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Health Notes

Health Notes
(From our October 2017 Issue)

Portion Distortion

Health Notes Doctor Picture

Dr. Joshua Eberhard
Southwest Office
2610 Tenderfoot Hill St
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
719-522-1143

There is an issue that I’ve been calling “portion distortion,” which is becoming a huge problem due to the obesity epidemic that our country is currently facing. According to the CDC from 2011 to 2014, approximately 17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 years were obese. Adult obesity rates were even worse, over 35 percent!  There are many factors contributing to obesity, including eating unhealthy food, lack of physical activity, and genetic factors. And there are many consequences of obesity, the most significant being the risk for diabetes and other health issues as an adult. Many parents are aware of these problems, recognize when their child is heavy and try to implement changes. However, many parents come back into my office and say the child has eliminated soda, is eating healthy and has increased physical activity, but are still struggling to lose (or even just maintain) weight. Often an aspect that they are missing is the portion size of the “healthy” food the child is consuming. Even though it is better for them, it still might be too much.

People generally don’t have a hard time finding the area on the food container where it says how many calories are in a serving, but they usually skip looking at the serving size. Sometimes it’s because they assume what they’re getting is one serving. For example, I’ve seen a 20-ounce bottle of soda that boasts 120 calories per serving. Not bad, right? The problem is that the nutrition facts state there are two servings per bottle. And let’s be honest, who shares a 20-ounce bottle of soda with someone else?

One reason why serving sizes are so hard to decipher is that it can be hard to picture what an actual serving size is in our minds. It’s hard to imagine what 28 grams of chips or 5 ounces of broccoli looks like on a plate or in our hands. Or is a “cup” of juice a measuring cup or a drinking cup? Another aspect of this is that portion sizes have gotten much larger than they used to be. As a result, today we’re used to big portions. For example, in 1985 the average bagel was three inches in diameter. Today, bagels are about six inches in diameter. It’s basically double the size, but still just one bagel. When families go out to eat, most restaurants fill their plates with food. But if you were to go to a restaurant and get the recommended serving size portions, you would probably feel ripped off and ask for your money back.

So, what are parents to do? Meticulously add each calorie? Take a scale with them wherever they go to measure out the portion sizes? Never eat out again? These strategies may work, but usually aren’t sustainable. There is a simpler way to start that I often suggest to parents who are struggling to manage their child’s weight.

First, I encourage them to keep a food diary for the child for just three days, including one weekend day. During this time, I encourage them to just observe and be as accurate and detailed as possible. I recommend parents log food intake down in the moment so nothing gets missed. I also recommend that they don’t make any modifications and are very honest. Often when reviewing these logs, parents will realize that their child is actually having more unhealthy snacks or beverages, and in larger quantities, than they had originally thought. A food diary is a great way to find where changes can be made.

If portion control is an issue, there are simple ways to reduce sizes that are sometimes easier than measuring everything out. For example, encouraging children struggling with weight issues to use smaller plates can address the portion size issue. A big plate with an appropriate amount of food will look like you aren’t getting enough, so a smaller plate tells their mind that they’ve had enough. Another trick is to compare the portion the child is receiving to the portion the parent is having. I often tell parents, “Your ten-year old shouldn’t be eating as much as you.” If you eat out, order one meal for two people or ask for a “to go” box as soon as your food gets there and put half of it away before you even start eating. This will also help save you money!  Remember the goal is not to get full; it is to satisfy your hunger.

Portion control isn’t the secret to maintaining a healthy weight. A healthy lifestyle includes eating healthy food and incorporating physical activity.  But being mindful of the amount of food that you and your child consume is an important part of the equation.

https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html
https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html