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Nutrition: How Much Is Too Much?


We are eating more than ever, studies suggest that we are consuming 200 to 400 calories more than 20 years ago.

The result: we have reached the highest rates of obesity in history.

Managing portions might be the most important thing you can do to more effectively manage your weight. But it’s not quite as simple as saying to yourself, you’re are going to eat less. Motivation and discipline are not enough. We have to understand why we are eating more before we can develop effective strategies to manage our caloric intake. There are many factors but according to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., professor of Psychology at Cornell University and author of the book, Mindless Eating, changes in our “food environment” such as: large portions in restaurants, easy and constant access to food, the increased size of plates/glasses/bowls that we put food on, as well as, bigger bags and boxes we buy food in all have contributed to us losing control over what reasonable portions should look like.

Here are a few strategies that can help you take back control of your food environment resulting in effective portion management.

Orson Wells once said, “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for 4, … unless there were 3 other people.” Little did he know how relevant his quote would become.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate the average restaurant meal is more than 4 times larger than in the 1950’s.

Not only are they serving us far more food, we are eating far more often than in the past. For some, cutting back on the frequency of eating out might be a good place to start. Restaurant meals tend to have 2 – 3 times the calories of home cooked meals; home cooked meals tend to be more nutritious, as well. For those who must eat out often or choose to,  here are a few tips that might help:

    •      Split entrees and desserts with your partner or friend.
    •      Ask that all sauces and dressing be brought on the side. That puts you in control of the quantity.
    •      Look on the menu for “small” or petite” portions.
    •      Ask for “half to go”. The server brings half of the meal to the table and boxes the other half for you to take home.
    •      Pay attention while eating. Focus on eating slowly and mindfully. Mindful eaters enjoy their food more and are satisfied on smaller portions.
    •      Eat your calories, don’t drink them. Caloric soft drinks and sweet tea add up, especially with “free” refills.
    •      Have a healthy snack – a piece of fruit, small salad, etc. – an hour or so before you go out. It will take the edge off your hunger and make it easier to manage portions.

1. Invest in a new set of dishes. Plate size has increased significantly over the years. Dr Wansink’s research shows that people serve themselves 20 – 30% more food on larger plates than smaller. By having smaller plates (Wansink recommends 10 inch diameter plates,) you will  serve yourself less and not even know it. Bring out the fashionable larger plates if you want to when have guest over but for use your smaller plates for day to day use.

2. If plate size is important, not surprisingly, glass size is as well. We tend to pour more beverages into larger glasses than smaller ones. Use smaller glasses for juice and other caloric drinks. You can always pour a second glass if you really want one.

3. Buy snacks and treats in smaller containers. We tend to eat until the box or bag is empty, regardless of the size of the container. If you are snacking on one of your favorite treats, it’s easier to stop when a 1 ounce bag is empty, than to eat only 1 ounce out of a 6 ounce bag. While it might be a bit more expensive to purchase in smaller quantities, it will be worthwhile if it helps manage your portions more effectively.

3. Remember the phrase “out of sight out of mind”. How many times have you opened the pantry, refrigerator or freezer not thinking about a treat until you see it, then you can’t get off your mind? Keep those treats hidden away until you really want them.

4. When reading labels, pay particular attention to the serving size. If you just look at calories, fat, sugar, sodium and etc., without looking at serving size you can get far more than you bargained for. For example a typical convenience store may have 200 calories per serving but you may not realize that there are 3 servings in the muffin. It ends up being 600 calories not the 200 you assumed it was.

A box of candy at the movies might seem a good choice with only 150 calories per serving but unless you look, you might not notice that that are 6 serving in the box – a total of 900 calories.

5. When considering a treat,  ask yourself the question “Do I really want this?” or “Is it worth it?”.  To help you make an informed choice, keep in mind that we burn about 100 calories for every mile we walk .

That muffin referred to earlier would be the equivalent to 6 miles, the box of candy would be 9.

Recognizing how much effort is involved in expending calories might give you a little added incentive to limit those treats to a minimum.

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