Portion Control, the Diet Plate, and New Tools in the Weight-Loss Battle

Friday, September 21, 2007 - 10:56am

By Katie Clark, MPH, RD

"I know what to eat...I just eat too much of it." Is portion control a problem for you? If so, you might consider using one of the many diet plate-based approaches to getting your portions straight. Here's a look at some of the plates out there and how they stack up.

Too much of a good thing is not a good thing

The use of a specialized plate in portion control management is not a new concept. The journal Western Medicine as far back as 1963 published an article called "A Diet Plate in the Control of Obesity."

More recently, a 2007 article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine studied the use of a portion-controlled plate for weight loss in 130 people with type 2 diabetes in Canada. The authors found that the group who used the plate lost 1.75% of their body weight as compared to 0.05% weight loss in the non-plate using group. The plate-using people were also able to reduce their use of medication for diabetes control, leading the authors to conclude that portion-controlled plates are just as effective as expensive weight-loss drugs.

The Diet Plate® used in the study is an attractively-designed plastic plate with painted-on guidelines for serving sizes and measurements of types of foods to be included in a well-balanced meal for weight loss.

A plate for every palate

There are a number of commercial diet plate options for people looking to use this portion-control approach. The most ubiquitous seems to be The Diet Plate®, a British-based company offering a number of plates and cereal bowls for everyday use. Their plates were utilized and validated in the Canadian study published in the 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine article. The company seems to be riding high after the recent study results and their website offers a "complete weight management system" for $64, female and male plates for $35 each, breakfast bowls for $29 or a "family pack" for $99. While some might balk at such high prices for plastic plates, if you use it every day and if it works for weight loss, it might be no more expensive than many other weight loss aids.

The New American plate

The American Cancer Research Institute has designed "The New American Plate," a plan that they say "is a fresh way of looking at what you eat every day." The New American Plate has a simple, straightforward graphically-depicted message: Reduce the amount of animal protein and increase your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans on your daily plate.

The group also sells a cookbook with well-balanced recipes, as well as posters, placemats, and other educational tools for healthcare professionals and interested parties looking to shift the face of their plate. Visit the American Cancer Research Institute's website to order a free "Portion Size Finder" and to purchase other items.

Rate your plate game on the Internet

If online games are more up your alley, The University of Connecticut's "Team Nutrition" program has an interactive "Rate Your Plate" game on their website. Players select foods from their typical plates and then their nutritional adequacy is rated against the Food Guide Pyramid, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the food label, or a full nutrient analysis. While the game has not been updated to reflect the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and uses the old Food Guide Pyramid instead of the new MyPyramid as a reference, it still is a useful activity, as it gives you an idea about the appropriateness of your current meals.

Other rules of thumb for portion control (serving sizes)

Once you know what to eat, it is important to also understand how much of that food you should eat . If you have ever visited a registered dietitian, then you are probably familiar with some of the common household comparisons for appropriate serving sizes of foods. Some good rules of thumb for recommended serving sizes include the following:

  • Cheese servings should be as big as a dice or a single domino.
  • Starches such as potatoes, pasta, and rice should take up no more space than the clenched fist of your hand or a tennis ball.
  • Meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, a computer mouse, or the palm of your hand.

As people grow evermore distrustful of fad diets and more knowledgeable about well-balanced nutrition plans, portion-control products will probably continue to flood the weight-loss market. Whether you choose to use a plate, a poster, or a pack of cards as your reference point, remember that how much you eat is just as important as what you eat.

  1. A diet plate in the control of obesity. Grossman AM. West Med Med J West. 1963 Aug; 4:273-4.
  2. Portion Control Plate for Weight Loss in Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Pedersen, MD, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1277-1283.
  3. The Diet Plate® US products, available at: http://www.thedietplate.us/products.php?cat=1
  4. The American Cancer Research Institute's "The New American Plate", available at: http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pub_nap_materials
  5. Rate Your Plate game. Developed by the University of Connecticut, available at: http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~cthompso/game.html