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All About Portions – Our Eyes Cause Weight Gain

January 18th, 2011 · 3 Comments

Sandra Frank, RD

January is National Diet Month and Sandra Frank, registered dietitian in Fort Lauderdale knows all too well how that’s going to turn out for most.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all diet – it’s that simple,” she said. A majority of dieters will fail, grasping at fad diets or trying to follow something that’s not specific to them – giving up after it doesn’t work.

“No two people react the same way on the same diet because of a multitude of factors that determine how we metabolize foods,” she said.

There’s genetics, number one – though even siblings can have different predispositions to weight gain or loss. Activity levels, overall health, age, food attitudes – all factor into how we eat and how it sits on our bones.

Statistics are bleak for any diet working long-term. There’s the oft-quoted and outdated “95 percent rule” – only 5 percent of dieters will lose weight and keep it off after 3 years. The other 95 percent will regain the weight and more. The Centers for Disease confirms the fact, though numbers aren’t cited.

The medical community and researchers around the world site different statistics for diet failure, but they point in the same direction: Diets fail the vast majority of dieters over long-term, and the yo-yo diet phenomenon can actually be detrimental to your health.

Portions for all sizes

In the whole morass that dieting has become, one basic holds true for every “body,” however.

“If you eat more than your body uses or burns off, you gain weight,” Frank said. “It’s simple.” It’s the rate at which you gain – or burn it off – that changes.

She knows this first hand – she lost 103 pounds in the ’70s and kept it off for 13 years. Slight fluctuations afterward were health-related – Frank’s schedule caring for a physically disabled son and working as a nutritional analyst while writing and practicing as a registered dietitian keeps her too busy to measure foods.

Governmental portions

Until the Food and Drug Administration came along and put labels on foods, no one had a clear picture of how much of any one food they should be eating.

In the ’80s, food labeling became standardized – after much controversy that still exists. A revised labeling with more realistic portion sizes to match a revised USDA Food Pyramid came out in the ’90s and next year, will apply to fresh meat and poultry packaging. Produce is likely next.

Graphic by Sandra Frank, RD

Real-world portions

Frank references a simple truth: Most of us don’t have a visual concept of how much a portion of food determined by the FDA really is. Do you count the potato chips or weigh your olives to determine if you’re eating 1 portion as per the label?

Unless you’re eating from a single-portion container, you likely overeat – and you can blame your eyes.

Take a look – and watch the tricks your eyes play.

Graphic by Sandra Frank, RD

The plates above contain the exact same foods in the same amounts – they were moved from plate to plate for the photo. The crowded plate looks as though it has much more on it, however.

Restaurant chefs got away from the previously standard 8-inch entree plates in the ’80s, when a sea-change in dining out hit America. Fashionable dinnerware meant over-sized, oddly shaped or colored plates to go along with the nouveau and often avant garde foods they were serving.

The customers felt cheated, however, when presented with a 10- or 12-inch entree plate that had what appeared to be hors d’oeuvre-sized foods on it. After so many complaints, and the success of places like the Cheesecake Factory that became known for gigantic portions, the chefs had to beef up portions to keep diners coming.

Cereal one of the most deceiving

Graphic by Sandra Frank, RD

Seems no one measures out their cereals. Most serving sizes list one cup as a serving size. But put it in a small bowl, and it looks more generous – those eating it say they got more than those eating from a larger bowl where the perceived portion is smaller.

Another example:

Sundaes aren’t on most dieter’s list, but see what happens when you pare the serving size down to fit a small parfait cup, and use smart ingredients rather than piling it all into a bowl? It’s within reason, satisfying and doesn’t blow the so-called diet. Same thing with pizza below.

Use smaller dishes

Moral of story: Change your plates and bowls, and change your perception of how much you’re eating.

“Change” is the key to dieting – change the foods you eat, your activity level, and even your language about dieting. Using the word “meal change” rather than “diet” – another perception, since there’s a “going-on” and “going-off” a diet, but not with a meal-change, can help make a difference.

Tags: Today in the World of Food

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karen Dennis // Jan 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Your visuals on portion size were so eye-opening! Thanks for reminding us about the plate size

  • 2 Scott Simmons // Jan 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    My grandmother always went on and on about how her mother-in-law’s Lenox dinner plates were large-sized. It didn’t sink in until I picked up a set of pre-1920 dinnerware and saw the 9 1/2-inch dinner plates. What a difference! And, of course, my great-grandmother’s Lenox plates are now standard-sized.

  • 3 Water Weight Loss // Aug 14, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Our eyes and bellies have lost the ability to know what is normal. We need to start eating the correct sized portions so we can return to a healthy weight.

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