PhotoAmid all the fad diets and weight control programs, there is one very simple way to lose weight: eat less.

Easier said than done, however. Over the years, the portion sizes consumers expect – and get – have gotten significantly larger. That might be fine for a portion of steamed broccoli, less fine for a portion of meatloaf.

When you look on a food nutrition label, it will tell you how many servings the product contains. But once on a plate, chances are the serving will look pretty small to some consumers who are accustomed to larger portions. Sticking to the serving size, however, could make it easier to lose or maintain weight.

Prepackaged portions

New research published in the scientific journal Obesity has confirmed what diet product companies have long known – when you package food in small, controllable portions, it is easier to lose weight.

“Participants who were prescribed twice-daily prepackaged meals lost about 8% of their initial weight, compared to participants in the control group – who could select their own diets – who only lost about 6%,” said lead researcher Cheryl Rock, of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The real key, she says, is removing the guesswork involved in planning and preparing low-calorie meals.

It all sounds simple enough, but Martin Binks, a spokesperson for The Obesity Society, says it may be hard for someone who is overweight or obese to put it into practice. He notes that it is important to reduce the body's energy intake for weight loss, but a body accustomed to large amounts of energy will crave it when it's denied. Still, he notes this strategy is a step toward reducing obesity.

Encouraging trend

According to research published in Food Technologists magazine, consumers may be slowly moving away from giant-sized portions. Among the trends uncovered by the research, there was a conscious shift to smaller portion sizes reported by one-third of the consumers in the survey.

Many restaurants, however, still serve up huge portions – more than a human being should eat in a day, in some cases. The reason is competition. Restaurants know consumers can choose to dine out anywhere. They conclude that their chances are better of attracting consumers if they provide a generous spread – and in many cases, they are correct.

Food products that come in prepackaged portions are an easy way to both control portion size and keep track of calories. The downside is these meals often contain large amounts of sodium. A steady diet might expose you to excessive amounts of salt.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a number of tips for controlling portions when cooking from scratch, including using smaller plates and cups and sticking to suggested serving sizes. If you're still hungry, eat more vegetables but skip dessert.

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