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Could eating from a small bowl like Liz help keep those pounds off?


Actress Elisabeth Hurley

Actress Elisabeth Hurley

Actress Elisabeth Hurley

Obesity is a condition where there is so much fat in the body that it adversely affects our health. It's the most common nutritional disorder in the world, and to simply put it, it happens when people eat more calories than they need.

It has devastating consequences and is highly linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and death.

Two out of every five Irish adults are overweight and one in four is obese. What's even more alarming is that four out of every five over-50s in Ireland are overweight or obese.

The saddest statistic of all is that one in five Irish children and teenagers is overweight or obese.

Why Are We Obese?

Eating food is driven by necessity - it is essential to human life and vital for maintaining our health and to fuel our activities.

To maintain a normal weight and to prevent obesity, our bodies need to establish an energy balance. It's a pretty basic concept - consume calories from food and drink and then use the calories for our daily energy requirements.

But with all the information available needed to successfully reduce food consumption, then why is the obesity epidemic at an all-time high?

Eating can be considered an automatic behaviour. In other words, the environment has more control than the individuals do. Eating behaviours can occur without awareness, unintentionally, without control, and with little perceived effort. The result being that we eat more food than we need and basically we get fat without even realising.

In an ideal world, we would eat when hungry and stop when full. Interestingly, children under the age of three are able to do just that. They respond to the body's hunger and satiety cues regardless of food that is put in from of them.

However, as we age, it seems that internal cues go out the window and we simply eat more food if we are given more food, even in the absence of hunger. More often than not, we go into auto-pilot and eat what is in front of us for no other reason than because it's there.

The amount of food we eat is strongly influenced by external factors such as portion sizes, the visibility of food through advertising, and access to ready-to-eat highly-palatable foods.

Better shaping of our food environment, which encourages people to eat less, could play a major role in addressing the obesity epidemic in Ireland.

Changes You'll Hardly Notice

It is most likely not a coincidence that the prevalence of obesity has coincided with an increase in portion sizes both at home and eating out.

Ever buy a large share bag of Tayto but don't actually share it and eat it all yourself? I bet that you weren't even hungry; you just ate it because it was there, right? How about that jumbo share pack of Maltesers and the extra-large bucket of popcorn at the cinema last Friday night? Not hungry then either no?

It has been shown that when people are served larger portions of food, they do not respond to increased levels of fullness, and basically ignore their satiety levels. We eat food because it is there, we can see it, we can smell it, and because it tastes so good.

While the Tayto, Maltesers and popcorn can and should be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet - it must be emphasised that they should be consumed in moderation with appropriate portion sizes.

Buy smaller size packets of crisps, buy fun-size chocolate bars, buy a scoop of popcorn rather than a bucket. You'll still enjoy your treat and you'll hardly even notice the difference because of the automatic nature of eating.

Our Crockery is a Mockery

Something as trivial as the size of our dinner plates could be making us fat. So a very simple solution is to use a smaller one.

In 1900, plates were 9 inches in diameter. In 1950, they were 10 inches, and nowadays, they are nearly 12 inches. As a nation, we're definitely fatter than in 1900. Coincidence? I think not.

We can use a smaller plate to trick ourselves into eating less. For example, if you served the exact same sized meal on both a larger and smaller plate, the meal on the larger place would seem measly in comparison to the one served on the smaller plate. Using larger plates encourages you to pile more food on, which ultimately means you eat more.

By using a smaller plate, you will put less food on, and you will eat less. This is a good trick for those who have a tendency to clean your plate regardless of satiety cues.

While on the subject of crockery, it's worth mentioning the size of bowls that are big enough to bring to the beach to make sandcastles out of. This is fair enough if you're filling it with vegetables, but what do most of us use bowls for? Cereal.

A cereal serving size is a puny 40g. Pour 40g of Cornflakes into a sandcastle building bowl and watch your heart sink at the thoughts of eating so little food. If cereal's your thing, then invest in a smaller bowl to lessen the paltriness.

What To Put On Your Plate

To control your food intake, you can use your own hand as a personalised and portable measuring device, without having to do the maths assignment that is calorie counting.

If you're a bigger person then you'll have a bigger hand and a smaller person will have a smaller hand.

Start by filling your plate with nutrient-dense, low-calorie vegetables and some fruits. Have a good 1-2 fists with each meal.

Next, add a good source of protein, such as lean meats, salmon, or eggs. Protein helps with appetite control and maintaining lean body mass. Women aim to eat 1 palm size with each meal and men aim for 2 palms.

Healthy fats should also be included, as they're essential for optimal health. Women aim for 1 thumb of fat, and men aim for 2 thumbs. Try to get most of your fats from foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut.

And finally, add starchy carbs. They're mainly used in the body as an energy source, so if your activity levels are higher, then your carb levels should be higher. Women aim for 1-2 cupped handfuls, and men aim for 2-3 cupped handfuls.

For breaded goods, 1 portion or cupped handful is 1 slice or 1 small wrap, or 1 small pitta. Good sources are whole-sprouted grains, bananas, potatoes, oats, and rice.

Practice Mindful Eating

Make yourself aware of what you're eating, how much you're eating, and how it's making you feel. Tune into your body and listen to your hunger cues and satiety levels.

It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to receive signals that you're satisfied from food. So eat slowly, make each meal last 15-20 minutes, and give your body enough time to let it know you're full.

If you're feeling satisfied but there's still some food left on the plate, it's perfectly ok to put down the fork and stop eating. Don't feel obliged to clean the plate just 'because'.

Finally, to end by noting that there's a multitude of reasons for the obesity epidemic and just as many approaches to address it.

This article is by no means all-encompassing and merely addresses the problem of portion sizes and its contribution to the obesity issue.

Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer, visit her website www.thenutcoach.com or email Karen@thenutcoach.com