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Posts Tagged ‘ portion size ’

14 small and simple steps to be healthier in 2018

It is now a full week into the new year, a time full of promises and hope. Whether you want to lose weight, get in shape, or just be a bit healthier this year, small and simple steps can help you to improve your well being. As a nutritionist, I help people develop healthy habits and make better food choices. I tend to be more of a fan of taking small actionable steps to improve your health than I am of making resolutions which we often never act on.

As 2017 came to an end and 2018 just began, now is a great time to assess our lifestyle, diet, and habits, and consider the tweaks we can take that could improve our health and nutrition. While no one magic pill, food, or exercise can make you healthier, these small and simple steps can certainly help get you there.

Here, I share some of my favorites.

1. Be thankful.

Before you can resolve to be healthier and eat better, it’s so important to get your head in the right place and focus on being positive. The best place to start is by expressing your gratitude for the good in your life. To get you started, jot down 5 things you are grateful for each day.

2. Get fresh air.

Whether you live in a sunny warm climate or it’s cold and cloudy, get outside. While you may not be able to do a full workout outdoors, take a walk around the block and be one with nature. It boosts your mood and helps get you going.

3. Enjoy a berry parfait.

Whether or not it is healthier to eat breakfast first thing in the morning is still a topic of debate. I advocate starting your day with something healthy even if it’s not first thing in the morning. I recommend choosing a healthy protein, whether it’s eggs, yogurt, or nut butter and adding a fresh fruit or a whole grain. If you don’t like to eat a big meal in the morning, make a yogurt parfait—Greek yogurt, your favorite berries, and a sprinkling of walnuts and flax-seeds.

4. Prep in advance.

As a clinician for over 20 years, my most successful clients planned their meals and prepped in advance. A few simple tips: always keep a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand and stock your pantry with healthy choices including nuts, olive oil, beans, legumes, and whole grains.

5. Try something new.

Whether you decide try a new food (after all, there’s got to be a veggie you haven’t yet tried!), do a different workout, take a class, or travel a different route to work, changing things up gets you out of a rut. It gets you off to a fresh new start and the change is good for your brain too.

6. Be wise about portion size.  

Watching your portion size is by far the best way to watch calories without having to actually count them. Aim for approximately 4 ounces fish or poultry (a little larger than deck of cards or your palm). As for a healthy starch such as quinoa or brown rice, you do not need to skip it. Stick with a cup’s worth (your fist) as a side dish. And enjoy fresh fruits and veggies in unlimited portions. No one I know got fat from eating too many carrots or bananas.

7. Move daily.

Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. Exercise not only helps you lose weight, it improves your mood and outlook, lowers your heart rate and is good for your bones and your brain. Pick an exercise you enjoy and stick to it. Just don’t forget to breathe!

8. Eat a salad.

Eating salad may be one of the healthiest eating habits you can adopt today. Eating salads are a great way to get in a few servings of fruits and vegetables. They are packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They also fill you up so you eat less of the wrong stuff. Try mixing up your assortment of fruits and veggies to vary your nutrients.

9. Go fishing.

Fish is among the healthiest foods. It is full of nutrients, including protein and vitamin D. Fatty fish such as salmon is also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are incredibly important for brain and heart health. Include fish in your diet at least twice a week.

10. Snack smart.

Enjoying a healthy snack between meals is a great way to prevent you from being hungry and then overeating it later. My favorite snacks include an apple or pear with nut butter, cut up vegetables with hummus, a handful of nuts and berries, or 1/3 avocado with whole grain crackers. And, as I tell my clients eat before you eat! Having a light snack before heading out to dinner will help you eat less.

11. Write it down.

Keeping a food diary is a great to track your food intake. It helps to keep you accountable as well as identify your triggers and weaknesses. You can keep a food journal or you can use an app. Choose the method that is less cumbersome for you. Keep track of what you eat, how much, as well as how the food is prepared.

12. Cook more.

Home-cooked food tends to be healthier than restaurant and store bought food, containing fewer calories and less fat, sugar, and salt. If you eat out most nights of the week (and that includes ordering in!) , tweak your routine by eating home a few nights. If you don’t cook regularly, you may think you don’t know how, but give it a try and experiment your mom’s favorite recipes.

