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Portion control is first step to weight loss

April 12, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Tammy Thornton, a registered dietitian at the Washington County Health Department uses rubber food, shown above, to demonstrate proper portion sizes for a typical meal to her clients. She suggests filling your plate with 1/4 starch (such as mashed potatoes, upper right), 1/4 meat (such as meatloaf, upper left) and 1/2 vegetables (such as spinach and asparagus).
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Relaxation is when one hand grips the TV remote while the other hand rests in a bag of chips.

On bad days, chocolate can seduce away sadness.

Eating in a hurry, it's easiest to scarf something fried, fast and cheap.

These scenarios are a source of mounting concern over the nation's growing waistline. We eat more than we should.

"Everything is oversized," said Cheryl Frushour, a registered dietitian at Washington County Hospital's Bariatric Surgery Center.

The Herald-Mail sought out nutritionists and others who have struggled with food for advice on portion control. In the fight against obesity, one approach is to replace old habits by creating new ones. Why not start with the food?

Mindless grazing carries the risk of instilling bad eating habits, setting the stage for obesity and the health risks associated with being overweight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flagged being overweight as a health risk factor for adults and have linked it to illnesses. According to CDC data for Washington County, nearly one out of every four adults living in Washington County was obese in 2008. The figure is about the same as the national average, 26.7 percent.


But there's hope. Here are a few more tips:

Portion vs. serving

This is an important distinction, Frushour said.

A serving is specified on the food label, as a way for the manufacturer to more easily explain how the contents of the food. The portion is something different.

"Portion is how much you actually eat," Frushour said.

To start, don't eat things out of the bag or container. Pour it into a separate glass or plate the food. "That way, you can detect how much you're actually eating," Frushour said.

Example, a bottle of water might be divided into two servings on the nutrition label, but that doesn't mean you're drinking twice as much as you should be if you were to drink the whole bottle.

So how do you know what a proper portion is?

Tammy Thornton, a registered dietitian at the Washington County Health Department, said it helps to divide your dinner platethe following way:

o 1/4 meat for protein and fat

o 1/4 starch for carbohydrate

o 1/2 vegetables

Listen to the voice that says 'I'm full'

Thornton said eating a combination of protein or fat with a carb or fiber helps with satiety, or feeling full. She gave this example:

It's 4 p.m. and you're at work and you're hungry. You eat an apple.

"But that apple isn't going to hold you over very long," Thornton said.

Put some peanut butter on that apple, suddenly you feel full. Why? The peanut butter is a source of fat and protein.

"Protein and fat help you feel full," Thornton said.

Children have a keener sense of when they're full, and this is where parents can run into trouble.

Parents can become unhappy dealing with a child who doesn't want to eat something the parent perceives as healthful.

Thornton and Frushour warned that the Clean Plate Club has a hidden cost to its members: overeating.

"As a child, kids know when they're hungry or that they're full," Thornton said. "We (adults) destroy that when we interfere."

Frushour said it's the parent's responsibility to provide healthy options for kids. Thornton recommended putting foods in separate bowls and allowing the children to serve themselves.

If they've got many healthy options, parents should feel confident their kids are getting the proper nutrients.

Thornton said a good rule of thumb for kids is about a tablespoon per year of age. She used meatloaf, potatoes and veggies as an example.

"So if you're 4, you get four tablespoons of meatloaf, four tablespoons of potatoes and so on," Thornton said.

Question your motives

Sometimes hunger is really "hunger." Thornton said the latest brain science examining the psychology of why we eat too much has more to do with behavior and habit than actual hunger.

Often people are eating because they are bored, or simply eating because the food is there.

"If people are stressed, they come to find out they're eating out of stress," said Thornton, who teaches a series of classes called the Solution Method for Weight, which targets resiliency to stress as a means to weight loss.

"Until you have the skills to process the stress, you can't change," Thornton said.

Deal with stress

"At some point, I discovered that when I was upset, I could go in the fruit bowl and I could eat six or seven apples and I could feel better," said Barbara Gere, who said it took her more than 20 years to gain control over her compulsive eating.

For Gere, 58, of Frederick County, Md., eating was a way of coping. Eating would take away negative feelings. The emotional pain was just as bad as the negative health outcomes, Gere said. For compulsive eaters, the triggers can differ.

"I can really binge on roast beef and turkey," Gere said. "We used to have those on Sunday dinners. That's when we (her family) didn't have fights."

Frushour said these sorts compulsive eating issues are beyond the realm of what a dietitian or nutritionist can handle.

"I would recommend seeing a therapist or a counselor," Frushour said.

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