The Portion Teller: Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Loss


Would you ever consider going to the kitchen in the morning and grabbing five slices of bread for breakfast? No? Just one bagel or perhaps a bran muffin is more like it, right? Well, think again. Your morning bagel or muffin is probably equivalent to eating five slices of bread, maybe more. That’s most of your grain servings for the day.

And, that steak you ate last night? For all the calories and protein you consumed, you might as well have ...

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Would you ever consider going to the kitchen in the morning and grabbing five slices of bread for breakfast? No? Just one bagel or perhaps a bran muffin is more like it, right? Well, think again. Your morning bagel or muffin is probably equivalent to eating five slices of bread, maybe more. That’s most of your grain servings for the day.

And, that steak you ate last night? For all the calories and protein you consumed, you might as well have eaten 18 eggs. More than double the amount of protein you need in a day.

Surprised at just how much you are eating? Dr. Lisa Young isn’t. She has been studying how Americans eat for more than a decade, and what she found is astonishing. Portion sizes have subtly and steadily increased over the past thirty years and are now two to five times larger than they were in the past. Even the average dinner plate has grown several inches to accommodate more food. The portions we’re served are getting bigger and we keep eating. The end result? That’s right. Americans are getting fatter.

So what should you do about it? You may think that counting calories, fat grams, or even eliminating entire food groups such as grains is the way to keep this trend toward colossal cuisine from making you fat. The problem is, you don’t know how many calories, fat, and carbs are in your favorite foods. No one does, not even the experts. When nutritionists were shown several restaurant meals in a survey, not one person was able to accurately guess the calorie or fat content of the meals.

In The Portion Teller, you’ll develop portion-size awareness and learn how to lose weight without weighing food or counting calories. Using simple visuals such as a deck of cards, a yo-yo, a baseball, and even your own hand, you’ll find out what a serving size is supposed to look like and how many servings you can eat per day from each food group. The visuals are easy to use: If your piece of salmon at dinner is about the size of three decks of cards, you’ve eaten all your meat and fish servings for the day.

The plan is easy. You’ll keep a food diary for a short time to get you started. Once you learn how to size-up your favorite foods with the visuals, Lisa’s Portion Personalities show you how stumbling blocks can be easily overcome. Are you a See Food Eater who can’t stop yourself at the sight of food or a Special Occasion Victim who can’t resist that cake at an office party or a Volume Eater who always wants her plate to be full? As a long-time nutrition counselor, Young gives real-world solutions for tackling your bad habits. There’s a cheater’s guide, for those who must satisfy that late-night chocolate craving, as well as a survival guide for eating out and daily meal plans.

No forbidden foods, no calorie counting, no food weighing. The Portion Teller isn’t a diet—it’s a sensible eating plan and the end of diet deprivation. Welcome to diet liberation.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Portion Teller is a diet book that you can live with. Certified nutritionist Dr. Lisa R. Young knows that calorie-counting regimens are utopian plans that don't work for long in the real world. She also knows that diets eliminating entire food groups aren't realistic, because it's nearly impossible to avoid carbs or fats indefinitely. We Americans are too fat because we eat too much. In lieu of prohibition lists, she provides a convenient set of memorable guidelines that clearly show us how much to eat of any given food group. She also sets doable standards for different mealtime personalities: the mindless muncher, the breakfast hater, the volume eater, the special-occasion victim. Here's a compact diet plan that makes sense.
Publishers Weekly
Nutrition consultant Young says it's not so much what we eat but how much we eat that has caused the collective ballooning of Americans. While conducting research on portion sizes, the NYU faculty member (who appeared in the film Super Size Me) discovered that many of the packaged foods we buy today may be as much as five times larger than they were when originally introduced into the marketplace. She presents a simple plan to help readers "smartsize"; it involves portion size awareness and knowledge of the difference between portions and serving sizes. (A bagel, for instance, may be one portion, but delivers five grain servings and the caloric equivalent of five slices of bread.) With an innovative chart that links foods and portions visually (e.g., three ounces of meat-a sensible portion-is represented by a deck of cards or the palm of a hand), Young helps readers estimate reasonable portion sizes; she also provides tips for scaling down the jumbo sizes often offered in restaurants. Young offers a practical, long-term solution for losing weight while eating healthfully, likely to appeal to readers fed up with diet crazes. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767920681
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/31/2005
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D., C.D.N., is a nutrition consultant and faculty member at New York University. Dr. Young has been counseling overweight adults and children for more than 15 years, has published numerous articles on portion sizes, and frequently lectures on nutrition. Widely considered an expert on portion sizes, Young is regularly featured in national publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Self, Fitness, and Glamour. She has also been featured on national television including ABC News, CBS News, and CNN, and was in the film Super Size Me.