13. Souper-size it!

I am a huge fan of eating soup either as a snack or as a n appetizer. What I like most about including soups in your diet is that they are filling and often times, you get to eat a large portion without too many calories. Perfect for volume lovers! In fact, people who eat a large vegetable-based soup as an appetizer often end up eating fewer calories at the rest of the meal. My favorites — minestrone, tomato kale, lentil soup, and white bean. Several caveats: skip the cream soups and go easy on salt.

14. Say no to liquid candy.

Liquid candy is a term used for soda, sweetened iced tea, fruit punch and the like. Not only do sugary beverages contain unnecessary calories, (all from added sugars!), you often don’t even realize you are getting any calories at all, and you often eat a not so healthy snack with it. A triple wammy! Drink water instead. Sparkling water is great too. And feel free to add lemon, cucumber, sliced apple or mint leaves for added flavor.

Happy New Year. Here’s to a healthy year and to 365 days of endless possibilities.

We’d love to hear your favorite New Year’s hacks.

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Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to over-eat

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post: “Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to overeat.” 

You can also read it HERE.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever purchased one food item over another because the nutrient claim on the package gave you the impression that it was the healthier choice? You may have been misled.

Many terms on food labels can confuse even the most educated consumers into thinking that a packaged food product is healthy when in fact, it is anything but healthy.

As I previously wrote, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be giving food labels an overhaul after 30 years (with updated serving sizes, disclosure of added sugar, and more), and even changing the definition of some terms manufacturers can use on labels (including “healthy”), it is still easy to be tricked into thinking a packaged food product is healthier than it really is.

Here are several—often misleading—terms that manufacturers often use on packaged food labels along with my tips on how not to be fooled. Such terms are often “health halos,” giving consumers the impression that the product is healthy thereby encouraging you to eat more than they may ordinarily consume.

1. Multigrain

When shopping for healthy grains, including bread, pasta, and crackers, looks—and words—can be deceiving. A loaf of bread, for example can be flavored with molasses or caramel coloring and have that brown “healthy” look but may not be any healthier than refined white bread. The term multigrain, for example, means that the product must contain two or more grains. But those grains may or may not be healthy whole grains.

Whole grains, including whole wheat breads and pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice contain more nutrients and fiber than refined products which have been stripped away of the bran and germ, the grain’s healthy components. The Dietary Guidelines advises that at least half of our grains be whole grains so read labels carefully.

My tip: When reading food labels, if you want to be assured that your product is healthy, look for the words 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat as opposed to multigrain. And be sure to read the ingredient list which tells a lot. According to FDA, “ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight,” meaning that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. The ingredient list tells you like it is.

2. Zero trans fat

Trans fat is just about the most unhealthy fat you can have. It is bad for your heart, is generally found in heavily processed foods, and the ideal amount to have is none at all. However, products are allowed to say that they contain “zero trans fats” if one serving contains less than 0.5 grams. This is deceiving because if you eat multiple servings—which so many of us do—the grams of trans fats add up quite easily.

My tip: Read the ingredient list and if “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” is listed, then the product contains trans fats, and I suggest you keep it on the shelf instead of adding it to your grocery cart.

3. Fatfree

The term fat-free can be notoriously misleading. Many products that bear this label are not as healthy as you might think and just because a label says fat-free, it doesn’t mean that the food product is calorie-free and that you can eat as much as you want. Fat-free products often tend to be loaded with sugar and are not healthy at all, despite what many consumers often think.

I’ve had many clients over the years that think they don’t have to pay attention to their portion size of fat free products. However, many fat-free cookies have just as many calories as their full-fat version. And many fat-free versions taste awful and just leave us wanting more.

My tip: Check the label for calorie content, and compare it to the full-fat version. And watch out for the added sugar.

4. Sugarfree

According to FDA, the nutrient claim sugar-free means that a product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving. These products, however, may still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources. As many consumers often think, the term sugar-free doesn’t mean the product contains fewer calories than the regular version. Oftentimes, it contains more.

Sugar-free products often contain sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol, or sorbitol which do contain calories (although fewer calories than table sugar) and may also cause stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Therefore, it is very important to practice portion control.

My tip: Compare the labels of the regular and sugar-free version and be sure to check the number of calories as well. And do not eat too much of either version. In fact, the sugar-free version will probably give you a stomach ache if you eat too much.

5. Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye and should not be consumed by people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. These days, gluten-free products are very easy to find with the proliferation of new products regularly hitting store shelves.

Gluten-free products, however, are not necessarily any healthier than those with gluten and can often actually be less healthy and contain more sugar and salt, and less fiber.

While gluten-free products are important for those who cannot digest gluten, there is really no advantage for everyone else to buy them. And they certainly will not help you lose weight, unless of course, they are lower in calories than the regular version which is not necessarily the case.

My tip: Read food labels and compare the calories, fiber, sugar, salt, and ingredient list of the gluten-free and regular varieties. And remember gluten-free cookies are still cookies!

One final thought: Before turning to packaged foods, I’d suggest you aim to eat more whole foods—including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, fresh seafood, and quinoa or brown rice—without fancy packaging and lots of added ingredients.

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FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.

Below is my blog post “FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.”

You can also read it on Huffington Post HERE.

The maker of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread loved by many Americans, wants a smaller serving size to be listed on its nutrition labels.

Ferrero, Nutella’s parent company, says that a smaller serving size will reflect how consumers currently use the product, and has been petitioning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify the spread.

Ferrero claims that nowadays Nutella is eaten in smaller amounts as a spread on toast instead of as a topping on ice cream or a filler in cupcakes.

According to CNN, the company surveyed over 700 mothers and claims that 60% of consumers now eat Nutella on bread, up from 8% back in 1991. And, only 2% of consumers today use Nutella on ice cream, down from 27% back in 1991.

Nutella is currently categorized as a dessert topping, with a serving size of two tablespoons. Instead, Ferrero wants the sweet spread to be classified in the jam and honey category.

Why this request? They can list a smaller serving size of one tablespoon—instead of two tablespoons—on its jars.

A smaller serving size on the food label means fewer calories and less sugar. This may give consumers the perception that Nutella is a healthier spread and may influence shopper’s decisions to buy more of it.

One tablespoon or two?

Now FDA may consider Nutella’s claims, but only if Americans agree. So the agency is now asking Nutella lovers how much they eat at a time.

Two tablespoons of Nutella contain 200 calories. The two tablespoon serving size originated in the 1990s, when the spread was used more as a dessert topping on ice cream.

As a nutritionist and portion size researcher, I’ve observed that most people rarely pay close attention to their portion and tend to underestimate how much they really eat. And they will probably spread a lot more than one tablespoon of Nutella on a slice of bread.

Secondly, even if people do spread Nutella on toast, many people use it more like a nut butter (which has a two tablespoon serving size) than as a honey or jam.

The FDA is now collecting comments about how much consumers are eating in a sitting.

Clearly, Ferrero is worried that the required two tablespoon serving size makes its product look unhealthy when compared to honey or jam.

I’ve written about food label serving sizes extensively, and have discussed how after 20 years, food labels are getting a makeover. Many standard serving sizes—known as reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs)—will be increasing to reflect how much Americans typically eat. (We eat lots more now than we used to eat.)

The serving size for ice cream, soda, and other favorites will soon be increasing to reflect our changing eating habits.

Interestingly, research on consumer perceptions of larger federal serving sizes is mixed. On the one hand, if consumers see a bigger serving size on a package label, they will be more mindful. Especially after seeing a larger calorie count. On the other hand, however, research found that after seeing a larger serving size on the food label, many consumers will view that larger serving size as a recommendation to eat more.

As I’ve written, FDA serving sizes are not meant to be recommendations for how much we should eat. Instead, they are meant to reflect how much we typically eat.

Nonetheless, serving sizes do influence consumers’ decisions and the burning question is: How will consumers view a smaller serving size on a food label of Nutella?

