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Archive for November, 2012


Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post. You can also read it here:   7 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving.

With Thanksgiving the start of the holiday season, temptations are all around us, and making healthy and smart food choices can be challenging. However, if you practice portion control along with following some other simple healthy tips, you can enjoy your favorite foods without gaining a pound.

According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving day. And that is without breakfast or late-night eating. That number seemed high to Tara Parker Pope from the New York Times, so she conducted her own test. According to her analysis, the average Thanksgiving meal is closer to 2,500 calories.

Regardless of the exact number of calories we consume on the holiday, we probably eat much too much. But we do not have to overeat if we pay attention.

Here are seven tips that I have successfully used with clients for a healthy Thanksgiving.

1. Watch your portion sizes. Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Enjoy your favorite holiday treat but take a small portion.

Here a few visuals from my book The Portion Teller Plan to help you eyeball a proper serving so that you don’t overdo it this holiday. If you can stick to these portions, you don’t need to worry about calories. You will not be overdoing it.

• A deck of cards’ worth of turkey is around 3 ounces.
• A golf ball size of gravy is about ¼ cup.
• A golf ball size of cranberry sauce is about ¼ cup.
• A ½ baseball worth of stuffing is around ½ cup.
• A ½ baseball worth of sweet potato is around ½ cup.
• A shot glass worth of salad dressing is around 2 tablespoons.
• It’s okay to enjoy an unlimited portion of nonstarchy vegetables.
• Drink lots of water, too!

2. Think maintenance. Don’t try to diet during the holidays. Try to maintain your current weight. At the very least, now is not a time to begin a diet.

3. Eat before you eat. Enjoy a healthy snack — yogurt, fruit, veggie soup, salad — before a party.

4. Be mindful and make only one trip to the buffet table. Look at all your options before making your final food choices; make sure all the calories you consume are worth it. Choose only the foods you really want and keep your portions moderate.

5. Eat slowly and chew your food well.

6. Exercise. Stick to your exercise routine. If your gym is closed, enjoy a brisk walk with family and friends.

7. Ladies, wear tight-fitting clothes. Men, be sure to keep your belt buckle snug. This will help prevent you from overeating.

Most of all, enjoy family and friends. Have a healthy holiday!

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Growing portion sizes in the US: time for action

Below is my latest post for Huffington Post. I highlight key points from my latest academic paper on growing portion sizes.

The prevalence of overweight has increased in adults and children and shows no signs of decreasing. As I have previously written, large portions of unhealthy high caloric foods have indeed contributed to this problem.

In my latest paper, “Reducing Portion Sizes to Prevent Obesity: A Call to Action,” just published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine with my NYU colleague Marion Nestle, we discuss recent portion-size trends and offer several suggestions to address the problem with ever expanding food portions.

Here are some key points:

Portion sizes have continued to increase through the first decade of the 21st century. Top fast-food and restaurant chains continue to introduce new large-size portions. Food companies are introducing bigger burgers, burritos, pizzas, and sandwiches. Some of these single-serving items (meaning, they are marketed for one person) contain more than 1,000 calories. For example, Wendy’s Baconator Triple burger contains approximately 1,300 calories and Burger King Triple Whopper contains 1,140 calories.

As we illustrate in our paper, the trend toward larger portions coincides with the availability of calories in the U.S. food supply and the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity.

The food industry has not responded to pleas from public health officials to reduce portions, and most Americans have become conditioned and have come to expect larger portions. So what can we do about this continued trend toward larger portions?

We offer several approaches:

1. Education and Public Health Campaigns
Health professional should continue to advise patients on portion control and healthy eating.

2. Consistent Serving Sizes
The FDA sets standards for food labels and the USDA sets standards for dietary guidance and education. These standards are smaller than typical portions, differ from one another and may be creating more confusion. One uniform system is needed to better advise the public on the relationship between portion size, calories and weight gain.

3. Price Incentives for Small Portions
The food environment must support healthier food choices and encourage consumers to want to buy the smaller size. One way to do that would be to offer price breaks for smaller-size portions. Our current price structure encourages us to supersize. We can often get twice as much food or drink for just a few cents. We need to reverse this trend
by making the smaller size financially appealing.

4. Portion Size Limits in Food-Service Establishments
Policy approaches to limit marketplace portions should be considered. A recent policy conceived by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, and recently approved by the Board of Health to cap the sizes of sugary drinks to 16 ounces, will be implemented in March 2013. I have been an active advocate of this policy, have previously written for Huffington Post about it, and do hope other public health departments follow in New York City’s footsteps.