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Read an Excerpt


I’ve been on a constant diet for the last two decades. I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. By all accounts, I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.

-Erma Bombeck

When I started counseling people on how to lose weight in the late 1980s, I heard many diet war stories. The same complaints came up over and over again: The food is boring. I feel hungry. I feel deprived. There are too many rules. The most common lament was: How can I possibly follow all these rules for the rest of my life? I saw firsthand that no matter how suc?cessful a strict diet is in the short term, it rarely works in the long run. At the same time as I was learning these stories of dieting failures from my clients, I started noticing something going on around me–the size of food was grow?ing. I noted the extra mound of pasta at dinner, the increase in the diameter of a pizza, the ballooning of bagels, the upward creep of all fast-food and restaurant portions. This change was pretty gradual, so most people didn’t pay attention. It wasn’t until recently, when the word “supersize” became part of the vernacular, almost a cliché to describe overgrown portions, that peo?ple started to realize what was happening to their food–and to their bodies. Along with the supersize culture came a supersize America that has collec?tively gained weight at an unprecedented rate in the past few decades.

As I gathered more information about the growth of portion sizes for my Ph.D. at New York University, I knew that any weight-loss program had to take into account two things: (1) a realistic, personalized eating plan that works for life, and (2) an education in exactly how large portions had be?come, retraining perceptions. Instead of seeing just another muffin, I wanted my clients to see a huge muffin. And then smartsize it!

I developed this program because I didn’t think that the diets out there were realistic. Not only are they hard to follow, but they seem to ignore how large our foods have become. Look around you at the diet programs today– almost all of them are based on the idea that you have to cut certain foods, or even entire food groups, from your diet. They claim that it’s the carbs, the fat, or the sugars that are making you fat. The entire diet industry seems to focus on what we put in our mouths rather than how much of it we consume. They focus on which foods are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, a “diet” food or a restricted food. This approach is at odds with how people really eat. It’s not the carbs or the fats that are making us gain weight. It’s not what we eat, it’s how much we eat. It’s portion size that is making us fat.

Did you know that a typical bagel today has almost the same calories and nutrient value as five slices of bread? You probably wouldn’t think twice about having a bagel on the run, but you would know you were overdoing it if you grabbed five slices of bread on the way to the office. Once you know what a bagel is “worth,” you’ll see your breakfast in a new way. You won’t need calorie charts, weights, scales, or calculators to understand what a healthy portion is. There’s no getting around it: In order to lose weight, you have to limit calories. But on this program, you won’t have to count them! What you’ll do is develop portion-size awareness. You’ll get a basic under?standing of what your body needs and how much of it you should be eating. Armed with this awareness, you can go anywhere–out to dinner, an all-you-can-eat buffet, a cocktail party, or a home-cooked meal–and know exactly how much you’re eating. All you need to do is to smartsize instead of super?size.

With smartsizing, there are no rigid prescriptions, no “first week on, sec?ond week off ” foods–in fact, no restricted foods whatsoever. It’s all about awareness: portion-size awareness, nutrition awareness, and self-awareness. You can eat what you want as long as it fits into your own eating plan. The beauty of this program is that you can take it as far as you want; you can work the entire program, which includes detailed instructions on how to keep the Portion Teller Diary, tips and activities for downsizing your portions, and spe?cific strategies for dining out, shopping, and making your home more portion-friendly. Or you can choose instead to focus on a basic understand?ing of portion sizes and put portion control into action in your daily life, leav?ing a few bites on your plate at a restaurant, eating only half a sandwich, or switching from a large glass of orange juice to a fresh orange. If you make these changes and no others, you can lose between ten to twenty pounds in one year without even feeling the pinch of deprivation. Small, simple changes add up. I’ve watched it happen with my clients countless times, and I know we can make smartsizing work for you.

