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Posts Tagged ‘ portion distortion ’

Size Matters! Simple Strategies to Overcome Portion Distortion

Below is my post for Huffington Post, Size Matters! 10 simple strategies to overcome portion distortion.

You can also read it HERE.

I’ve been convinced for years that oversize food portions are one of the leading contributors to obesity.

When results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a federal survey assessing the health of Americans, were released back in the mid-1990s with the scary statistic that the average American adult gained 8 pounds, I immediately suspected that it was due, at least in part, to growing food portions. However, back then, virtually no one was talking about portion sizes, at least as it related to obesity.

So I decided to conduct my doctoral dissertation exploring U.S. portion sizes and trace the history of food portions. Indeed, my research found that American food portions began to explode in the 1980s continuing through the 1990s and into the present. This increase in portion sizes parallels rising obesity rates, and is a perfectly logical explanation to explain rising obesity rates in the U.S.

Now, 20 years later, a comprehensive report from researchers at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU), University of Cambridge, analyzed results of over 60 studies involving more than 6,700 participants and found that larger portions and oversize tableware contribute to overeating. The study, published on Sept. 14, 2015, in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that people consumed more food and drink when given bigger portions, plates, or silverware. And they ate more food regardless of if they were thin or overweight, male or female, hungry or not hungry.

We know that eating too much can lead to obesity, which increases our risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

As a long-time portion size researcher and educator, I believe that if we can make changes to our environment to reduce the availability and appeal of large portions and practice portion-control strategies on an individual level, we can make great strides to reduce obesity.

The University of Cambridge researchers concluded that efforts to reduce portion sizes could reduce caloric intake by up to 29 percent and (527 calories a day) among U.S. adults and up to 16 percent among U.K. adults. That is pretty significant and can make a huge difference in helping us all slim down!

As written in the University of Cambridge news release: “Our findings highlight the important role of environmental influences on food consumption. Helping people to avoid ‘overserving’ themselves or others with larger portions of food or drink by reducing their size, availability and appeal in shops, restaurants and in the home, is likely to be a good way of helping lots of people to reduce their risk of overeating,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Gareth Hollands, a behavior and health researcher at the University of Cambridge.

“There has also been a tendency to portray personal characteristics like being overweight or a lack of self-control as the main reason people overeat,” Dr. Hollands added.

The study suggests that legislation, price incentives, and marketing strategies may be needed to help bring about significant reductions in our food portions. As I wrotehere, I couldn’t agree more.

In the meantime, here are some simple things you can do to combat portion distortion.

1. Purchase single-serving portions.

2. Eat off of your grandmother’s dishes. They are sure to be smaller than your current plates.

3. Use smaller glasses and utensils too.

4. Avoid serving food family-style. Plate out your portion in the kitchen. If you are still hungry, you can get up for more.

5. Fill up half of your plate with nutritious fruits and vegetables. No one got fat eating too many carrots or berries.

6. When eating out, share an entrée with your dinner companion. Order an extra salad or vegetable side dish.

7. Wrap up leftovers. They make a great accessory.

8. Steer clear of all-you-can eat meals and deals. Resist the bargain. And remember, volume does not mean value!

9. Eat mindfully–sitting down, without distractions such as watching TV and talking on the phone. And do not straight out of the container.

10. And, finally, wherever you are, eat slowly and enjoy your company.

For more strategies to avoid oversize portions, I offer tips here and here.

We would love to hear your tricks on how to overcome oversize portions.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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5 easy tricks to avoid portion distortion

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “5 easy tricks to avoid portion distortion.”

You can also read it HERE.

The portion sizes of foods we commonly consume are too big. Look around and just about everything is available in jumbo sizes. Soft drinks, French fries, coffee drinks, steaks, burgers, bagels and muffins have all grown in size. Indeed, many food portions are now two to five times larger than they were 50 years ago. I discuss this phenomenon known as “portion distortion” in great detail in my book The Portion Teller Plan and my research papers.

Why are large portion sizes such a problem? Large portions are particularly problematic because the more we are served, the more we eat. Eating more translates into more calories, and ultimately, many of us, gain weight. And lots of it. It is no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic in the U.S. and around the world.

