Size Matters: Reining in Out-of-Control Portions

If you habitually shun high-fat foods or deny yourselfcarbohydrates in exchange for a slimmer body, but to no avail, then the problemmay not be what you?re eating, but how much.

According to a recent survey by the American Institute forCancer Research (AICR), more than three out of four people believe that the typeof food they eat is more important than the amount they eat when tryingto maintain or lose weight.

“People are eating more and wondering why they?regetting fatter,” says Melanie Polk, M.M.Sc., R.D., director of nutritioneducation at AICR. It’s no mystery. Portion size and calories are still thebottom line when it comes to weight gain, but that message was forgotten in thefat-free free-for-all on supermarket shelves in the ?90’s, leading shoppersto believe they could indulge at will on fat-free (read guilt-free) treats.

Growing Pains. Compoundingthe fat-free problem now are fast-food marketers who boost sales by boasting of”value meals” and “supersizing it”?code words forballooning portion sizes. With Americans now eating 40% of their meals away fromhome, restaurants are promoting what they perceive customers want?more fortheir money. For instance, at McDonald’s, a basic burger, a small order offries and a small Coke add up to a reasonable 630 calories. But a”value meal” of a Big Mac, medium fries and medium Cokedishes up more than 1,200 calories. And if you “supersize it” to themax, it becomes an 1800-plus calorie obscenity.

Even the standard two-ounce bagel and muffin of the pastare now double or quadruple that size, rendering standard calorie countsmeaningless. A small movie theater popcorn is now a “mere” seven cups,and a large soft drink is now dwarfed by its larger 32-ounce “value”substitute.

Amid all this, it’s easy to acquire a warped sense ofwhat constitutes a “normal” portion size.

Controlling Runaway Portions

Take control of your portions, with EN‘s help:

  • Teach yourself what a single serving really looks like. For example, weigh 1 ounce of cheese, 3 ounces of cooked meat, a 4-ounce baked potato, and measure out 1 cup of cereal. Remember how they look on a plate or in a bowl to help you estimate your portions in the future.
  • Realize that in many cases the “single-serve” snack or drink you buy is actually two servings or more.
  • At home, instead of serving family style, put a single serving on your plate before sitting down. Use a smaller plate and arrange the food so the plate looks full.
  • Be aware of how much you?re eating. Snack from a bowl or plate, not from the entire package of food.
  • At a restaurant, share a large entr?e or dessert or take home a doggie bag for the next day’s meal.
  • Use your imagination. Measure first, then choose something from your environment that is similar in size. See below for some ideas for quickly estimating portion sizes. (Remember, it’s okay to eat two “servings” of pasta, just be sure to count it that way.)

Realistically Sizing Up a Serving

Food Item Imagine One Portion as the Size of:
1 medium fruit Tennis ball
Tight fist
? cup fruit, vegetables, cooked cereal, rice, pasta Ice cream scoop
Cupcake
Tight fist
1 medium baked potato Computer mouse
1 cup cold cereal Large handful
1 pair rolled-up sports socks
1 ounce bagel A yo-yo
1 teaspoon peanut butter, margarine, mayonnaise Thumb tip
1 ounce cheese 4 stacked dice
Ping-Pong ball
Ice cube
3 ounces meat, poultry, fish Palm of a woman’s hand
Deck of cards
?-inch stack of credit cards
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