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Count Your Calories or Measure Your Success?

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

Healthy Eating

It’s the sacred cow of weight management. How else can you explain what happened on the scale unless you know how many calories you ate and hopefully burned through physical activity? But in my experience, it’s more than just a numbers game.

Simply knowing how many calories you ate, drank, or burned doesn’t always transfer either into action or results. The science supporting the benefits of tracking calories is mixed as well. Cookie cutter approaches to managing weight work for some but not for all. So if you’re tired of tracking calories, here are two ridiculously simple tools/techniques that I have used successfully with my patients who aren’t (directly) calorie-focused but manage them well nonetheless:

Eat off of a 9” diameter plate (or less).

Grab a tape measure and measure the diameter of your dinner plate – you might be surprised. In the past 60 years or so, the dinner plate has grown and along with it, our calorie intake – up to 25% more!

Start now by not only “right sizing” your plate but also the everyday bowls and glasses that you use, too. The “Fred Flintstone” model bowl and Big Gulp-style drinking glass needs to be retired. Besides, you’ll feel compelled to fill them up and consume every last bit, according to some great research from Brian Wansink, PhD and his team out of Cornell University. Bigger plates, bowls and glasses simply lead to more calories ingested. Downsize your dinnerware and follow these simple rules:

  • One plateful – that’s all
  • ½ the plate fruits and veggies
  • ¼ plate whole grains
  • ¼ plate protein (3 ounces, if you dare measure)
  • 1-1.5 inches tall – salad can be a skyscraper but easy on the dressing
  • No running for the border. If the inside diameter of your existing plate is 9” but has an expansive border, keep the food and calories contained within.

Slow Down or you’ll get an eating ticket!

It takes a bit for your brain to register that you are full. Hunger and fullness are regulated by a complex network of hormones and chemicals in the body. Grehlin is a chemical that gets triggered when your blood glucose is low and spurs on the desire to eat, especially carbohydrate-type foods that will jeep-up your glucose levels to where they want to be. When you eat, Leptin and Cholecystokinin (CCK) are triggered when food makes its way into the stomach and along the digestive track. This turns off the desire to eat. Sounds simple, but this can all take some time to work to your advantage. Eating quickly can override the system, so consciously slow down:

  • One bite at a time.
  • No talking with your mouth full – it’s gross and a choking hazard, too!
  • Put your fork down between mouthfuls
  • Chew at least 25 times. I know – grandma said 100 times, but that hurts my jaw just thinking about it.
  • Be the conversationalist. Talk between mouthfuls, make eye contact with your dinner guests, and don’t stare at your plate the whole meal!

I have more tricks up my sleeve but I’ve already said a mouthful. I’m curious what you’ve tried beyond calorie counting that works for you. Please share!

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