Over 130 million Americans, or 64% of the population, are either overweight or obese. This puts many people at risk for developing life-threatening diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Many of these people want to lose weight, but are either unsuccessful on whatever "diet" they choose, or just don't know where to start. The fact is, which "diet" you go on is not important; It's just that you control what you eat and exercise. Even factoring genetic differences into the equation, Americans' weight gain can be decreased simply with portion control and increased physical activity . The bottom line is if you eat more calories that you burn, you will become overweight.
Dietary habits have changed in the last 25 years, mostly due to eating more. Portion sizes have gotten larger, both in restaurants and at home. In fact, the most commonly available food portions exceed the USDA standards. Most foods now are available in larger portion sizes than they were in the 1970s. In 1977, salty snacks, hamburgers, and soda comprised 18.1% of all calories consumed; this number increased to 27.7% in 1996, and continues to rise. Specifically, salty snacks increased 93 calories, soft drinks 49 calories, hamburgers 97 calories, French fries 68 calories, and Mexican food 133 calories, when comparing portion sizes between the two years. These statistics are especially important when you consider that ten additional, unexpended calories consumed per day result in an extra pound of weight put on per year.
One thing must be made clear – there is a difference between "portion sizes" and "serving sizes." Portions are what we actually eat; servings are what the FDA food labels are based on. The key to portion control is to make your portions equal to servings. To do this, you must take the time to "eyeball" the serving sizes when you eat. Some general analogies are:
–A deck of playing cards or a computer mouse = one serving (3 oz.) Of meat, poultry, or fish.
–Half a baseball = one serving (1/2 cup) of fruit, vegetables, pasta, or rice.
–Your thumb = one serving (one ounce) of cheese
–A small hand holding a tennis ball = one serving (1 c.) Of yogurt or chopped fresh greens
It is easier to control portion sizes at home with a few simple steps. First, measure individual servings onto plates or bowls for a while, so you know what a serving should look like. Second, avoid serving food "family style." Dish up plates with appropriate portions in the kitchen, and don't go back for seconds. Serve on smaller plates – it will trick your mind into thinking you are eating more. Never eat directly out of the bag or carton, as you will have no idea how much you are eating. Put the serving size onto a plate or in a bowl, and put the rest away. During the holiday months, as we are eating more and more often, reduce your portions by an additional 50% at holiday meals to avoid weight gain. At cocktail parties, eat just what you put on your plate, instead of grazing at buffets.
In restaurants, you must also control portions. Avoid fast food restaurants altogether. They have been shown to serve the biggest portions. Also avoid all-you-can-eat buffets; People think they need to eat more to get their money's worth. When eating out, ask for half or smaller portions. If you do get a large portion, immediately measure out the correct serving size, ask for a doggie bag, and put the rest aside.
There is no need to go on a fancy, difficult, or fad diet to lose weight, as long as you pay attention to what goes in your body, and stay active to burn those calories up. Remember, that after you reach your healthy goal weight, modify your diet so that you can stay at that weight for the rest of your life.
References: Baker, Larry C. "Picking Your Game Plan." Energy Times , June 2004. Hanks, Stephen. "Winter Weight Maintenance." Energy Times , Nov / Dec 2005. Lerman, Robert H., Md, Ph.D., and DeAnn J. Liska, Ph.D. "Body Composition and Optimal Health." Applied Nutritional Science Reports , 2002. Parlikar, Urmila R, MS. "Food Portion Sizes Increasing in the United States."