Portion Control Interventions that work

With obesity at an all time high and continuing to rise, many people are trying to find answers and solutions. Clearly, there isn’t just one cause or one solution. So, it’s critical we look at both individual responsibility in weight loss as well as government policy that have been shown to help people make healthier choices.

But, what are these interventions? What could the government do that can help people not eat so much food? How can they treat people at the population level? And what can we learn from their research to change in our own lives?

The more research I read, the more I believe over eating is no one’s fault. The increase in the amount of food we eat each day has been subtly rising in our food culture, that many of us don’t even realize it’s happening. That’s where studies about interventions like this can be so helpful!

Possible causes of obesity

As obesity increases, the publication hypothesizes some possible reasons. (page 84)

  • Increase in calorie density of food- tricking our normal satiety signals.
  • Food with fat and sugar is cheap and abundant.
  • There are so many places to eat out, and people are making less meals at home.
  • Food is more palatable, and easy to overeat. (the salt and sugar!)
  • People are less aware about how much they are eating because food at a restaurant or processed food has more calories, fat, and sugar than comparable food from home.
  • Food consumed outside of the home or processed food is lower in protein, and satiety is not recognized.
  • Portion sizes have increased!
  • Less cooking at home because parents are busier than they’ve ever been.
  • Marketing of high calorie food to kids.

Solutions for Obesity

The ladder of interventions was discussed in the Current Obesity Report with ideas for each rung of the ladder. From the least effective, to the most effective strategies, these are included:

1) Provide information about portion control

There is still a lot we can do to provide information about portion sizes and help people know exactly what and how much they are eating. Nutrition labeling a good start. Also, many restaurants are now posting calories on their menus. Even websites can be an effective tool in providing information to eaters.

2) Enable choice about portion control options

So many gems in this category with promising results! They included,

  • Pre-portioned cues (having a stopping signal in the food like a “red potato chip)
  • Given a smaller and a larger choice in a cafeteria, most people chose the smaller meal.
  • Being intentional, with practice. When given situations to consider, people created their own “if-than” statements. For me, this would look like, “If I get tired in the afternoon, than I will take walk rather than have a snack.”
  • SIGNAL TRAINING!! That one is in capital letters because I’m most excited about this idea and one that I believe can have a huge impact. You can read about it here, but the idea is that we have so many inputs in our mind to crave a food, how can we stop the impulse of just eating it as soon as we are triggered.
  • Learning portion control strategies through a software program.
  • Mindfulness eating exercises.
woman checking food labels to read portion sizes

3) Guide Choice about portion sizes

Guiding choice for people can take on a few different levels. These are discussed as:

  • Making the healthier choice the default or easier choice
  • Using incentives to guide choice
  • Using disincentives to influence choice

4) Restrict or Eliminate Choice

These last two can appear to take on too big of a role for government, as they discuss restricting and eliminating choice through laws and regulation, however something can be very enlightening about the efficacy of restricting and eliminating choice. We can create an environment in our homes or our routine that essentially restricts or eliminates our choice for larger portions of food. Not buying the cookies and chips for example. When they aren’t in our house, we are less likely to eat them.

I’m excited to go back to this publication often to give it a deeper dive and learn more about the hidden strategies that are going to take us one step closer to slowing down the rising obesity rates in our country!

Take a look at these two links below and let me know what stands out from the research to you!

What can be done to eat smaller portions