it? But no it’s not eating chocolate (unfortunately) and maybe what I am about to talk about isn’t that much of a “secret” but please keep reading. A few weeks ago I was out of town on business and a very nice lady who worked in the business office at the hotel where I was staying drove me to the airport for my return trip home. We got to talking about why I was in town and she revealed to me that she had lost over 150 pounds in the past two years! For years her doctor had talked to her about the danger of her weight and about how it was leading to many of the problems/diseases she was experiencing but that never lead her to change her ways. One day he said to her that Thanksgiving was supposed to only be one day a year. When she went home that night she took a look at her dinner plate and the light bulb just went off. So she decided to try to eat just one of the rolls on her plate instead of the two and see how she felt. As she put it, “it didn’t kill me. So the next night I decided to eat just half of the mashed potatoes.” And so her weight loss journey began. At the beginning she didn’t change the way she ate but rather just began eating less of it and sure enough she started to lose weight. The more she lost, the more encouraged she became. She began cutting down her calories even more, then ventured into trying healthier foods and then began exercising. Before she knew it, her life had been transformed.

Portion sizes over the past few decades have grown tremendously.  Heck, my husband and I use his grandmother’s dinner plates that we inherited because the plates we picked out to receive as a wedding gift don’t even fit in our cabinets. Today, typical portions can be as much as 2 to 6 times the recommended serving. Chocolate bars are now anywhere from 1.6 ounces to 8 ounces and the one pictured even larger. When they first came on the market they were only 0.6 ounces! No doubt this has created issues balancing our calories in with our calories out which of course is necessary for weight maintenance and weight loss. Here are some examples of some portions that have changed over the years. See if you can guess the calorie and size difference before scrolling down to see the answer.

A bagel twenty years ago was 3 inches in diameter and was 140 calories. What about the bagels of today?

Answer: 6 inches in diameter and 350 calories. That’s without butter or cream cheese.

Twenty years ago a serving of French fries was 2.4 ounces for 210 total calories. Today?

Answer: Almost triple what it was 20 years ago. 6.9 ounces at 610 calories.

A bottle of regular soda was 6.5 ounces and 85 calories. Now a bottle of soda is….

Answer: 20 ounces at 250 calories.

8 ounces of coffee with whole milk and sugar for a total of 45 calories  was typical compared now to….

Answer: 16 ounces of coffee with steamed whole milk and mocha syrup—350 calories.

And here are some others:

20 years ago:  1 cup of pasta with sauce and 3 small meatballs—500 calories
Now:  2 cups of pasta with sauce and 3 large meatballs—1,025 calories

20 years ago:  1 ½ cup chicken Caesar salad—390 calories
Now:  3 ½ cups chicken Caesar salad—790 calories

20 years ago:  2 cups of chicken stir fry—435 calories
Now:  4 ½ cups of chicken stir fry—865 calories

We have come to expect these larger portions and actually feel “jipped” when we don’t receive them. And of course there is the feeling of not wanting to let something go to waste that causes us to finish everything in sight. Portion control is such an issue that it is one of the main focus’ of the national dietary guidelines.  The message: “enjoy your food but eat less and avoid oversized portions.” Not helping matters is that with this increase in portion size has also been a decrease in activity level. No wonder weight management and weight loss is such a challenge.

Changing your eating habits can be hard and there is a lot to learn about making healthier eating choices. It can be very overwhelming so for help go to ChooseMyPlate.gov. There are several different tools and resources there designed to help in this regard. In the meantime, reducing your portions can have a tremendous impact. Honestly, if you were to focus on just one skill to help you lose weight, I might have to argue that portion control be the one that you choose. That is what a significant difference it can make. Of course making better food choices has benefits to health beyond just aiding in weight loss.

Here are some tips to help you with this skill:

  • Use smaller plates, bowls, cups and serving dishes.
  • Split anything that comes in a box or a bag into smaller baggies and limit yourself to this amount.
  • Read food labels, and compare with the amount you actually eat.
  • Use measuring cups and spoons to help you determine how much you are eating until you can better visualize.
  • Start off with smaller amounts of food on your plate and only go back for seconds if you are truly still hungry.
  • Eat until you are satisfied, not full.
  • When eating out, share an entrée with a friend.
  • Order a lunch portion or appetizer for dinner.
  • Have half of your meal placed in a to-go box ahead of time.
  • What how many calorie filled drinks you consume like soda, imitation fruit juice, sports drinks, and alcoholic beverages.

So you want to have pizza for dinner. Fine, but have two slices instead of three. You are at a wedding and want to celebrate. Great! Have 3 drinks instead of 6 and have half a piece of wedding cake instead of the whole thing. Making these little changes consistently can help you have the success you are looking for. I mean my driver lost the equivalent of a whole person with this skill! I was so thrilled that she had found what worked for her and that she saw that it didn’t have to be that hard; that small changes really did add up to huge results not just on her weight but on all aspects of her life. What an inspiration to us all!

1 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Portion Distortion. http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/ Accessed on August 12, 2012.

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