Pyramids, Portions, Pictures & Plates

Portion control has been tested and proven to help reduce calorie intake and lead to weight loss. Obesity is rapidly becoming the greatest cause of disease and death in our country. Statistics show that over 60 percent of us are obese or, at least, overweight. Some of the diseases related to overweight and obesity include diabetes, cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure. Children’s diabetes is becoming commonplace. We are super-sized, over-served, fast-fooded and restaurant-fed to new weights. As a country, we’ve been tracked over the last few decades, and the results are that our weight has increased at the same rate as our portions have increased. After all, Mama insisted we clean our plates. In her defense, she was mostly cooking fresh, healthier foods. Some of us were rewarded with sweets when we acted nice or made good grades and such.

Sweets, then, became even more special and important to us. So when we were grown and could choose and pay for our own food, we craved sweets. Our philosophy became: If a piece of something — candy, pie, cake — is good, then two or three pieces or more frequent sweet or fried or fatty “rewards” must be better, right?
In an article published in the AARP newsletter, Martina Navratilova related how, when she came here in 1973, Cokes were packed in 6-ounce bottles and hamburgers were 2.5 ounces. These days, popular-sized soft drinks are 20 ounces, and hamburgers have doubled, tripled or grown even larger in size.

Our current economy, with so many of our people being out of work and prices being higher for food and transportation, probably plays a big part in our big eating. Starches such as potatoes, rice, tortillas and bread are less expensive and make us feel better. They don’t call mashed potatoes comfort food for nothin.’ Eating seems to help when we’re stressed, at least for a few minutes, unless you’re one of those mysterious people who can’t eat when stressed or upset. Our busy lifestyles have made us a grab-and-go, stuff-it-down-quickly society. Visualizing correct portions helps us remember them when we sit down to the table. Pictured below are some familiar everyday objects used to approximate correct portion sizes, according to USDA recommendations.

Plates & Portions

Most dietitians go along with the USDA recommendations as to healthy plate ratios and the types of foods to put in the areas. They advise us to visually divide the plate into three areas: One-third of the plate should be designated for vegetables, one-third for proteins (grilled, baked or broiled is preferred for cooking meat and chicken) and the remaining third for starches. Choosing whole-grain starches is best for your waistline, your heart and for a longer-lasting feeling of satisfaction. Eat your colored vegetables. As you’ll notice when looking at some of the other charts, fruits and vegetables are to be included in your diet in larger quantities than any of the other food groups. As it turns out, each of the color groups also provides different nutrients. So now you must eat your vegetables and assure that you have a lot of color on your plate as well. Many restaurants serve portions that are three or four times larger than a healthy serving would be. Studies show that we will not only eat what’s on the plate in front of us (Mama said to clean our plates), but that we’ll even eat stuff that’s not so tasty (cold stale chips or bread or popcorn at the movies).

All the while, we’ll be protesting, “Someone please take the food away, or I’ll just keep eating.” As for a fabulous basket of hot bread and butter or an olive oil blend to dip it in … forgetaboutit. We need to educate ourselves and our children so we can develop healthy eating habits and strengthen our self-control when we’re around food. Remember the old saying, “The best form of exercise is pushing away from the table.” Well, we can now say that a good way to lose weight and be healthy is to cut down our portions. One way to help yourself when eating out is to order two appetizers. This is a win-win strategy because you can taste two different foods while controlling the amount of calories you consume. Another way is to order one of the “small plates” now offered in many eateries. You can also decide beforehand that you will eat only half of your meal and take the rest home in a “people” bag or container. Some diners confront temptation by requesting a “to go” container as soon as the food arrives at the table and placing half of their food into it immediately, putting it out of sight and somewhat out of mind.

Ordering a salad to consume before your entree or a double order of vegetables to substitute for the starchy food included as part of your meal is also a smart way to assure that your plate will be filled and your appetite will be satisfied. In many other countries, people are not as fat as we are. You might say, “Yes, but they walk more.” Well, maybe yes, maybe no. They often have more opportunities to use mass transportation systems such as trains and subways than we have — particularly here in Texas, where we drive to get a tube of toothpaste. But the real key for many of these places is simply to eat small portions and take longer to eat them. They don’t deny themselves or consider themselves “bad” for eating any foods, including desserts.

Moderation is the mantra. It’s how they are brought up … to savor foods and to linger over meals, enjoying the company of family and friends. As a culture of drive-through and gobble down our food, our busy lives leave no time for … well, living! Remember, smaller amounts of food can be consumed in a shorter amount of time. And smaller amounts of healthy foods can stay with you longer and won’t stretch your waistline. Many fast-food places are now including healthier choices on their menus. Some helpful tools you can use at home for portion control: I discovered there are some relatively inexpensive, simple tools available that seem to work well to assure we control our servings. One is basically a “cover” that acts as a template for correct portions. The portion sizes are cut out, kind of like a muffin pan with the bottoms cut off. You place this over your own plate, fill the appropriate holes with food, lift off the template, and voila! correct portions of food appear on your plate. One reviewer wrote that this tool, which costs around $10, was easy to use and that it allowed her to eat sensibly, even on holidays.

Another tool is called the “portion plate.” The plates have color codes equal to the aforementioned USDA recommended sizes of foods for good nutrition: one-third vegetables and fruits, one-third protein and one-third starches. There are also fun, decorative children’s portion plates available to teach them healthy eating habits. You can also find a diabetes portion plate. Let’s not forget the food scales that have been used for many years by Weight Watcher aficionados as their guideline for proper food proportioning. We don’t want to leave out Fido (Fideaux) and FiFi, either. Pick up one of those automated programmable portion control feeders for dogs and cats at your local pet supply stores or online.

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