I was seeing a patient in the urgent care. She was there for back pain and leg pain. She weighed over 350 lbs. She wanted to know what to take for the pains in her knees. Rather than ignore the elephant in the room, (I know, that’s bad), I looked at her and asked her what her favorite thing to eat was. “Ice cream.” I said OK, you can eat ice cream, but you have to use a bowl. She had a big smile, a little embarrassed, like I was reading her mind-“How does he know.” You have to use a bowl, put a scoop in and stop, then go enjoy it. I told her that she could eat what she wants, but she has to eat less of it, and one way is to see the portion size in a new way.

I attended a nutrition conference this year and one of the speakers was Dr. Jim Painter, from Eastern Illinois University. His research on visual cues and satiety were real eye-openers. My favorite study he did was with college students and ice cream. Here’s the set up: 2 groups of students of about 20 each are allowed access to an ice cream buffet. They can eat as much as they want, and return as often as they want.  The first group is given a large bowl and a big spoon and a large serving spoon. The second group had to use a small bowl, small serving spoon and a tiny spoon to eat with.  EAT AS MUCH AS YOU WANT 🙂

After both groups had finished, he brought them all back together. He asked them if everyone had enough and was satisfied. He almost begged them to have more. Everyone agreed they had enough, and felt fine. When he tallied the weight of ice cream eaten, the big bowl group had consumed more,  a lot more. Even when a similar study was done on 80 nutrition experts, they served themselves 31% more ice cream without even being aware of it!

Think portion size

Another study with people eating pistachio nuts showed that you will eat 35% fewer calories if you keep the shells in front of you as a visual cue to the amount you have eaten. This is part of the reason why keeping a food diary is helpful. By seeing exactly what you are eating, and keeping track of it forces a person to think about what they are putting in their mouths, instead of just mindless eating.

This easy idea of portion size is nicely illustrated in the segment on the CBS Morning Show, watch it!

Tips to eat less:

  • Use a smaller plates and bowls. It makes the serving size look bigger.
  • When eating out, think about sharing a salad and split one entrée with your partner.
  • Ask for the doggy bag before your food arrives. Take out what you should take home before you start the meal.
  • Don’t buy huge bags of chips/snacks…you’ll eat more – 22% more. Buy smaller individual size bags, or servings with just 100 calories per serving.
  • Don’t munch while sitting at your computer, mindless eating again.
  • Put healthy snacks like fruit & vegetables in sight; chocolates and sweets in the pantry.
  • Remember it’s all about portion size.