Smartsizing doesn’t promise a magic pill, instant weight loss, or overly dramatic results in the first few days. What it does offer is a time-tested, per?sonalized, and sane alternative to unhealthy crash diets with short-term re?sults. Smartsizing works. I’ve seen client after client–many who spent years on the up-and-down yo-yo diet-go-round–lose weight by smartsizing and keep it off for the long run, all the while eating foods they love. Nothing makes me happier than a client who says, “I never knew it was so easy. I don’t stress out about food anymore.” If you smartsize it, you won’t have to change your life, just your relationship to food. By the end of the book, I guarantee that you will never look at an oversized restaurant entrée, a humongous muf?fin, or a mound of pasta the same way again. Instead, you will see your food in terms of healthy portions. Again, the choice of exactly how much and what you eat will be up to you. The Portion Teller program gives you every?thing you need to make your own choices, eat the foods that you love, and still lose weight and keep it off. Welcome to diet liberation.


America Expands

I've been on a diet for two weeks and all I lost is fourteen days.

-Totie Fields

If you've said anything like this recently, you're not alone. We spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money on weight-loss programs, diet pills, shakes, prepackaged low-cal meals, fat- and sugar-free foods, and the latest diet books and products that promise a quick fix for our weight problems. The sad fact is that our investments are not paying off. No matter what we seem to do, we are gaining weight. And lots of it. Recent studies show that almost two-thirds of American adults are overweight. This is a staggering statistic, one that confounds nutritionists as well as the average person who wants to maintain a healthy weight. While most Americans are scratching their heads about what and how to eat--trying to pick from the confusing array of diets that are the current rage--the reason for the epidemic of obesity in this country can be traced to one simple fact: We eat too much.

Are we a nation of gluttons? I don't think so. It's the size of our food, not the size of our appetites that's to blame. The portions, servings, helpings, slices, and amounts of what we eat have grown dramatically over the past few decades. Just look around: Everywhere you go, you are encouraged to buy huge sizes. A Double Whopper at Burger King is nearly 1,000 calories; a large order of French fries at McDonald's is 540 calories. A Double Gulp at 7-Eleven is nearly 800 calories. The jumbo bucket of popcorn at a movie theater is up to 1,640 calories. The Hungry-Man XXL frozen dinner, with a slogan that says "It's good to be full!" weighs in at 1 1/2 pounds with 1,000 calories, a meal that packs enough heft for two. When presented with all this food, who can blame us? We can't help but eat more calories than we can burn. So we gain weight.

As the portion sizes offered to us have gotten bigger, so have we. Since I'm a nutritionist by training, I had some idea that America's collective waistline was growing, but it really hit me when I saw a dietary intake survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 1994. The shocking results? The average American adult gained eight pounds--that's eight pounds per person--in the 1980s. That might not sound like a lot, but compare it to earlier decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, the average weight of American adults increased only slightly, by a pound or two at most in the course of each decade. It's not just that we were heavier than ever, but we were gaining weight at a much faster rate. Why had weight gain accelerated so rapidly in such a short period of time? I knew it couldn't be genetic; the gene pool simply doesn't change that fast. What was it?

I had heard most of the reasons nutritionists were giving for the obesity epidemic--too much couch-potatoing in front of TVs and computers, changes in exercise patterns, unhealthy snacking and fast-food feasting. But I knew that these explanations couldn't possibly be the whole enchilada. I looked into the national exercise trends and found that there was virtually no change in exercise patterns during that time. So it had to be something else, something circumstantial, a change in our culture that was causing such a rapid weight gain in just three decades. I suspected that the cause was portion sizes.

I figured our national weight gain had more to do with how much we eat than what we eat. So I went to look at the research that had been done on portion sizes, to see if there was a connection between the trend toward supersized food portions and weight gain. To my surprise, there was no research. Nothing. Nobody seemed to have done any, not professors, government nutritionists, or weight-loss counselors. In fact, very few people even noticed that our food portions were growing so quickly. I couldn't find any hard-and-fast information on how big our food portions are, what portions weigh, how much they've changed over time, and how they compare to federal standards like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid that came out in 1992 or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food labels. Here I was, surrounded by nutrition experts and academics, and no one was talking about, much less studying, portion sizes.

