Portion Distortion: 5 Easy Ways to Downsize Your Servings

What’s less likely to derail your diet: a big bowl of frozen yogurt or a small chocolate chip cookie? If you guessed the cookie, you’re right—and you’re in the minority. In one recent survey, 62% of people said that the kind of food you eat matters more than how much you eat when you’re trying to lose weight. But new research on portion control says that’s wrong. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who shrank their portions by 25% slashed 250 calories a day—enough to help them lose a half-pound a week—and still felt full. Ready to downsize? Here are five easy ways to get started.

Trim your trigger foods
Most people typically overeat two or three favorite foods—usually pastas, breads, meats, snacks, or sweets, says Stacey Nelson, MS, RD, LDN, senior clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It may be that we love the taste, nosh mindlessly in front of the TV, or just hang on to a childhood habit. Nelson’s tip: Get to know recommended serving sizes for your favorites, and stick to them as closely as you can. Butter your bread, for instance, with a pat no bigger than a large postage stamp, says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of The Portion Teller. A serving of fish (3 ounces) should be the size of a checkbook, a serving of steak should look like a deck of cards, and a potato serving should be no bigger than a computer mouse. (For more comparisons, visit EatRight.org and search for “portion sizes.”)

If those portions sound frustratingly small, start slowly. Eat a few spoonfuls less of rice and pasta, or go with half a sandwich instead of a whole. Cutting portions of foods with hefty calories helps you cut calories, period, says Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University. And fewer calories equal fewer pounds. Bonus: As long as you don’t go overboard, this simple lifestyle change lets you eat almost anything (we didn’t mention that cookie for nothing).

See less, eat less
“We eat whatever portion is placed before us,” says David Levitsky, PhD, an obesity researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. So the trick is to avoid seeing more food than you want to eat. This strategy worked for Susan Pedersen, 40, of Wichita, Kan. By immediately putting away food after serving herself the right-size portions, she skipped second helpings and lost 35 pounds. “I’d cook only one portion of meat or serve about a cup of spaghetti and then refrigerate the leftovers,” she says. “The rest of the meal would be salad with a low-fat dressing and some fruit.”

Tweak this approach for snacks. Place a small amount of pretzels in a bowl instead of grazing from bags or boxes. And freeze tempting treats like brownies. They won’t call out from the cupboard.

Shrink your plates
Try eating dinner on smaller side plates; you’ll have less to eat. “When I eat off of a salad plate, I still feel full. It definitely works,” says Suzanne Rapp, 33, an equity trader in Boston who shed 10 pounds in less than three months.

Don’t like salad plates? Try dishware designed to keep your portions in check. Mesü ($50; 973-582-4208 ) offers a stylish six-piece porcelain set that features pastel graphics on the bottom to indicate portion sizes from ½ to 2 cups and pastel lines inside to tell you when to stop piling on the pasta (or whatever).

Create your own after-meal ritual
Brush your teeth. Chew a piece of sugarless gum. Or sip a hot drink like tea or sugar-free cocoa. These rituals can be cues to stop eating and should help curb the impulse to indulge in seconds or dessert, Nelson says.

Try practicing mind over munching
Overeating is often a psychological problem. These mind games may help.

  • Think of meat and pasta as side dishes. For instance, fill half your plate with broccoli and cauliflower, a quarter with chicken, and a quarter with linguine.
  • Imagine you’re treating your body like a trash can when you polish off morsels you don’t really want. Yuck.
  • Many of us are programmed to eat in “units” (one sandwich, one yogurt, etc.), notes a new study in Psychological Science. If that sounds like you, stick to small units. Chances are, you won’t go back for another—or back to your old dress size.

By Alicia Potter

Source of Contaminated Tomatoes Still Unknown: FDA

FRIDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) — Even as the number of reported illnesses from salmonella-tainted tomatoes continued to climb, U.S. health officials were still grappling to find the source of the contamination.

The number of people sickened in the outbreak has risen to 228 in 23 states, with 25 hospitalizations, health officials announced Thursday. Six more states—Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Vermont—have now reported cases.

And, officials said, the number of infections is likely to climb as more suspected cases are formally diagnosed as salmonellosis, the infection caused by the salmonella bacteria.

“The CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] considers the outbreak ongoing,” Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for food protection at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said during a late-Thursday teleconference. “The lag time between somebody consuming a tomato and winding up in the system could be two weeks or longer. You always see a delay between consumption and it actually appearing in a database.”

Despite assurances earlier this week that officials were zeroing in on the source of the infections, Acheson said the cause of the outbreak still hasn’t been determined.

“I understand the frustration. We were being too optimistic earlier in the week. The truth is, every time we get more information, we are getting a little closer,” he said.

“It’s true to say that we may never know what farm the outbreak started on,” Acheson added. “The goal is to trace it back to the farm and try to find out what went wrong.”

States reporting illnesses include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, the FDA said.

On Tuesday, the warning about salmonella-contaminated tomatoes was expanded to include the entire country.

So far there have been no confirmed deaths, but the death of a Texas man was still under investigation, Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the OutbreakNet Team at the CDC, said during a Wednesday teleconference. The man had cancer and consumed pico de gallo, which is made with tomatoes.

The particular type of salmonella involved, Salmonella Saintpaul, is virulent and relatively rare, accounting for only about 400 reported cases annually in the United States, Williams said.

FDA officials have said the outbreak seems to be linked to certain types of raw and red tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes. In particular, the agency said, raw, red plum tomatoes; raw, red Roma tomatoes; and raw, round red tomatoes should be avoided at this time.

Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached appear to be safe. But all tomatoes should be washed before eating, officials advised.

The FDA recommends consuming raw, red plum, raw, red Roma or raw, red round tomatoes only if you know they have been grown and harvested from these areas: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Belgium, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea in humans. Some 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States each year, although the CDC estimates that because milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be 30 or more times greater. Approximately 600 people die each year after being infected.

In related news, there were these actions on Thursday:

  • U.S. lawmakers voted to subpoena nine companies that are responsible for analyzing the most dangerous foods entering the country. The House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce subcommittee has been investigating for months the possibility that government import alerts were being circumvented. Potentially dangerous foods from abroad can only enter the marketplace after a laboratory has determined they are safe, according to FDA rules. But the investigators have been told that it is a routine practice for private labs to test food until a clean result is obtained, the Associated Press reported.
  • Congressional investigators said the FDA has failed to meet its own stated goals of protecting the nation’s food supply.The investigators for the Government Accountability Office were scheduled to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the FDA has done little to implement its “food protection plan,” a risk-based inspection system of food plants, which the agency released in November, The New York Times reported.
  • A poll released by the Harvard School of Public Health found that, despite the number of food safety incidents in recent years, most Americans are confident that the food produced in the United States is safe. However, many have concerns about the safety of imported food produced in some other countries.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the current salmonella outbreak.

SOURCES: June 12, 2008, teleconference with David Acheson, M.D., associate commissioner for foods, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; June 11, 2008, teleconference with Ian Williams, M.D., chief, OutbreakNet Team, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; June 12, 2008, news release, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston