- Large portions have become an automatic behaviour in some individuals facilitated by cultural norms or when food is served by others.
- The experience of using a guided crockery set (CS) and a calibrated serving spoon set (SS) by individuals trying to manage their weight was examined.
- Self-selected portion sizes increased for vegetables and decreased for chips and potatoes with both tools.
Portion control has been recognised as an important behavioral element for weight management, and reducing portion sizes at specific meals has been shown to reduce daily energy intake.
A new study from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby has found that using a guided crockery set (CS) which had a plate, bowl and glass and a calibrated serving spoon set (SS) improved the serving size of healthy food in obese adults.
‘The less you are physically involved in obtaining your food the more you are likely to eat unhealthily.’
Twenty-nine obese adults who had completed 7-12 weeks of a community weight-loss programme were invited to use both tools for 2 weeks each, in a crossover design, with minimal health professional contact. A paper-based questionnaire was used to collect data on acceptance, perceived changes in portion size, frequency, and type of meal when the tool was used.
People who volunteered to use portion-stencilled utensils, plates and bowls at home actually became less apt to give themselves large portions of the more unhealthy foods like chips and more likely to up their portion sizes of vegetables. Participants also noted that the visual cues helped them learn about portion control.
The results of this short intervention show that two commercial portion control tools consisting of calibrated tableware and portioning serving spoons are acceptable, easy to use and potentially effective instruments for inclusion as part of weight-loss interventions.
Both tools were equally acceptable and perceived as potentially effective, although the CS was used daily by more people and across a wider range of meals than the serving SS.
The researchers surmise that being less physically involved in the portioning out allows people to feel less responsible for the act of indulging in the treat.
"When we are dispensing frozen yogurt from a machine or slicing up a piece of cake ourselves, we are actively choosing how much we're taking and how unhealthy we are eating, so we feel a sense of responsibility," says Brent McFerran, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser and study co-author. "However, when it's served by someone else, we don't feel as guilty for unhealthy eating and indulging, because we forego some personal responsibility."
This greater inclination to eat potentially unhealthy foods when not physically involved in the serving bodes poorly for our restaurant-going activities, say the study's authors, as these situations allow us to completely absolve ourselves of both controlling portion sizes and, according to this study, deciding not to eat "the whole thing."
"More frequent unhealthy restaurant choices could lead to increased frequency and size of unhealthy choices, ultimately contributing to weight gain."
- Eva Almiron-Roig et al., Acceptability and potential effectiveness of commercial portion control tools amongst people with obesity, British Journal of Nutrition (2016)