Portion Size, Energy Density and Losing Weight – What Works

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This week, researchers opened our conference tackling one of the most important lifestyle issues related to cancer:  Exploring ways to effectively harness the power of healthy diet and exercise to help people get to and stay a healthy weight.

That’s an urgent need, because after smoking, obesity is now the leading lifestyle risk factor for eleven cancers, including colorectal, pancreatic and postmenopausal breast.

Dr. Barbara Rolls talked about our food environment, portion sizes and energy density and how those factors play a role in weight. She’s an international expert in how energy density (how many calories are in each bite compared to other foods) affects how many calories people eat. Results from her latest study suggest that several strategies using portion awareness, pre-portioned foods or just trying to eat less can all result in meaningful weight loss over a year’s time.

portion-imageIn this trial, 186 women with overweight or obesity were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group received standard advice to eat less food and avoid oversize portions; a second group learned how to choose portions based on principles of energy density (they were taught how to do that), and a third group received portion controlled meals. The researchers also offered regular educational sessions throughout the study.

Participants followed the strategies and lost weight early on, with the pre-portion groups losing the most. By the end all groups had lost about the same amount of weight – an average of about 10 pounds.

The challenge, she says, was to keep people engaged in and doing the strategies, whatever they are. Participants who showed up for sessions did more self monitoring, like weighing and counting steps. The overall body of her research, she said, shows that it is “more actionable to get people to focus on types of foods, rather than resist larger portions.”

The bottom line: eat more veggies, legumes, whole grains and fruit and smaller portions of foods that pack a lot of calories in one bite, especially with added fats and sugar. And read more about portion control here.


Author: Alice RD

Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention into action by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

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