In your own life, I urge you to consider such portion size strategies. Whether it be ordering a small instead of a large size, sharing a restaurant entrée, advising others to eat less, or getting active in a health and portion campaign, small steps in encouraging our food environment to support healthier food choices can ultimately result in reversing our obesity epidemic.

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Portion Size Me

Portion Size Me is a book that came out earlier this year and was
written by Marshall Reid, a 12 year old and his mom Alexandra.  The book
captures the journey and lifestyle of  the Reids.  The family
transformed their lives by watching food portions and by modifying
their daily food choices.

As a portion size advocate and a nutritionist recommending small
lifestyle changes as a way to get healthy, this book gets thumbs up! It is very inspirational to help other overweight children and families make simple changes and help reverse the trend to curb childhood obesity.

Marshall and his family have learned to make small changes to diet and
to swap unhealthy foods for healthier ones.

As I have been saying for years, getting—and staying–healthy does not
mean giving up all our favorite foods!

For some of their ideas and recipes, visit their website:

Congratulations Marshall! Well done.

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A “Better” Deal

The post below is guest post by nutritionist, author, and columnist Timi Gustafon, RD

A Better Deal

By Timi Gustafon, RD

I used to have a lot of memberships. Price Club, Costco, Sam’s Club, you name it. Living in the suburbs more than 20 miles away from the next major city, it made sense to buy in bulk and save money. As a family with growing teenagers (and many of their friends as regular house guests) plus three big dogs, we went through mountains of supplies in no time. So there seemed nothing wrong with stockpiling everything from toiletries to hardware goods to frozen foods to snacks. Making fewer shopping trips also helped to keep gas expenses down.

Of course, there were added costs for storage, especially for perishable items that needed refrigeration. A larger fridge and an additional freezer in the garage left their mark on the electricity bill, but still, we thought it was worth it.

What began to concern me more, especially as the kids went off to college and our needs for provisions lessened, was that our shopping habits had become so ingrained that we still tried for the “best deals,” even if it meant overstocking on items we didn’t really need, at least not right away and in such large quantities. Fortunately, we were not “hoarders” by nature and made soon the necessary adjustments. But it became clear to me how seductive the whole concept of “the more you buy, the more you save” really is.

The ability to buy in bulk, as smart as it may be as a strategy for some people and in certain situations, has been shown as a leading contributor to overconsumption that is now all too common in our society. “Overconsumption is as American as apple pie,” says a consumer report by Investopedia, a finance and investment advisory group, calling it a source of many negative financial and health consequences.

The report warns:

“More pressing than the financial problem is what increased consumption does to you and your family’s health. While using extra shampoo doesn’t exactly harm the environment in a way that is immediately noticeable, consuming more mayonnaise, peanut butter, cereal, frozen meals and other popular items available at the bulk stores will almost certainly affect your health in a way that you will be able to see in a full-length mirror.”

Dr. Lisa Young, a professor of nutrition at New York University and author of The Portion Teller, agrees with that assessment. Psychologically, she says, wholesale clubs like Costco compel members to buy more to recoup their membership fees and for the obvious reason of saving money in the long run. It encourages increase in consumption, which may be harmless with items like toilet paper but not a good idea when it comes to food. “The more you buy, the more you eat,” she says.

Some would argue that this shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion. Why would having a well-stocked refrigerator or pantry make us overeat, just because the food is there? Because it is much harder to judge our consumption volume than our food choices, says Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating — Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam Books 2006). In other words, even if we have the best intentions to eat more healthily, whether we get the servings right is still another matter.

Our consumption volume — how much food we actually eat — depends on many factors other than the need to still our hunger, Wansink argues. Package size, plate shape and a variety of other outside influences like lighting, sounds, social settings and many more environmental components play a significant role in our eating behavior, many of which affect us on a subconscious level.

Package and portion sizes especially can have a considerable impact. Container sizes can influence our consumption of snack foods like chips and popcorn or inedible products like shampoo and detergent. Stockpiled items are typically used up much faster than those in smaller supply. It’s just how we relate to the things we have at our disposal.

Can we counteract these trends that seem to be all too human? Sure we can, says Dr. Wansink. What’s important is to alter the environment in which detrimental behavior can take place. For some, this can mean to stay away from bulk purchases altogether. For others, solutions can be as simple as repackaging bulk food into single serving containers or plating more modest amounts. As people become increasingly aware of their existing tendencies, they can find ways to work around them until new (and better) habits form.

BIO for Timi: Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist,
blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and
Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with
Timi Gustafson R.D.” (, and at
You can follow Timi on Twitter ( and on
Facebook (

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