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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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Smart snacks that can help you lose weight

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “5 smart snacks that can help you lose weight.” You can also read it HERE.

As a nutritionist doing counseling on healthy eating and weight loss, clients often ask me about if they can include snacks in their diet and exactly what constitutes a healthy snack. Many people — especially dieters trying to shed pounds — are under the impression that snacking is not a good idea when trying to lose weight, but this isn’t the case. The truth: it depends on what you are snacking on. Oftentimes, snacking is a good thing, as it could satiate you until your next meal and prevent you from overeating at dinner.

I tend to suggest including a reasonably portioned snack that contains a mixture of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat. Doing so will sustain you and help you feel full for a longer period of time, without breaking the bank calorically. Below I suggest smart snacks that you may want to add to your eating plan, which may actually help your weight-loss efforts while contributing to your overall health.

1. Greek-yogurt parfait
Try blending a Greek low-fat yogurt with a mix of strawberries and bananas topped with 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed. This is a great snack as it will provide you with a blend of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. The flaxseeds will provide you with heart-healthy, omega-3 fats, while the fruit will provide a boost of fiber that will keep you full for longer.

2. Veggies and hummus
Mix your favorite veggies with 2 to 3 tablespoons hummus. When it comes to veggies, try to get a blend of colors to maximize your nutrients. Some of my favorites are red peppers, carrots, cucumbers and broccoli. This is a smart snack as the veggies are low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients including antioxidants while the hummus contains a blend of healthy fat and protein.

3. An apple with nut butter
Slice an apple and add a tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of your favorite nut butter — almond or peanut butter taste great. The fruit contains few calories and lots of fiber while the nut butter will provide you with a blend of protein and healthy fat, which will sustain you for a while. Because nut butters are high in fat, and therefore, calories, it is important to watch your portion.

4. Whole-grain crackers with part-skim cheese and sliced tomato
Choose your favorite whole-grain crackers and include a serving (up to 1 ounce) with your favorite part-skim cheese. Some examples include: 2 to 3 rye crisps topped with part-skim cheddar cheese and sliced tomato. You can also modify this to include a “fun” serving of whole grain such as 3 cups air-popped popcorn (yes, 3 cups!) or three-quarters of a cup whole-wheat pretzels and add a part-skim mozzarella stick and a few cherry tomatoes. The whole-grain serving is high in fiber and low in fat, while the cheese provides protein, calcium and some fat. The tomato gives you a healthy dose of vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene.

5. Your favorite vegetable bean soup
I am a soup lover and I must confess that I include soup in my diet even in the hot summer months. Soup makes for a great snack, as it is filling and you tend to eat it more slowly than you would a crunchy snack, especially if it is hot. Bean soups are a great choice, as they contain the perfect blend of protein and carbohydrates and plenty of fiber. Some healthy choices include a bowl (12 ounces) of lentil soup, split-pea soup or white-bean soup. Instead of waiting until you join your dinner companion at a restaurant and ordering soup as an appetizer, if you are hungry in the late afternoon, have the soup as a snack and it will sustain you for several hours.

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5 Easy Weight Loss Tips That Really Work

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post, 5 Easy Weight Loss Tips That Really Work.

You can also read it HERE.

As a nutritionist, I often get clients at this time of year concerned about summer — fitting into a bathing suit, getting some new clothes and navigating holiday eating and parties. I am not a fan of rigid diets, which restrict entire food groups for a short time, but rather I advocate for healthy eating and developing simple strategies which clients trying to lose weight can stick to for the long haul.

Below are simple strategies, which I have seen work for clients trying to lose weight in time for summer and more importantly, help them keep it off and be able to enjoy meals and treats with family and friends.

1. Make smart swaps.
I am a big fan of offering clients simple substitutions for their favorite foods rather than cutting foods out entirely and leaving them at a loss for what else they can include in their eating plan. As I previously wrote here: “What I have found in my private practice is that small action-oriented steps and simple substitutions tend to work a lot better.”

For example, drinking seltzer instead of soda and starting your day with bran cereal or a Greek yogurt instead of a doughnut or an oversized muffin can make a huge difference in terms of both losing weight and eating healthfully.

