Right-Size Your Plate and Your Waistline

Eating HamburgerBy Lisa Young, PhD, RD, CDN

Practicing portion control is one of the most difficult tasks facing anyone who eats out or just eats these days. Look around – everything is supersized. And not just fast food. Bagels, muffins, steaks, even frozen dinners have grown in size. And, of course, we know about the big sodas. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has proposed restricting the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in many eateries, and the New York Board of Health is set to vote on the proposal in just over a week.

I tracked the history of food portion increases over the 20th century and found that portions are much, much bigger than they were in the past – 2 to 5 times bigger, to be exact. And so are the people! No surprise.

Portion Control Tips That Work

As I wrote in my book, “The Portion Teller Plan,” as well as in numerous articles, large portions contribute to weight gain because they contain more calories than small portions. As simple as it sounds, so many clients that I counsel don’t seem to apply this logic to the equation. We know that if a 64-oz. mega jug of soda is eight times bigger than a standard 100 calorie, 8-oz soda, it should contain 8 times more calories. (Yes, it contains 800 calories.) Simple math? Yes. But if we drink it, we think how can a soda possibly have so many calories?

Our plates have increased in size and so have mugs, glasses and wine goblets. Our kitchen cabinets and dishwashers are now large enough to accommodate our satellite-sized plates. The car seats for our kids, who are now pudgier than ever, are also larger. Even caskets have become supersized!

Many of us don’t understand what a healthy portion size is – and for good reason. A pasta portion in a restaurant is easily three cups. Steaks are at least a pound. That is much too much food. The problem is that we’ve gotten used to these jumbo portion sizes, and we think that a “portion” is whatever is put in front of us. Getting used to normal-sized servings is not an easy task. Here are some tips:

Practice plate control
For starters, try eating off plates your grandmother used. Next, change your expectations. Restaurants are in the business of selling food, and lots of it. Shift our perspective on what a reasonable amount of food is. If you use smaller plates, you will automatically begin scaling back on your portions.

Fill up on fruits and veggies
Scale back on meat and potato portions and increase your intake of veggies. An easy way is to fill half your plate with veggies, one quarter with protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu) and one quarter with healthy starch (brown rice, quinoa, barley).

Limit liquid calories
You are better off eating and chewing your calories than drinking them. Somehow, when we drink our calories, we do not feel full and the calories we just guzzled down do not seem to register. So we want more. Eat an orange instead of drinking the juice. And steer clear of empty soda calories. Choose seltzer or water instead.

Buy single-servings
Avoid jumbo bags of chips, cookies and nuts sold at price warehouse clubs such as Costco. We all love a good bargain, but beware when it comes to buying food. While you may want to stock up on toilet paper or paper towels, when it comes to food, buy smaller amounts. Single-serve bags of chips will help you practice portion control while snacking.

Order small
In many cases you have a choice between a small, medium or large size. Order the small version whenever possible. And don’t be fooled by the label. Even a drink labeled small can be big.

Avoid your triggers
If you can’t stop at one serving of chips, don’t even start. Choose a treat you can control.

Don’t eat out of the bag
Read the food label. Serve yourself one portion and put the rest away. Practice this for chips, nuts, pretzels and other treats.

Don’t be fooled by health halos
Just because a food is labeled organic or trans fat free doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Calories are still calories.

Skip all-you-can-eat buffets
They may be a bargain for your pocketbook but not for your health. If you must visit a buffet, do a full lap around the buffet before choosing your selection (and wear tight fitting clothes – you’ll probably eat less).

Share, share and share
Restaurant portions are huge. Order one main dish and an extra veggie dish or salad and share both with one other person. Order one dessert for two or three people and you will still feel satisfied.

Eat like a Parisian
Eat slowly, savor your food, and enjoy your company. Enjoy! Bon appétit!

Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, CDN is a nationally recognized nutritionist in New York City and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University (NYU). She is the author of “The Portion Teller Plan,” (Broadway, a Division of Random House, Inc.)

Widely considered an expert on portion sizes, Dr. Young is regularly featured in national publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Self, Fitness, Redbook and Glamour. She has been featured on national television including ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, TODAY and CNN, and was in the film “Super Size Me.” For more information, please visit http://www.portionteller.com

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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