So FDA wants to know how you eat Nutella and how much do you typically eat?
You can weigh in here.

Measuring spoons anyone?!

My guess would be that if we pulled out our measuring spoons, most of us would find that we eat much more than one tablespoon.

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Avoid these portion pitfalls which can derail your diet

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Avoid these 5 portion pitfalls which can derail your diet.” 

You can also read it here. 

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a portion size advocate, I believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet. However, while you can enjoy larger portions of certain foods (fruits and vegetables), you should pay attention to how big your portions are for others foods (breads, baked goods, red meat, candy and chips).

No one I know got fat from eating too many berries, apples, or carrots. Therefore, when I work with clients, I encourage them to enjoy generous portions of produce. However, we need to be more mindful of how much we eat of other foods, especially treats and sweets. It often takes retraining your brain, paying close attention to how much food really constitutes a health portion size, and developing healthy habits to avoid eating too much.

Being conscious of the following food traps is half the battle. Avoid these portion pitfalls to prevent you from overeating.

1. You buy oversize bags of chips in search of a bargain.

We all love a good bargain! After all, it is hard to resist buying the oversize bag of chips when it only costs just a quarter or so more than the smaller bag. However, while it’s great to stock up on jumbo rolls of toilet paper, the same cannot be said about food, especially junk food. Keeping your health—and your weight—in check is a top priority and the best bargain you can find!

My suggestion: Avoiding buying jumbo bags of food unless you take the time to portion out the contents into individual servings in small plastic baggies or containers.

2. You eat straight from the tub.

One of the easiest ways to overeat is to eat straight from the package. Whether it’s a tub of ice cream, a half-gallon of juice, or a bag of chips, it is very difficult to portion control your food when you eat straight from the package. And leaving it up to willpower rarely works.

My suggestion: Portion out a reasonable serving size, pour it onto a plate, savor it, and enjoy. And do eat sitting down.

3. You pour instead of dip.

One of the reasons so many of us eat more calories than we think is that we order a healthy salad but then we pour on tons of dressing. While salad greens and veggies won’t break you in the bank, salad dressing calories add up very quickly. One tablespoon of olive oil contains around 120 calories, and many salads—even appetizer sized!—contain several tablespoons worth.

My suggestion: Dip your fork into a side dish of dressing instead of pouring it all on your favorite salad. You can always add more if you need.

4. You pay no attention to serving sizes on food labels.

While food labels will be getting a makeover and many serving sizes of our favorite foods are set to increase, most people look at the calories listed but pay little attention to the serving size and the number of servings per container.

While one serving of your favorite treat may contain only 100 calories, if you eat several serving’s worth, your calorie count will much higher than just 100 calories. Yet so many of us would still say that they have only eaten 100 calories or so. I often see this pattern with many highly educated clients that I’ve counseled. Especially since many snacks that look like single servings actually contain two to three servings. Many muffins, for example contain two servings, but who eats just ½ a muffin? It’s easy to be fooled!

My suggestion: Pay attention to food label serving sizes along with the number of servings per container. I also suggest getting a measuring cup and food scale and from time to time weighing your typical portion to see how many servings are really on your plate.

5. You serve food family style.

The best way to serve food whenever possible is to plate it in the kitchen. Placing large platters of food directly on the dinner table and serving food family-style is one of the easiest ways to end up eating lots more than you really need. And the larger the serving platter and serving utensil, the more food we are likely to take.

My suggestion: Plate out a reasonable size portion in the kitchen. If you are still hungry, you can always go back for more.

For additional portion-size tips and tricks, click here and here.

We would love to hear portion tips that have worked well for you.

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5 ways to build a healthy sandwich

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “5 ways to build a healthy sandwich.”

You can also read it HERE.

sandwich veggie

Americans love sandwiches. On a given day, more than of half of us eat a sandwich for lunch. According to a new study, however, this meal may be hurting our diet.

A new study published in the journal Public Health found that on the days that people ate a sandwich, they consumed more calories, fat, salt, and sugar.

Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed dietary intake data from a large federal national survey of over 27,000 U.S. adults. They found that sandwiches contributed “nearly a quarter of daily total calorie intake and about a third of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium intake.”

And on days people ate sandwiches, they ate an extra 100 calories than on days they skipped the sandwich. They also ate an extra 7 grams of fat, 268 grams of sodium, and 3 grams of sugar compared to the days when they didn’t eat a sandwich.

This was because the sandwiches weren’t too healthy. The researchers reported that the most popular sandwiches were made with cold cut, burgers, and chicken.

The researchers also found that people ate slightly less fruit and vegetables on days when they ate sandwiches as compared to the days when they skipped a sandwich.

As a nutritionist, I know first hand that people love sandwiches! They are an easy go to meal, especially for lunch. If you pay attention to what goes into your sandwich, however, it can be a very healthy lunch.

Here are my easy tips to build a better sandwich.

1. Drop the bun.

You can still eat bread, but skip the white bun, roll, and all refined white bread products. My top picks are to choose a whole grain bread—whole wheat, oat, or rye bread. A whole grain pita or wrap is also a great choice. Gluten free whole grain breads, made with buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, or whole grain amaranth are also great bets.

2. Choose a healthy filler.

Choose a lean protein such as grilled fish, chicken, or turkey breast as a protein choice. If you want a burger, swap the hamburger for a veggie burger. A vegetarian sandwich made with tofu, tempeh, hummus or white beans is also a great choice. To avoid the extra sodium and fat, I suggest going easy on cold cuts and skip the cheese atop your turkey breast.

3. Size matters.

When asked “what kind of sandwich isn’t fattening,” my response is “half a sandwich,” Portion size does matter. Aim for around 3-4 ounces of protein—the size of your palm or a deck of cards. It’s ok to go a little over that, but many deli sandwiches often contain a pound of meat, enough protein for 4 people!

If properly portioned, a mid-day sandwich can, indeed, make for a good weight loss option too.

4. Pile on the veggies.

When you add on veggies—lettuce (the darker the better!), tomato, shredded carrot, peppers, and more, you add flavor, color, nutrients, crunch, and volume to your sandwich without too many calories.

5. Order the topping on the side.

When it comes to toppings, a little goes a long way. Condiments such as mustard and ketchup are high in sodium and a small amount does go a long way. Mayonnaise, cheese sauces, and creamy salad dressings are also high in fat and should be ordered on the side. One of my favorite toppings is thinly sliced avocado which adds healthy fat, flavor and moisture to your favorite sandwich.

One of my favorite sandwiches is a hummus avocado wrap filled with lots of fresh colorful veggies.

Experiment and enjoy!

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at freedigitalphotos.net

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5 Tips to Keep Your Restaurant Meal Way Under 1,000 Calories

Below is my blog for Huffington Post, “5 tips to keep your restaurant meal way under 1000 calories.”

You can also read it here.

pasta primavera

Americans love eating out. Unfortunately, most restaurant meals exceed calorie recommendations. It’s no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic in this country.

Chain restaurants in the U.S. are currently required to post calorie counts on their menus. Hopefully, this information will nudge us to make healthier choices and also encourage chains to re-formulate their menu items.

In the meantime, more than half of restaurants are not chains, and therefore, are exempt from calorie labeling.

So just how many calories do these meals contain?

To answer that question, researchers from Tufts University conducted a study on the calorie counts of non-chain restaurants between 2011-2014 in three metro areas (Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock).

Here’s what they found. Most restaurant meals are super-sized and contain very high calorie counts, similar to those in chain restaurants. Nine out of 10 meals from non-chain restaurants exceeded calorie recommendations for a single meal. The average meal contained 1,200 calories (yikes!), which amounts to more than a half a day’s worth of calories. American, Italian, and Chinese cuisine fared the worst, with meals averaging 1,500 calories.

While we would expect some meals to be high in calories, such as tempura dishes (which are fried), the high calorie counts in other dishes such as chicken teriyaki may come as a bit of a shock to some people. The researchers found that even a Greek salad contained nearly 1,000 calories.

