The Portion Teller Plan: The No Diet Reality Guide to Eating, Cheating, and Losing Weight Permanently

The Portion Teller Plan: The No Diet Reality Guide to Eating, Cheating, and Losing Weight Permanently

by Lisa R. Young Ph.D.


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The Portion Teller Plan is a sensible eating guide and the end of diet deprivation. No forbidden foods, no calorie counting. Welcome to diet liberation.

Would you ever consider going to the kitchen in the morning and grabbing five slices of bread for breakfast? No? Just one bagel is more like it, right? Well, your morning bagel is equivalent to eating five slices of bread. Your steak at dinner is equal to the protein in eighteen eggs. And that huge bowl of pasta you had at lunch is anybody’s guess. Nobody likes to cut back but the cold hard facts are in: Portion sizes have steadily increased over the past thirty years and our collective waistlines are ballooning right along with them.

You may need to eat a little less if you want to lose weight, but with The Portion Teller Plan you can eat all of your favorite foods. Nutrition and portion size expert Dr. Lisa Young presents an individualized guide to eating according to your portion personality and food preferences. You’ll learn a simple system of visuals–a deck of cards, a baseball, your own hand–to help gauge portion size. You’ll be able to eat out, eat in, cheat, and eat on the road without ever being a portion victim again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767920797
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 12/26/2006
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.49(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.87(d)

About 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.

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 successful 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 growing. 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 people started to realize what was happening to their food–and to their bodies. Along with the supersize culture came a supersize America that has collectively 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 become, 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 understanding 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, second 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 specific strategies for dining out, shopping, and making your home more portion-friendly. Or you can choose instead to focus on a basic understanding of portion sizes and put portion control into action in your daily life, leaving 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, personalized, and sane alternative to unhealthy crash diets with short-term results. 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 mufáfin, 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 everything 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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The Portion Teller gives you a fresh approach to managing weight—one that makes perfect sense. Lisa Young’s The Portion Teller is an invaluable resource.
—Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH Paulette Goddard Professor, New York University

"Following Dr. Young's suggestions is a sensible way to keep from becoming an obesity statistic."
New York Times

"A respected nutritionist, Young... has the chops to present her case and does it with such aplomb that the solutions she proffers seem easy."
O, The Oprah Magazine

Selected by O, The Oprah Magazine, as one of the best health books of 2005.

One of The Wall Street Journal’s six favorite health books of 2005.

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