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Shedding Pounds With Portion Control

This story originally aired Dec. 1, 2006

Believe it or not, you can eat fast food, chocolate, candy and cookies and still shed pounds. The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen met a professor who says it all comes down to something very simple: portion control.

Junk and fast food may be considered the enemy in the battle of the bulge but that doesn't have to be the case.

Nutrition expert Jim Painter says it's not so much what you eat but how much you eat. He proves it in his documentary, "Portion Size Me," where he put two of his students on a 30-day fast food diet.

"They both ended up losing a couple pounds, their blood cholesterol dropped, their blood lipids stayed normal, their liver enzymes stayed normal, everything was fine if they ate the right portion," Painter explains.

The students ate fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner and still ended up losing weight. But getting the right portion size is getting harder.

Painter showed Koeppen how portions have ballooned over the years. A Caesar Salad 20 years ago was about half the size of a salad today - and half the calories. The same goes with the portion size of pasta and meatballs. Portions have gotten much bigger.

"One of the problems is that we have this idea that more is better, and if you look at people's waistlines, they are more now, and it's not better," Painter says.

But is it possible to eat smaller portions and still be satisfied? Painter says yes, and to prove his point, he helped The Early Show set up an experiment.

We invited a group of people to take part in an all-you-can-eat ice cream taste test.

Painter invited participants to take as much as they wanted and to come back for seconds. We started by splitting them into two separate groups.

Group A was given a big scoop, big bowls, and big spoons; group B was given a scoop, bowls, and spoons that were half the size.

As a result, group A took huge portions and piled on the toppings. Once we weighed each bowl, they ate. Everyone in this group ate quickly and most came back for seconds.

When group B came in with smaller bowls, they filled their dishes but with the smaller spoons, it took them more time to get to the bottom of the bowl and most quit after only one serving.

Asked if they felt like that had eaten enough ice cream, the group said, "Yes."

Then we revealed the truth of our experiment, and the results. Even though both groups said they were completely satisfied, group A - the one with the bigger bowls and spoons - ate twice as much as group B.

"Why do you think your group ate less?" Koeppen asked a woman from group B.

"I guess when you see that your bowl's full and you eat everything in there, you feel that you've had enough and that's all that you need," she replied.

Jim painter says the lesson is simple: control your weight by controlling your portion size.

Asked the appropriate size is, Painter says: "I don't think you need to make a big calculation, and I tell people this and I'm serious about this. Reach down and grab your side. If there's more between your thumb and your index finger than you want, think small and choose small."

Painter says choosing small can be as easy as downsizing all of your plates, bowls and glasses.

Painter has some other great tips on how to keep your portion size in check:

  • Write it down: Keep track of everything that you eat. People often lose track of what they eat during the course of the day.
  • Split your meal: When going out, Painter suggests splitting the entrée or meal with your spouse or a friend. If you are ordering a full portion for yourself, ask the waiter for a doggie bag as soon as the plate arrives and put half the portion in the container.
  • Buy small packages of foods you like: Instead of buying a large bag of chips or package of cookies, buy the really small, single serving bags.
  • Keep food out of reach: Keeping food, like candy, out of reach will help you cut down on calories. Koeppen did a simple, informal experiment in The Early Show's newsroom, putting a bowl of chocolate near the center of the room; when the bowl was moved to a more remote location, staffers ate three times less candy.

    For more information about portion sizes and Jim Painter's documentary, "Portion Size Me," click here.

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