As a long time portion-size researcher, I am not at all surprised. Most meals at both chain and non-chain restaurants are much too big, and therefore, provide far too many calories.

The researchers wrote: “This study extends previous work and indicates that restaurants in general, rather than specific types of restaurants, can facilitate obesity by exposing patrons to portion sizes that induce overeating through established biological mechanisms that are largely outside conscious control.”

Indeed, it would be a great idea to cook at home more often. But if you do want to dine out, here are some simple tips to help you trim down the calories of your favorite meals.

1. Share, share, and share!

This is a great portion-control trick and will help you save calories. Share a main dish with your dinner companion and you will get half the number of calories. To avoid feeling deprived, start with a healthy salad or appetizer.

2. Order an appetizer as your main meal.

You may not want to eat the same thing as your dining companion, so sharing may not be possible. Many restaurants these days offer half portions or appetizer sizes which I promise you is enough food for one. If you are still hungry, you can always order more.

3. Order sauces on the side.

So often, it is the dressings and sauces that cause the calorie counts of your favorite meals to jump. Three simple words — “on the side” — can make a huge difference. Just one tablespoon of oil contains around 120 calories, and many salads contain at least 4 tablespoons of dressing! If you order sauces and dressings on the side, you do still get to enjoy the flavor while using less.

4. Wrap it up.

Leftovers make for a great accessory! Just because your favorite restaurant serves a super-size portion doesn’t mean you have to finish it. My research found that many pasta entrees, for example, contain 3-4 cups pasta! (No wonder people think carbs make us fat.) If you ate half that amount, and wrapped up the rest, you’d probably be satisfied (instead of super stuffed).

5. Order more veggie-based dishes.

In some cases, you can enjoy a big portion without breaking the calorie bank. Veggie based dishes are often the way to go. A generous portion of veggies goes a long way. Not only are veggies high in fiber which signals you to stop eating, but they are so low in calories, that as long as they do not contain too much sauce, you can certainly keep your dish way under 1,000 calories. For example, I’m not worried about the calories in a jumbo plate of spaghetti squash primavera.

I provide additional portion control tricks here.

And I offer smart swaps for your favorite restaurant cuisine here.

We would love to hear some of your favorite tricks to minimize the calories in restaurant portions.

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Drop a few sizes with these simple portion-control tricks

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Drop a few sizes with these simple portion-control tricks.”

You can also read it HERE.

Courtesy of Scott Chan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Scott Chan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

With the start of the New Year, losing a few pounds is often high on many people’s “to do” list. You may even be thinking of trying the latest fad diet, a version of the Paleo diet, or a juice cleanse.

Having spent the past 20 plus years counseling people trying to shed unwanted pounds, I know that losing weight is the easy part. Keeping if off and developing long-term healthy habits you can stick with is a far greater challenge.

If you have previously read my advice to dieters, you know that practicing portion-control is, in my opinion, by far one of the simplest and most effective ways to shed unwanted pounds for good. Ultimately, regardless of which method you try, in order to succeed at weight loss, you have to eat fewer calories.

Many fads work initially because you end up eating less, often because you omit entire food groups from your diet. By practicing portion control, however, you get to eat the foods you love (just not huge amounts every day) without cutting out certain food groups entirely. In my opinion, this is a much healthier and balanced approach. And, with a bit of planning, if you choose your foods wisely, you can often even eat more.

I’ve rounded up some portion-control tricks which can help you get 2016 off to a great start and help you shed unwanted pounds. Many of these tricks are rooted in behavior change which serve as cues to gently remind us to eat mindfully…to eat when hungry…to eat more slowly…and to eat less.

1. Go retro.

If we can return to eating smaller portions like we did several decades ago, we’d probably be a lot thinner. Back in the 1950s, portions were smaller and so were we. I’ve spent a good part of my career tracking how our food portions have grown — and how our waistlines have too. Rates of obesity increased as portions rose. This CDC graph, based on my research, illustrates this point. Large portions have more calories than small portions, so if we can trim our portions, we can cut out lots of calories which can help us to lose weight.

