I've written about this many times but there's no doubt that portion size is key to eating healthy.
In the last few decades it has become a major issue with portions in restaurants increasing dramatically. 40 years ago a 32 ounce milk shake with 1,160 calories would have been unusual. There was no such thing as a Quarter Pounder (let alone a Double Quarter Pounder) and getting a mountain of nachos would be rare. These huge plates have spilled over into how we choose food.
For instance, one study evaluated the difference in the last two decades of how college students select meals at a buffet. Research had been done in the late 1980s and was repeated in 2006. 177 students freely served themselves meals which were then weighed. The portions were scored against the recommended portion sizes. The portion sizes chosen for breakfast and lunch were found to be more than 125% of the standard portion. Overall, larger portions were taken by the students than in the 1984 research.
This proof that folks now have trouble is reinforced by the fact that much of the difficulty folks have is with the larger portions themselves. They just can't tell the difference when the size is larger. Brian Wansink and his colleagues set up a study where they approached folks in fast food restaurants and asked them to estimate the number of calories in the meal that they had just eaten. The researchers had been watching and recording what the participants had eaten.
When they looked at the estimates given for supersized meals vs. regular ones they found that those who ate a smaller meal were able to accurately estimate the amount of calories they had eaten. This wasn't the case with larger meals where diners underestimated the calories they had just eaten by a 38%. Dr. Wansink has been able to recreate these real world findings in his lab in other experiments.
So what works? Portion control does. In 2004, researchers at the CDC in Atlanta surveyed 2,124 adults who had tried to lose weight in the prior year. 587 had lost weight and kept it off. At the top of the five most common weight-loss strategies was smaller portions (others included reducing the amount of food eaten overall, more fruits and vegetables, fewer fatty foods, and no sweetened beverages).
One of my favorite studies used “The Diet Plate.” The dinner plate is decorated with outlines for the right size servings of a dinner meal: carbohydrates, proteins, cheeses, sauces and vegetables. Over six months those using the dishes lost significantly more weight than those who didn't. They lost between about 2% and 6% of their body weight. This is as good as any diet pill on the market.
There's good proof that you don't need The Diet Plate and that just taking the time to learn the right portion size works. Having a scale, measuring cups and spoons is key. Here's a guide to the right portion sizes for your recipes:
|Ingredient||Before Cooking||After Cooking||Looks like|
|Rice||1/4 cup||1/2 cup||1/2 baseball|
|Pasta||2 ounces||1/2 - 2/3 cup||1/2 baseball|
|Dry cereal||1 cup||The size of a fist|
|Potato||4 ounces||Computer mouse|
|Potato (mashed)||4 ounces||1/2 cup||1/2 baseball|
|Pancake||1/2 cup batter||Two||Compact disc|
|Bagel||2 ounces||Hockey puck|
|Beef||4 ounces||Deck of cards|
|Pork||4 ounces||Deck of cards|
|Veal||4 ounces||Deck of cards|
|Poultry||4 ounces||Deck of cards|
|Peanut butter||2 Tbsp.||Ping pong ball|
|Fruits and Veggies|
|Salad greens||1 cup||Baseball|
|Raisins||1/2 cup||Large egg|
|Cheese||1 1/2 ounces||4 stacked dice|
|Milk||1 cup||(choose low-fat)|
|Yogurt||1 cup||(choose low-fat)|
|Oils||1 tsp.||Thumb tip|
|Butter||1 tsp.||Thumb tip|
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
October 13, 2008