2. Keep a food diary
I recommend that clients keep food diaries, at least for a month or so. Writing down what you eat helps raise your awareness about exactly what and how much you are really eating. It is an excellent behavioral tool to help you practice eating mindfully. And these days, there are so many ways to keep food records. You can stick to the old-fashioned way of writing down your food habits in a spiral pad; you can keep records in your computer or iPad; or you can download an app for your smart phone.

3. Stick to regular meal times.
One way to avoid overeating is to eat at regular intervals throughout the day and not skip meals. If you are not that hungry on a particular morning for example, it is okay to eat a smaller breakfast rather than eat nothing at all. It is best not to allow yourself to get too hungry that you will just “let yourself go” and grab anything you can find.

4. Choose single servings.
Research has found that single-serving packages can help overweight individuals lose weight. I often recommend them to dieters to help them gain awareness about portion control. While we will often take several handfuls of chips or other snack foods without paying attention, we tend to think twice before opening that extra bag of chips.

Most people tend to eat more when they are served more food and drinks or when they are given food in larger packages. A review of nearly 90 studies confirms why oversize portions may contribute to obesity: We eat more when we are served more.

As the researchers from Bond University in Australia write in the Journal of the American Marketing Association, “For a doubling of portion size, consumption increases by 35 percent on average.”

Choosing single-serve packages can certainly help to decrease consumption.

5. Make half of your plate fruits and veggies.
Dieters can actually eat more of certain foods to help them lose weight. Fruits and vegetables are a perfect example as they are relatively low in calories and rich in nutrients. Because they are high in fiber, they will help you to feel full. Adding fruit to your yogurt or cereal is a great way to add fiber, color and volume to your breakfast. Starting your dinner with a tossed salad or a veggie-based soup enables you to eat more food so that you don’t feel deprived. I suggest including at least one fruit or vegetable serving at each meal.

We would love to hear some of your weight loss tips.

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Public Hearing on Sugary Drink Ban in NYC

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post on the hearing for the ban on oversized drinks in New York City.

Here is the link.

It was a busy afternoon at the Gotham Center in Long Island City, the headquarters of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Today was the public hearing on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to restrict the sizes of sugary beverages to no more than 16 fluid ounces in New York City food establishments. The Board of Health will vote on the proposal in September.

Advocates lined up at the public hearing to speak in favor of the ban on supersized beverages, while opponents complained that the ban was unfair and violated public freedom.

Channel 7 News featured a brief clip of my speech (below is my full speech) and that of several others. More than 60 people pre-registered to speak out while walk-ins were also permitted to sign up speak. It was standing room only.

Speaking in support of the ban was Dr. Walter Willett, a nutrition professor from the Harvard School of Public Health, who called soda in large amounts “metabolically toxic,” and my colleague, public health lawyer Michele Simon, founder of Eat Drink Politics, who succinctly said that “it is the soda industry … that has taken away the choice of reasonable portions.”

A spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association complained that they were being singled out and said the ban “unfairly targets restaurants and small business owners…” and a spokesperson for the NYC American Beverage Association said the ban is “distracting us from the real issues” as they made sure to mention that they are responsible for 8,000 jobs in NYC.

Here is my five-minute speech in its entirety (a bell goes off if you speak more than five minutes) in support of the proposal:

“Good afternoon. I am Dr. Lisa Young. I am a nutritionist [in private practice], author of The Portion Teller Plan, a user-friendly weight-loss book on portion control, and an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

I am in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to restrict the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks that are larger than 16 fluid ounces in food establishments such as restaurants, movie theaters, delis, and street carts. It would include the popular 20-ounce soda bottle from the corner deli and oversized fountain drinks available in fast-food establishments and movie theaters.

This campaign makes sense at a time when food portions have increased and so have rates of obesity. Obesity is currently a major public health concern in New York City and is caused by an imbalance of energy intake (calories in) and energy expenditure (calories out).

Sugary, sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic. The mayor’s Task Force on Obesity states that “Americans consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks.”

As a researcher tracking portion size trends, food portions have increased steadily over the years, and so have the waistlines of Americans. We have grown accustomed to oversized portions, and we have come to expect them. My research found that portion sizes are now two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s. When McDonald’s opened, for example, the only size soda available was 7 ounces. When Burger King first opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large. Burger King’s small is now 20 ounces and its large is 42 ounces. I think it is time to return to those more reasonable sizes.