An extensive review from Bond University found that we eat more if we are served more. The researchers reviewed 88 existing studies on the topic. They found that when people are given a portion twice as big, they will eat around a third more food. that is pretty significant and can translate into many more calories in the course of a day, a week, and a year.

Steven Holden, one of the Bond University authors, wrote on his blog, …”In addition to being substantial, the effect is robust, even pernicious. Larger portions lead to greater consumption even across conditions of bad food, where the portion size is not visible, and among people who should know better.”

So, the next time we go out to eat, or even eat at home, how can we not fall victim to this portion size trap?

Here are five easy tricks.

1. Choose the smallest size available.

These days, many foods come in multiple sizes. The small size is your best option, and is probably not even small. Consider the smallest Starbuck’s cappuccino. It is 12 ounces and labeled “tall.” It is not even called “small” ( a word often considered taboo in our oversized food culture.). Next time you have a choice on a size, order a “small” or whatever the small size may be called.

2. Steer clear of bulk sizes, at least when it comes to food.

Many of us like shopping in Costco and other warehouse stores where just about everything comes in bulk and in jumbo sizes. Bigger sizes cost less per unit (or per ounce so) they are appealing. However, try avoid them when you can. As it is often hard to resist eating a reasonable size portion. If you want to buy tissues and paper towels in bulk, no problem. But limit the cookies that come 50 to a box, or muffins that are jumbo sized and come in an eight-pack. Your waistline will be happier.

3. Mind your plate size.

The bigger the plate, the more we tend to pile on and eat. And plate sizes have increased right along with our food sizes and waistlines. Here is how you can use plate size to your advantage. Eat your salad (dressing on the side, of course) off of a larger dinner plate, and use a smaller plate for your entree. This can encourage you to eat more of a lower-calorie healthy salad and a smaller portion of your main dish, which so often consists of meat and mashed potatoes. Similarly, try using a larger bowl for your fresh berries and a smaller bowl for your breakfast cereal which most of us usually tend to over pour.

4. Eat with your stomach, not your eyes.

You know the expression, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? It certainly applies to how so many of us deal with our portion sizes. We pile on the food, taking more than we need, and then we are… stuffed. I suggest tuning in to your internal bodily signals and eat till you are satisfied. Wait before taking doubles or feeling the urge to finish what is on your plate. Eat slowly and put your fork down between bites.

5. Fill up on fruits and veggies.

Focus on including more healthy fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Because fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories, you can have a larger portion, and the fiber will make you feel full. This may make it easier to resist the urge to overeat on processed foods and unhealthy desserts. Try including a fruit or vegetable serving with each meal and snack.

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Federal serving sizes exceed typical portions: 10 tips to avoid portion distortion

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Federal serving sizes differ from typical portion: 10 tips to avoid portion distortion.

You can also read it HERE.

As a portion-size researcher, I have been tracking trends in growing food portions and how they compare to federal standards. As I have written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and demonstrated in my research papers, food portions have increased considerably over the past 50 years, continue to increase despite public health messages urging us to eat less, and greatly exceed federal standards. In addition to the implications for obesity that larger portions have (big portions contain more calories than small portions and can lead to weight gain), educating consumers on how to relate typical portions to federal standards has become increasingly more difficult.

Now, new research commissioned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) of the U.K. has found that typical portions have changed over the past 20 years and the European guidance on portion sizes is out of date. The U.K. government has recommended that the food industry display per portion values on the front of a package label for calories, fat, sugar and salt. However, according to the new research, the information on the food labels are no longer based on realistic serving sizes.

The researchers write,

The portion size of several products — including single serve packets of crisps, portions of corn flakes and cheddar cheese — are all identical to the information provided twenty years ago…
However, this pattern is not reflected across the products analyzed as a whole, with some showing considerable growth since 1993. In particular, certain bread products and all of the ready meals analyzed showed substantial growth in portion size — as much as 98 percent for one ready meal.

The researchers also note that consumers are confused about portion sizes. Consumers tend to eat bigger portions and overestimate how much they should actually be eating.

As Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the BHF writes “Our research shows there is no meaningful understanding of what is an appropriate portion size. The size of some portions has doubled, while others are so varied between different suppliers and manufacturers that trying to make comparisons is nigh on impossible.”

Like the U.K. researchers found, my research found that U.S. portion sizes differ drastically from federal standards.

For example, while the serving size of pasta on a food label is one cup, most people eat a lot more than that. Indeed, a restaurant portion of pasta is around three cups. And, when making a peanut butter sandwich, how many people actually scoop out the two-tablespoon serving size that the food label suggests?

However, it is a complicated issue.

As I discussed in a thoughtful Q&A with Food Navigator about the portion problem with food labels of packaged foods in the U.S.:

“While unrealistically small serving sizes can make unhealthy products appear in a more favorable light, simply making serving sizes bigger to reflect what people eat is not without it’s own risks.”

As I further explained, “Current serving sizes used for food labels were based on what people reported eating decades ago and we all know that what people say they eat and what they actually eat are two different things, so it makes sense to look at them again. However, if you make the serving sizes too large to reflect what many people are likely to eat, the risk is that people will think the government is telling me I can eat more.”

As summarized in a paper I co-authored with my NYU colleague Marion Nestle, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine “federal standards bear little relationship to typical marketplace portions.”

And complicating the problem in the U.S., 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. As we suggest, “One uniform system is needed to better advise the public on the relationship between portion size, calories and weight gain.”

So, until the federal government (both in the U.S. and the U.K.) addresses the portion distortion issue, what is the take home message for consumers? I advise clients that I counsel that referring to the serving size information on package labels can be educational but should be looked at with a critical eye.

Here are some tips.

1. Do not assume that the serving size information listed is what you will actually eat.

Reading serving size information can be very educational, if you pay close attention to the actual size (weight or volume) listed on the label. The label will tell you, for example, that if you eat a three quarters of a cup of cereal, it will contain 100 calories. However, if you eat double that amount, you will need to recognize that you are actually eating double the calories as well. Sounds like common sense, but for many of us, it does not register that bigger portions contain more calories.

2. Pay close attention to the number of servings per container or per package.

Even if you eat an entire muffin or candy bar that appears to be marketed for one person, the information on the serving size often states that it contains multiple servings.

3. Use visuals to help you estimate your serving size.

One cup of pasta is the size of a baseball. Two tablespoons peanut butter is the size of a walnut in a shell. Three ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Becoming familiar with visuals can help you eyeball standard serving sizes so that you can then compare these servings to how much you actually eat. Because most of us can visualize common objects it’s a great way to keep portions in check. It makes you think about how much food you’re piling on your plate.

Here is my visual guide to eyeballing serving sizes.

• Nuts, quarter cup = golf ball
• Salad dressing or olive oil, two tablespoons = shot glass
• Peanut butter, two tablespoons = walnut in a shell
• Ice cream, half cup =half baseball
• Cheese, two ounces = eight dice
• Pasta or rice, one cup = baseball
• Oil, one teaspoon = water-bottle cap
• Meat, fish, or poultry, three ounces = deck of cards
• Bread, one ounce slice = CD case

4. Don’t snack out of a jumbo bag.

Familiarize yourself with the serving size on the food label, pour yourself one serving, and put the bag away. Practice this for chips, nuts, pretzels and other treats

5. Don’t be fooled by health halos and health claims on package labels.

Just because a food is labeled organic, gluten free, or low-fat doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Calories are calories!

6. Fill up on fresh fruits and veggies.

You can’t go wrong by adding more fresh fruits and veggies that do not bear package labels to your plate. Eat an apple as a snack, add fresh berries to your yogurt, and fill half of your dinner plate with fresh vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories and rich in nutrients so you can eat more without worrying too much about gaining weight.

7. Avoid your trigger foods.

If you can’t stop at one serving of chips or pretzels, then don’t even buy it. Choose a treat you can control and portion out.

8. Pay attention to how hungry you actually are and what else you are eating throughout the day.

9. Remember, you don’t need to eat the whole thing.

10. And finally, less is more!

As I often highlight in my talks, “What kind of sandwich isn’t fattening?” My answer: “half a sandwich.”

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