Portion Size Matters

Nutritionist Sanirose Orbeta once mentioned to me that the term ‘’one cup of rice’’ has a different meaning for different people. ‘’One cup’’ can mean anything from the size of a dainty teacup to the size of a large bowl. This can mean all the difference in weight control since a teacup of rice has fewer calories than a big bowl.

This is why Orbeta uses plastic models of food to teach her clients what a portion size should look like to successfully control weight.

‘’Portion control’’ is an old-fashioned term like ‘’counting calories’’ but it is a concept that is coming back in vogue.

A 2004 study that was published in Obesity Research Journal found that controlling portion size was the single most effective method of losing weight and keeping it off.

Participants in the study were followed up two years after they started a weight loss program. The people who actively practiced portion control lost 5% or more of their body weight. The people who did not keep track of their portion sizes gained 5% or more weight.

A study done at the St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital Obesity Research Center found that many obese people who claimed to have ‘’slow metabolisms’’ were underestimating the amount of food they actually ate (they were also overestimating the amount of exercise they did). Some people thought they were eating 1,000 calories when they were really eating 2,000 calories.

Joan Horbiak, a registered dietician at Duke University, told Glamour Magazine of a client who was convinced she was only eating 250 to 300 calories worth of cereal every morning. The actual figure was 900 calories. The culprit was a huge cereal bowl. Horbiak noted that people fill whatever vessel they are using at the moment and call that ‘’one serving’’.

Size does matter
Many people don’t like to be told that they have to control the amount of food they eat for long-term weight control. They would rather eat food that is low in fat or low in carbohydrates as long they can eat as much as they want. But size does matter.

Too much of anything will lead to weight gain. The only exception perhaps is vegetables, which are so low in calories and which few people would overeat anyway.

Large portion sizes have been cited as one of the factors for the increasing obesity rates in the U.S. and other westernized countries. Like nutritionist Marion Nestle of the New York University has said, “Super-sized portions can create super-sized people”.

Handy tips
Unless you walk around with a measuring cup and weighing scale, you may lose track of how much are you are actually eating. Using your hand as a visual aid is a practical way (you never leave your hands at home) to calculate how many cups of pasta are in that big plate of spaghetti. These guidelines are true for most women’s hands. Source: American Dietetic Association.

· One ounce of nuts – one handful
· One ounce of chips or pretzels – one large handful or two small handfuls
· One cup dry cereal – one large handful
· 3/4 cup hot cereal – fist or cupped hand
· 1/2 cup of rice – rounded handful
· 1/2 cup of cut fruit, cooked vegetables, pasta – fist
· Three ounces of meat, poultry, or fish – open palm
· One ounce of cheese – thumb
· One teaspoon of butter, mayonnaise – thumb tip (measure from tip of thumbnail to first joint)
· One tablespoon butter, mayonnaise – three thumb tips

Other visual aids
Common household items can also be used to help you visualize portion sizes.

· Tennis ball - half cup of cooked pasta.
· Half a tennis ball – half-cup of rice.
· Baseball - one cup of cooked vegetables.
· Large marble - one ounce of cheese or peanut butter.
· Matchbox - one ounce of chocolate.
· Deck of cards – three ounces of meat
· One ping-pong ball - 2 tablespoons of salad dressing.
· Ice cream scoop – 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes

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