In a new paper co-authored with my NYU colleague Dr. Marion Nestle, and due to be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, portion sizes in the first decade of the 21st century continued to increase despite public health initiatives encouraging the food industry to reduce portion sizes. It is now time for action.

Large portions may contribute to obesity in several ways. They contain more calories than small portions. For example, a small soda (which is 16 ounces) at the fast food chain KFC contains 180 calories, while the Mega Jug (which is 64 ounces) contains nearly 800 calories (and 50 teaspoons sugar). This cup holds a half gallon of soda; it is far too much soda for one person. Indeed, it contains more than one-third of the calories recommended for an entire day for certain segments of the U.S. population.

Large portions also encourage us to consume more and to underestimate how much we are really eating. Sugar-sweetened beverages, in particular, provide no nutritional value whatsoever. As a registered dietitian counseling clients on healthy eating, I advise eating a small portion of foods low in nutritional value.

Mayor Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much should be considered a reasonable amount to drink at a time. And 16 ounces is certainly more than reasonable — that is a pint-size worth of sugar water. I do not see the proposal as a ban, but rather as an attempt to reset the norm for how much drink constitutes an appropriate portion. This is a much needed proposal in an era of oversized portions.

As an educator and clinician, I would absolutely continue to advocate for better education and public health campaigns. The NYC health department found that 15 percent of patrons improved their choices by looking at calorie counts on menu boards. Indeed, we need to take this a step further. And Mayor Bloomberg is taking action.

Given the health consequences and enormous cost of our country’s obesity epidemic, it is time to return to eating less. And restricting the large sizes of unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverages is an excellent place to begin. Thank you.”

It is my hope that by this time next year, it will be hard to find oversized cups on the streets of New York City.

Thoughts? Would love to hear them.

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Eat more with Ultimate Volumetrics

I have been a fan of Barbara Rolls’ work for years. Through her many research experiments, she has shown that the more food you give people, the more they eat. And they don’t report feeling any more full. Her solution is simple yet brilliant: choose foods low in calorie density (CD). Dr. Rolls is a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania  State University and has spent 20 years studying the science of satiety and how it affects obesity. She is the author of more than 250 research articles and several books, including The Volumetrics Eating Plan which I keep on my book shelf.

In her new book written with registered dietitian Mindy Hermann, Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (William Morrow, $27.50), Dr. Rolls shows you how to manage your weight. The book is based on solid research and is armed with solutions to give readers a guide as to how to control hunger and manage their weight. This book offers over a hundred new recipes as well as user-friendly tools to help you on our way to successful weight loss.

Unlike the many fad diet books on the shelves which make countless promises, and work mostly just for the short term, this book provides time tested tools and strategies to help you lose weight and keep it off. With the Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, you do not have to give up your favorite foods and you do not have to avoid entire food groups as many diet plans advise. Here you will get time-saving tips to lose weight for you and your family, a guide to eating out healthfully, and a grocery store guide which reviews shopping strategies. And better yet, you can eat MORE. As a nutritionist counseling clients on weight loss, this is a dieters dream!

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A low-calorie meal for weight loss?!

Are you trying to lose weight? Perhaps try eating one smaller meal per day.  Cornell University researcher David Levitsky conducted a small study published in the October issue of Appetite reporting that eating just one reduced calorie meal per day, while eating what you want the rest of the day, can be and effective weight loss strategy.

Study subjects ate nearly 250 fewer calories on the day they ate a reduced calorie lunch. And guess what—on average, participants lost an average of a pound a week for the two week period.   This study found that if you eat one low calorie meal, it doesn’t mean that you will compensate and eat more the rest of the day.

We would need more time and more subjects to see how these findings would pan out for the long haul. But it is still good news for dieters.

My advice: Start by watching what you eat for just one meal per day. But take note: you can’t eat “whatever you want” for the rest of the day and expect to lose weight. That would be wishful thinking. So be sure that the rest of your meals and snacks are still within a reasonable calorie range. And, aim for healthy choices such as fruits, veggies, lean protein, and small amounts of healthy fats.

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