I decided to conduct my own research. I spent a rather hot summer riding my bicycle around Manhattan, talking to deli owners, restaurateurs, and fast-food workers, asking them all sorts of questions about what they were serving and what people were eating. I became a portion detective, carrying around a food scale, a camera, and a notebook, recording the exact size and weight of typical foods that you can pick up at places around Manhattan--a vendor cart, a take-out joint, a Times Square restaurant chain, a deli--from places you grab a quick bite on the go, to a four-course sit-down dinner. What I found was appalling. I had no idea how enormous typical food servings had become. I found bagels the size of seat cushions and muffins as big as a bread loaf. I weighed different foods--street-vendor pretzels, black-and-white cookies, prepackaged muffins, and even fruits, like apples, that are closer to a cantaloupe in size and weight. I took pictures of all-you-can-eat buffets and pasta plates overflowing with pounds of noodles and tubs of sauce. I measured cups, plates, wineglasses, and margarita buckets, all gargantuan in size. I combed through Zagat, the popular restaurant guide, and found restaurants praised for their all-you-can-eat salad bars and buffets, free refills, two-for-ones, and troughs of pasta, all of which customers consider a selling point, with entries touting "Godzilla-sized burgers," "the biggest subs in the city," and "food piled high on the plate."

By the end of the summer, I had a big fat binder, my own "portion museum." It showed comparisons of cup, drink glass, and plate sizes; photos of obscenely large servings of pasta and meat; quotes from restaurant owners; and advertisements that lured customers with both bigger foods and bigger deals. My findings: The foods we buy today are often two to three times, even five times, larger than when they were first introduced into the marketplace.

portion shockers ***

* Pizza pies were 10 inches in diameter back in the 1970s. Today Pizza Hut offers the Full House XL Pizza, a 16-inch pie. Little Caesars sells the Big! Big! Pizza, with the large measuring 16 to 18 inches with a slogan that says: "Bigger is better!" Both Pizza Hut and Little Caesars have discontinued the 10-inch pie.

* 7-Eleven stores started selling 12- and 20-ounce sodas in the early 1970s. By 1988 they were selling the 64-ounce Double Gulp, a half-gallon of soda marketed for one person.

* The famous Hershey chocolate bar weighed 0.6 ounce its first year on the market. Now the standard bar weighs 1.6 ounces, almost three times its original weight. Other sizes include the 2.6-, 4-, 7-, and 8-ounce bars. M&M/Mars increased the size of several of their most popular chocolate candy bars four times since 1970.

* The most popular burger places have all increased the size of their hamburgers: Burger King's original hamburger weighed 3.9 ounces, which included the bun and all. Today's Burger King burger is 4.4 ounces; the Whopper Junior is 6 ounces; and the Double Whopper is 12.6 ounces. McDonald's also started out with a pretty small patty--1.6 ounces precooked--but has upped it to the Double Quarter Pounder with 8 ounces, five times more meat. Wendy's, the chain that asked the famous question, "Where's the beef?" answered it with a triple-patty burger with 12 ounces of meat.

* Even diet food has grown in size; in the mid-1990s, Weight Watchers introduced Smart Ones, with larger portion sizes, and Lean Cuisine offered Hearty Portions, a heftier frozen dinner, with 100 more calories. The irony of diet food that advertised bigger sizes with more calories seems lost in the diet industry.

* At Starbucks the Short cup of coffee, at 8 ounces, is no longer on the menu. The smallest size is Tall, a 12-ounce cup that is nearly twice as big as what used to be considered a regular cup of coffee. Other sizes include the 16-ounce Grande and the 20-ounce Venti.

* When Chef America added 10 percent more filling to its microwave sandwich Hot Pockets while keeping the price the same, sales increased by 32 percent.

* The number of new larger-size portion sizes has increased tenfold between 1970 and 2000.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2006

    It works! I lost weight!

    The Portion Teller is a great book and a MUST read for dieters trying to shed unwanted pounds!! It's worked for me: I already lost 15 pounds. As a long-time dieter, I must commend Dr. Young for providing such a comprehensive book on portion control. There is currently no book out there that integrates the material so well. While the concept of portion control seems like common sense, if it were that simple, we¿d all be thin. Dr. Young manages to keep portion control fun and she provides helpful and practical solutions for all kinds of problems dieters face in a world filled with supersize portions. I loved the different types of eating styles and solutions provided, the plan is easy to follow, and the ¿portion shockers¿ were simply amazing. A very useful book with tons of practical information!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2006

    I recommend it all the time!!

    This Registered Dietitian has written a great book that I am using to help my patients to discover their true eating habits. It is a book based on science and I strongly recommend it to my patients and to any other readers! I even purchased an extra copy to give as a Christmas present to a family member!

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    Posted September 7, 2011

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