In last week’s column, we discussed the fact that more than two-thirds of the American population is now overweight, obese or extremely obese and how, in short, being overweight or obese will take away the quality of life we should be enjoying.
It is clear that we need to make some serious lifestyle changes. So here we present a 15-point plan developed by Mathew Caddy, MS, RD, for cutting our calories though portion-size reduction.
- Downsize. Research proves that downsizing plates, bowls and drink glasses can play a big role in portion control. A 2012 Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior study found that when participants were given a large-sized bowl, they served themselves 77% more pasta than when they were given a smaller bowl (Van Kleef, Shimizu & Wansink 2012). In a separate study, nutrition experts served themselves 31% more ice cream when given a 34-ounce bowl than when armed with a 17-ounce one (Wansink, van Ittersum & Painter 2006). Further, their servings increased by an additional 14.5% when they were using a larger serving spoon.
- Size It Up. You can’t scale back your portions until you come to grips with how much you’re really eating. Flip food packages over, read nutrition information and pay close attention to how serving sizes are defined. Case in point: A brand of granola may look rather harmless at 130 calories per serving, but upon closer inspection this is just a quarter cup, less than almost anybody would eat in one sitting.
- Rise and Dine. A recent University of Missouri study demonstrates that eating breakfast can help control appetite and regulate food intake throughout the day (Leidy et al. 2011). For 3 weeks, subjects either skipped breakfast or consumed a 500-calorie meal. Consuming breakfast led to increased fullness and reductions in hunger throughout the morning, an outcome that could assist with portion control later in the day.
- Scale Back. Most people can’t grasp what four ounces of chicken breast or one ounce of cheese looks like—yet these portions are considered appropriate for a calorie-controlled diet. “Adding a digital food scale to the kitchen can help people understand what real portion sizes look like,” notes Young. “It may come as a shock to learn that your typical steak serving is eight ounces or more, a lot more than what most people should eat.” Using measuring cups for items like cereal can also help keep portions in line with what is stated on product nutrition labels.
- Stave Off Snack Attacks. A recent study by scientists at Yale University showed that falling glucose levels can trigger a reward region in the brain that leads to heightened cravings for high-calorie fare such as cakes, pizza and ice cream (Page et al. 2011). Take back control by making sure you eat something every few hours; include healthy snacks such as yogurts with fruit; hummus and raw veggies; or whole-grain crackers with one tablespoon of almond butter or Tehina.
- Pay Attention. Eat your meals and snacks in the kitchen or dining room, not on the couch. A review of studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that TV viewing, with all its other problems, was strongly associated with higher consumption of calorie-dense drinks and foods and lower consumption of fruit and vegetables in both adults and children (Pearson & Biddle 2011). In a study at the University of Bristol, England, people who ate lunch while playing a computer game felt less full by the end than those who noshed undistracted, and gamers consumed about double the number of calories 30 minutes after the meal compared with the other group (Oldham-Cooper et al. 2011). If you eat while distracted, you’ll likely remember less about the food you consumed, which can leave you feeling hungrier later on.
- Chew on This. Many of us wolf down our food. Well, it’s time to eat at a snail’s pace. A 2011 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigation discovered that subjects consumed 12% fewer calories when they chewed each bite 40 times than when they chewed just 15 times (Li et al. 2011). Additional chewing also slows down the rate at which you take in food, which New Zealand scientists found can keep weight down (Leong et al. 2011).
- Start Right. The right appetizer can keep calorie intake within reason. A 2012 study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University showed that people who ate a 100-calorie salad 20 minutes before digging into a pasta meal reduced their total caloric intake for the meal by 11% (Roe, Meengs & Rolls 2012). The same laboratory found that eating a raw apple 15 minutes before a test meal cut caloric intake by 15% (Flood-Obbagy & Rolls 2009). Preceding meals with low-calorie, fiber-rich items like vegetables and fruits can boost satiety, making it less likely you’ll dole out copious amounts of spaghetti or ask for second helpings of meatloaf. But don’t expect the same benefit when you eat high-calorie foods like dips or fish.
- Slice Away Calories. Cutting calories could be as simple as cutting up your food. A 2011 study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that subjects who ate whole pieces of candy while participating in a computer task consumed about 60 more calories than those who nibbled on candies that were sliced in half (Marchiori, Waroquier & Klein 2011). Both groups consumed the same total number of candy pieces—six to seven whole candies or six to seven candy halves.
- Sleep Tight. Here’s another reason to get a good night’s sleep: An investigation by scientists at New York Obesity Research Center found that subjects fed themselves about 300 more calories when sleep-deprived than they did after sleeping normally (St-Onge et al. 2011). Why does lack of sleep lead to the munchies? A 2012 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study reported that subjects who slept only 4 hours showed more brain activity in response to food stimuli than those who got 9 hours of shut-eye (St-Onge et al. 2012). So a poor night’s sleep could cause the concept of portion control to go awry.
- Choose Unrefined, High-Fiber Foods. Fiber-rich foods slow down digestion and minimize blood sugar fluctuations. Incorporating these foods into snacks and meals will boost satiety and tame hunger. A study in the journal Appetite found that volunteers felt fuller after consuming high-fiber bread than they did when they consumed the same number of calories from fiber-poor white bread (Keogh et al. 2011).
- Keep Your Distance. At your next meal, try this suggestion from Cornell University: Keep extra food away from the dining table. Cornell scientists found that when subjects kept pasta and pudding serving-dishes off the table, obliging the subjects to serve themselves from dishes on the kitchen counter or on the stove, they ate an average of 20% fewer calories (Payne et al. 2010). The study authors surmised it was a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”
- Eat Your Calories. It’s okay to have a glass of orange juice with breakfast or a post-workout protein shake, but it’s important that most of your daily calories come from solid food. A study conducted by scientists at the University of Kansas Medical Center found that post-meal hunger and desire to eat were greater when subjects consumed liquid calories than when they consumed the same amount of energy from solid food (Leidy et al. 2010). The investigation found that the solid meal led to a greater drop in ghrelin, the hunger-producing hormone, than the liquid meal.
- Be the Chef. Portions doled out at restaurants have been growing over the last several decades. When you leave the food prep to someone else, you always raise the risk of getting more calories than you bargained for. “Cooking more of your meals allows you to become better aware of appropriate portions and often leads to eating higher amounts of healthful foods,” Young says. But make sure to use measuring spoons, scales and other devices to keep sneaky excess calories out of your meals.
- Know the Real Deal. The low-fat version of an item like peanut butter may have calories on par with the higher-fat version, since ingredients like sugar often replace the fat to make the product taste better. “Low-fat items can trick you into thinking you’re eating less than you are.” A Journal of Marketing Research study found that people ate 28% more chocolate candies when they were portrayed as “low-fat” than when they were described as “regular” (Wansink & Chandon 2006). The researchers concluded that low-fat labels cause people to underestimate calorie consumption, increase what they think is an appropriate serving size and temper feelings of guilt after polishing off a box of reduced-fat treats. “Reduced-fat” versions of products like crackers, cookies, fruit yogurt and peanut butter need the same dietary constraint as their higher-fat counterparts.
So here you have 15 suggestions on how to eat less. Because when we get down to it, we need to get back to basics–consuming less and moving more. Without that equation, nothing else matters.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a lifestyle fitness coach with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! He can be reached at (U.S. Line) 516-568-5027, 02-651-8502 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.