2. Eat a small breakfast.

I recommend that dieters eat within two hours of getting up. It doesn’t have to be a huge feast though. In fact, a smaller breakfast may actually be best. A study found that dieters who ate a small breakfast, as opposed to a large one, ended up eating less over the course of the day. Often, we think if we eat a big breakfast, we’ll eat less for lunch or dinner. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.

My takeaway message is: eat a light meal in the morning. If you are not much of a breakfast eater, no worries. Make it a brunch and ok to eat something small. I suggest you include protein and fiber, which help you feel full. Some of my favorites are a Greek yogurt and berries, a slice whole grain toast with a thin schmear of peanut butter, or a bowl of oatmeal with chopped walnuts or a little milk.

3. Cut your pizza pie into smaller pieces.

We tend to eat in units. Most of us don’t share a slice of pizza, a bagel, or a soda (or other foods which come in units) with a friend. Instead, we tend to eat the whole thing. An interesting study offers up this trick: cut your pizza pie into smaller pieces and you may end up eating fewer calories. In this particular study, when a pizza pie was cut into 16 slices — instead of the typical 8 slices — people ate less. I invite you try it.

4. Beware the health halos.

So often we get caught up with labels such as “low-fat,” “gluten free,” and “organic.” Many of us also think that if a food is good for us, we can eat as much as we want. This study found that people who thought alcohol was heart-healthy drank nearly 50% more alcohol than those who did not.

My suggestion for 2016: keep an eye on your portion size even if you think a food may be good for you. Low-fat cookies are still cookies and gluten-free crackers are still crackers. And both products do indeed contain calories which add up pretty quickly.

5. At times, you can eat more to weigh less.

Good news if you are a volume lover. As I referred to them in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, volume eaters like a large portion of food. A solution: fill up on fruits and veggies which tend to be low in calories (while also being nutritious.) Good options include berries, melons, citrus fruit, leafy greens and, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Enjoy a large colorful salad. Just ask for the dressing on the side.

6. Souper-size it!

I am a huge fan of eating soup and “souping” seems to be a popular trend these days. What I like most about including soups in your diet is that they are filling and often times, you can eat a large portion without too many calories. In fact, people who eat a large vegetable-based soup as an appetizer often end up eating fewer calories at the rest of the meal. My favorites — minestrone, tomato kale, lentil soup, and white bean. Several caveats: skip the cream soups and go easy on salt.

7. Take out the measuring cups once in a while.

It’s a great idea when you are eating at home to occasionally measure out your food to get an idea how much you typically eat. While it is not exactly practical to measure your food when you are eating out, and I don’t suggest you weigh your food daily, finding out just how big — or small — your portion is can be quite an eye opener. For example, I’ve had clients pour their typical ready-to-eat cereal into their oversized bowl and think they are having one serving, or around one cup. After measuring it out, they are shocked that their “healthy” cereal portion is closer to three cups. Yikes!

8. Take a look at your hand.

While you don’t always have measuring cups with you, you always have your hand. Which is why I created the “handy guide” to estimating your portion size. A 3 ounce portion of meat or chicken looks like the palm of your hand and a fist looks like 1 cup pasta or rice. This method is not an exact science, but does come in handy.

9. Downsize your food packages.

Considerable research has found that we eat more if our packages are larger. Instead of surrounding ourselves with temptation, I suggest buying single-serving packages or pre-portioning your favorite snacks and putting them into baggies which you can grab when you are hungry.

10. Slow down.

When we eat more slowly, we tend to eat more mindfully, and, in turn, eat less. One way to slow down is to count your bites. A small study found that study subjects who cut their daily bites by 20 percent lost around 3.5 pounds in a month. While counting your bites may not be the most pleasurable thing to do, especially if you are hoping to enjoy your food, paying attention to how many bites you are taking ultimately slows you down which leads to eating less. While I don’t suggest you count your bites regularly, it may be ok to try once in while.

