All-you-can-eat buffets, super-sized meals, and cavernous drinks may help keep your wallet full, but they are also helping to expand your waistline.
Nutrition experts say portion control is one of the biggest factors in successfully losing weight. But Americans are not very good at recognizing reasonable portion sizes anymore.
"If people could cut down on their portion sizes, this would be the single greatest way to combat the creeping obesity epidemic," says Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, at 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."
And, if you think consuming more food than you should at one meal is not a big concern, consider that just "100 calories a day more than you need adds up to 10 pounds in one year," says Miriam Pappo, Registered Dietician, at Montefiore Medical Center. "That's only one or two tablespoons of salad dressing.”
A recent study of 120 healthy adults found that when people were given the right size portions, their weight loss efforts were much more successful.
Men in the study were allowed to eat about 1,700 calories daily, while the women were advised to eat 1,365 calories. Both groups were also told that their diet should consist of 55 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.
In addition, 30 men and 30 women were given prepackaged daily entrees of meat and rice and were told to add two large salads, fruit, and two glasses of skim milk a day to the menu.
The remaining men and women were coached on making healthy choices but were allowed to select their own portions.
In two months, the women given prepackaged portions lost 12 pounds, while those who selected their own portions only lost eight pounds. The men eating prepackaged portions lost 16 pounds, versus 11 pounds for those who controlled their own portions.
Dr. Fernstrom says prepackaged frozen meals can be a good option, especially when people are trying to re-learn proper portions. But if you do not want to eat a lot of frozen food, she suggests saving the containers from those meals to use as a serving size guide.
Dr. Fernstrom also says that today's dinner plates are simply too big. She recommends eating from salad plates all the time. You can always go back for more food if you're still hungry, she notes.
Pappo agrees that using the "plate method" can also be helpful. Half of your plate should be vegetables, one-quarter should be protein, and the remaining quarter set aside for a starchy food.
"People don't like to measure their food, but you need to do it every three or four months to see if you're on target," says Pappo, who periodically measures her food to make sure she is not overeating.
When it comes to eating out, both Pappo and Fernstrom say challenges abound.
"Always assume it's more than one serving," says Dr. Fernstrom, who recommends sharing an entree with a friend or ordering an appetizer for dinner.
"People don't want to waste food,” she says. “If it's on your plate, you'll probably eat it. If you went by your appetite, you'd probably only eat half of your entrée. You have to change your mindset, eat slower, and get some tools to help you with portion control, like smaller plates."
If you need any more motivation to cut back on your portion sizes, Pappo points out that if you are a 130-pound woman who eats an extra 500 calories - something that is easy to do at a restaurant - you would need to bicycle for an hour and a half to burn off those extra calories.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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While losing weight is difficult for many people, it is even more challenging to keep weight off.
Most individuals who lose a large amount of weight regain it two to three years later. One theory about regaining lost weight is that people who decrease their caloric intake to lose weight experience a drop in their metabolic rate, making it increasingly difficult to lose weight over a period of months.
A lower metabolic rate may also make it easier to regain weight after a more normal diet is resumed. For these reasons, extremely low calorie diets and rapid weight loss are discouraged.
Losing no more than one to two pounds per week is recommended. Incorporating long-term lifestyle changes will increase the chance of successful long-term weight loss.
Weight loss to a healthy weight for a person’s height can promote health benefits such as lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, less stress on bones and joints, and less work for the heart.
Thus, it is vital to maintain weight loss to obtain health benefits over a lifetime.
Keeping extra weight off requires effort and commitment, just as losing weight does. Weight loss goals are reached by changes in diet, eating habits, exercise, and, in extreme circumstances, surgery.
The strategies that encourage weight loss also play an important role in maintenance.
Support systems used effectively during weight loss can contribute to weight maintenance.
A study conducted by the National Weight Control Registry found people who lost weight and continued bi-monthly support group meetings for one year maintained their full weight loss.
Study participants who did not attend support group meetings regained almost half of the weight.
Physical activity plays a vital role in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that even exercise that is not rigorous, such as walking and using stairs, has a positive effect.
Activity that uses 1,500 to 2,000 calories per week is recommended for maintaining weight loss.
Diet and exercise are vital strategies for losing and maintaining weight. A study by the National Weight Control Registry found that nearly all of 784 study participants who had lost at least 30 pounds, and had maintained that loss for one year or longer, used diet and exercise to not only lose the weight, but also to maintain the weight loss.
Once the desired weight has been reached, the gradual addition of about 200 calories of healthy, low-fat food to daily intake may be attempted for one week to see if weight loss continues.
If weight loss does continue, additional calories of healthy foods may be added to the daily diet until the right balance of calories to maintain the desired weight has been determined. It may take some time and record keeping to determine how adjusting food intake and exercise levels affect weight.
Continuing to use behavioral strategies can help maintain weight. Be aware of eating as a response to stress and use exercise, activity, or meditation to cope instead of eating.
Always consult your physician for more information.