A Diet Recalibration to Treat Obesity

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

You have likely tried at least a few trending diets, with mostly the same result – lose some pounds and then gain them back and then some. A diet recalibration that changes your perception of portions may be just what’s missing in your efforts to fight obesity.

You’re often asked to choose healthier foods or to limit certain types of foods to restrict calories. Some diets allow you to eat what you want from the list of approved foods. Other diets suggest fasting days or eating a very specific number of meals. In any case, you need to use portion control to meet the calorie restriction requirements. Following diets is often difficult because of your portion perception. If your view is skewed, recalibration may help you to finally shed pounds.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2018, suggests that the sizes of commercially available food are linked to the worldwide obesity crisis. Many of us seem to have lost perspective on a single portion size of food, because we are being served significantly larger portions. In fact, “large” is often a selling point for fast food and traditional restaurants. The study looked at whether exposure to smaller portions could result in a reset or recalibration of how people eat. Essentially, the goal was to see if people can be reconditioned to eat smaller portions.

Testing different portion sizes

In the first part of the study, subjects were asked to not eat for two hours before lunch. They were told they would fill out a mood and palatability questionnaire before lunch, and then fill out a similar one after lunch. Subjects were randomly assigned either a larger or smaller serving of tomato quiche and salad on a standard dinner plate with a glass of water.

Subjects were brought back the next day and given the word task before lunch. Large servings of quiche and salad were brought in and the subjects were told to serve themselves while the researchers went to get the mood/palatability questionnaires. This time some of the questions were about portion size, hunger satisfaction, and portion perception. The goal was to see if what they were served the first time impacted the amount of food they took for the second lunch and how satisfied they were, as well as whether some of them were able to understand that smaller quantities of food still satisfied hunger.

Exposure to smaller portions guides behavior

The next part of the study served smaller portions for several days to see whether repetition helped the subjects to keep choosing smaller portions. All three study parts showed that when subjects are exposed to smaller portions, they are somewhat easily guided to begin to eat smaller portions on their own.

In the study, male and female subjects could continue choosing smaller portions, literally recalibrating the portion size they were eating after the study. Shrinking portion size and exposing people to this new norm seemed to be a successful way to help to re-acquaint people to more sensible and reasonable amounts of food. The study showed that people were satisfied and not hungrier with the smaller portions.

Is it possible to "renormalize" portions?

Similar to the public health program that aimed to reduce salt in foods and remove trans fats, the researchers suggest that an effort to encourage commercial and processed food companies (and fast food restaurants) to “renormalize” portion sizes might help to curb the obesity epidemic.

However, the study begs the question: “How long does this effect last?” It seems that the effects are more likely to persist if most of the food you eat is served in smaller portion sizes. For example, dieticians and nutritionists use visual aids like:

  • A portion of cheese equals two dice.

  • A portion of protein equals fingertips to wrist and one inch in thickness.

  • A portion of rice or grains equals a closed fist.

But when your plate comes the portions are so much bigger, you will be hard pressed to “just eat the right amount.” If the idea of a diet recalibration is interesting, consider doing the following to recalibrate your portions:

  • Use smaller plates.

  • Use tall, thin glasses.

  • Use smaller serving utensils.

  • Never serve family style – put portions of each food group measured on the plate.

  • Make snack size bags of tempting foods like cereal, grains snacks, and nuts.

  • Pre-portion proteins like poultry, fish, and meats before cooking.

  • Don’t buy in bulk unless you are going to create portion sized bags or containers before storing.

  • Buy single serving size of processed food items when possible.

If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, but struggle with slow “weight creep,” these portion control tips and a diet recalibration several times a year, might help you to remain in control of your calories and your weight. Even the best of us can benefit from a portion size review.

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at healthgal.com. Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”