Hold the Line Over the Holidays

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December 2, 2008

By Lynn Difley

Hello, it’s the season of temptation and, often weight gain. In the winter months, like proper domestic pets, we acquire extra pounds, presumably to make it through the long cold time of famine. However, many of us are not particularly thrilled with putting on a winter flotation device, and want to hold the line during the holiday fun and festivities. You don’t need to be a licensed dietician to know that to lose weight and maintain health, you must cut calories and increase physical activity. If you are simply trying to hold the line, it requires a balance of calories in, calories out. It’s that simple (to understand–but not to follow through on).
So how do you make this work when cookies, rich desserts, high calorie holiday meals and endless rounds of eggnog surround you?
Track the calories. It may be painful and tedious, but it gets results. Whether you use a pencil and pad, or the highest tech devices, monitoring what goes in and what you burn off is the number one effective tool for weight loss, or maintenance.
Portion plays a big part in the calorie in/calorie out game. Let’s say you have a banana nut muffin with your morning coffee. If you look up the calorie count, a 1.5-ounce muffin amounts to 130 calories. But watch out for the super size trap. Suppose you eat one of the Grande sized banana nut muffins- 410 calories. That’s quite a difference. Studies show that those who effectively control their weight are honest about their portion sizes and their exercise activities. Those who have a weight problem are not so good at estimating either portions or workouts.
One portion of food is not necessarily the same as one serving. You can use a nutritional guidebook, or online chart to help you track the calories you consume.
Learn and pay attention to the size that constitutes a single serving, as compared to the portion you pile on your plate. Take a serving of beef, an American favorite. A serving is listed as three ounces, which is the size of a deck of cards. Compare that with the 12-ounce steak advertised in the Sizzler, and you realize you have to multiply the calories listed by 4 to have an accurate account of your dinner.
Have you noticed that the portion sizes today are bigger than they were some years ago? This could explain why we are bigger than we were years ago as well.
So what’s the big deal, a few extra calories here and there? Well, it’s not a big deal until it happens on a regular basis, over time. Let’s say you eat an extra 100 calories a day, due to the slightly increased size of your favorite snack food. At the end of a year, you will find that you have gained 10 pounds.
Look at how much more people consume in a portion today compared to people in the 50s:

Item 1950’s today
French fries 2.4 ounces 7.1 ounces
Hamburger patty 1.6 ounce 8 ounces
Muffin 3.0 ounces 6.5 ounces
Pasta serving 1.5 cups 3.0 cups
Chocolate bar 1 ounce 8 ounces
Soda 12 ounce 42 ounce

A small, two and a half ounce portion of French fries has 210 calories, compared to a whopping 610 calories in the seven-ounce size. While a 12-ounce fountain soft drink contributes a relatively modest 150 calories to a meal, a mega size 42-ounce cup contributes 410 calories.
If you drink that huge soft drink and eat a giant hamburger with an extra large fries that contains as many as 1,000 calories – that would total about 2,000 calories in one sitting – more than many people need to eat in a single day!

If you are trying to hold the line, beware of the portion distortion game. Here are a few tricks to help:

  • Take a good look at what you eat, and if you don’t know the serving size, look it up. If you buy oversized bags or boxes of foods, repackage to individual serving sizes.
  • Going out to eat? Share a meal. The sizes are so big, they serve at least two. If you have dessert, divide it among three people, so you can all taste, but none need to overindulge.
  • Just you eating? Divide the meal in two and ask for a take home box before you even start to eat. That way you have tomorrow’s meal as well as todays.
  • Eat more slowly; giving yourself the full 20 minutes it takes for the message to get from your belly to your brain that you’re full. Serve yourself and put the food away, don’t leave it on the table so that you can eat seconds, thirds or more. You know if it’s there in front of you you’ll be tempted to have another serving, even when you don’t need it.

If you have trouble leaving food on your plate, remember that there are two ways to waste food. You can throw it out, or carry it around in your fat cells. If you made the mistake in serving yourself, or being served too much, don’t make it worse by eating it all.

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1 comment

  1. Fred


    I really liked your comparison of portion sizes from the 1950s to today’s portion sizes. I had my first McDonald’s burger and fries while in early high school back in the 50s in Maryland. I think that is when fast food first started up.

    It got to be the “thing to do” when I first starting dating. Other drive-ins had the servers on roller skates. Oh, the memories.

    I’m very lucky in that I don’t weigh much more than I did in high school. I seem to be able to eat anything and at any size I want. Even at 69 I still have a high metabolism. It drives my wife crazy.

    The idea of eating more slowly really works. My 75 year-old sister eats a big portion like it was her last meal, but eats so slowly that she is always the last to get up from the table. She never has gained any significant weight.

    I hope my little story doesn’t discourage those of your blog members that seem to struggle with weight gains. Sometimes the struggle is about will power. Sometimes it is about setting a weight limit that’s unrealistic. My wife makes little jokes about her weight to justify her lack of will power. Her favorite joke is, “Eat desert first…”

    However, if those that need to will heed your dietary information and do sufficient exercising along with it, they will do just fine. Because some people have a better vision of the long term results, they are more able to force themselves to diet. Others need to quit thinking about it so obsessively and just take a casual attitude and…Oh well, it is very complicated and I’m no expert.

    Your articles are very easy to understand and I especially like the graphics. They help me to “see” the ideas a lot easier.