11. Eat off of grandma’s dishes.

Food portions are not the only things that grew over the years — our plate sizes have too. And research has found that we eat more if plates or glasses are large. A solution: use grandma’s dishes. A client of mine did this and lost 20 pounds, effortlessly. If we downsize our plate, we tend to eat less. A small looks bigger on a smaller plate. I invite you to eat a salad of of a big plate and a pasta or meat dish off of a smaller plate. This study found that halving plate size led to a 30 percent reduction in amount of food consumed.

12. Commit to cooking more in 2016.

When we cook, we often make healthier food choices. A recent study found that cooking was associated with a slightly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The researchers also found that in eight years of follow-up, those who ate more home-cooked meals had smaller weight gains and a lower risk of obesity. These findings don’t surprise me. Restaurant portions tend to be larger than amounts we would typically prepare at home. Foods eaten out also tend to be more caloric than home cooked meals.

We would love to hear portion-control tips that have worked for you.

Here’s to a happy — and healthy — 2016!

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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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A prize may encourage us to eat less

Below is my blog for Huffington Post, “A prize may encourage us to eat less.”

You can also read it here.

Portion sizes have grown over the past 50 years, and so have our waistlines. As I found in my portion-size research, the fact that Americans are eating too much is a perfectly logical explanation to explain the current U.S. obesity crisis. While there is some good news on the horizon suggesting that we are finally beginning to eat less, we still have a long way to go.

Researchers from University of Southern California (USC) conducted several interesting experiments encouraging both kids and adults to select smaller portions. The results, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, found that people will often choose a smaller portion when offered some kind of incentive or prize.

The researchers conducted three experiments, all offering some kind of incentive to choose the smaller portion.

As discussed in USC News, “In the first experiment, sixth-graders were offered the choice between a 9-inch sandwich and a 4.5-inch sandwich and inexpensive earbuds. The majority chose the latter. In a second experiment with adults, half-sized portions were paired with the chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card or the chance to win 10,000 frequent-flyer miles accepted by all major airline loyalty programs. The majority chose the incentive and made that choice consistently over three days. In a third experiment, the researchers got similar results in a real restaurant setting with customers who came in with the intention of buying a full-sized sandwich, but opted for the half-size and a chance to win a $10 lottery.”

As you can see, the incentive offered does not need to be anything fancy or expensive. And the subjects consistently chose the smaller portion-plus-incentive option even when it was priced the same as the larger portion.

And, best of all, at least from a public health perspective, the smaller portion will not leave you hungry.

The researchers tracked total calories consumed in the second experiment and found that subjects ate fewer calories when compared to their baseline day.

The research findings could be a great way to help reduce our calorie intake and fight obesity along with its associated health care costs.

USC marketing professor Deborah MacInnis wrote me in an email: “Incentivizing consumers to choose smaller portion sizes not only offers opportunities for lower daily calorie intake, it also has the potential to help consumers realize that smaller sized portions won’t leave them hungry.”

She also wrote, “As consumers, we value our freedom of choice. Laws and regulations remove freedom of choice and can backfire by creating resistance and reactance. Giving consumers the opportunity to choose between a full sized version and a smaller version with an uncertain incentive preserves freedom of choice while motivating policy-consistent (and health promoting) behaviors.”

Here are some take away messages.

1. As a nutritionist and portion-size researcher, what I found most interesting was that the subjects were not hungry after choosing the smaller portion. This lesson applies to all of us. We can usually be satisfied with less food. We can always order more food later if we are still hungry.

2. Consider leaving over some food, wrapping up leftovers, or sharing an entree next time you visit your favorite restaurant.

3. How about treating yourself to a reward? Perhaps splurge on a massage if you choose the smaller portion.

4. If you are a parent, try encouraging your kids to choose the smaller — healthier — portion, by offering a small non-food prize or reward. Your kids will probably prefer the prize more than the extra food.

5. It may be economically feasible for the food industry to sell smaller portions. If you are a restaurant owner, consider adding some kind of small incentive encouraging diners to choose the smaller portion. Just be sure not to offer them a free dessert, which would defeat the whole purpose.

Want to learn some portion-control tips and tricks without the reward? I discuss them here.

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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