To Lose Weight, Join the "Portion Patrol"

America is awash in calories. And as the calorie floodwaters rise, the numbers of us who are overweight and obese rise along with them. One of the main streams swelling the calorie flood is the prevalence of large-portioned meals and drinks - super-sized fast-food meals, all-you-can-eat buffets, seemingly bottomless sodas and slushes. And the way to cut off the stream's influence is to join the "portion patrol" - that is, to rigorously regulate the size of the meals we eat.

"If people could cut down on their portion sizes, this would be the single greatest way to combat the creeping obesity epidemic," said Madelyn Fernstrom, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center. "It's such a simple concept, but it's hard to do. There's so much hidden fat in food, it's hard to know what a serving size is."

It may seem like cutting back on one's portions wouldn't have much impact - until you realize that just "100 calories a day more than you need adds up to 10 pounds in one year," said Miriam Pappo, clinical nutrition manager at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "That's only one or two tablespoons of salad dressing."

 In a recent study, 120 healthy adults were divided into two groups, with equal numbers of men and women in each. Both groups were educated about healthy eating and given a target of consuming 1,700 calories daily for the men and 1,365 calories for the women. They were also told to eat 55 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 20 percent fat.

 One group, however, was given prepackaged portions of meat and rice for daily consumption, and was told to include two large salads, fruit and two glasses of skim milk a day. The other group was allowed to choose its own portion sizes. After two months, the "prepackaged" women had lost 12 pounds, as against eight pounds for the self-selected-portion women. The men who ate prepackaged portions lost 16 pounds versus 11 pounds for the other group.

 What we can learn from this, Fernstrom said, is that prepackaged frozen meals might be a good weight-loss option. If you like your meals home-cooked, you can save the containers from frozen meals to measure your portion sizes. In addition, she said, eat from a salad plate, not a dinner plate, which is unnaturally large to hold a proper portion. The food on your plate, Pappo said, should be half vegetables and a quarter each protein and starchy food.


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