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March 2003
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Eat Smart:
How to Fill Up, Not Out

Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension - Lancaster County

We've all heard "What you don't know can't hurt you" but the truth is, lack of knowledge CAN be harmful.

When it comes to eating, we might say "What we don't know CAN make us gain weight." Following are six "Eat Smart" tips to help a person fill up, not out!

1. Don't Let Tastes Go to Waist

It takes an excess of about 3,500 calories to gain a pound. One hundred extra calories a day can put on 10 pounds a year. A bite here, a bite there and we've run up 100 (OR MORE!) calories in just a few tiny tastes. For example:

Bite 1. One-fourth cup of orange juice remains in the carton. We might as well finish it, right? CALORIES: 26

Bite 2. Two tablespoons of granola are left in the box. It's hardly worth returning to the cupboard. We add it to the cereal bowl. CALORIES: 64

Bite 3. We add two teaspoons powdered cream substitute in our coffee shortly after arriving at work. CALORIES: 20

We're already up to 100 extra calories and it's not even break time yet!

For More Information:

For an example of an entire day of tiny bites, check "Tiny Bites Total Big Calories" at

2. Avoid Portion Distortion

A Journal of the American Medical Association article (Jan. 22, 2003) reported that with the exception of pizza, food portion sizes consumed in the United States for persons 2 years or older increased for all categories studied: home, restaurant and fast food locations. The survey covered 1977 to 1996 and looked at these items: salty snacks, desserts, soft drinks, fruit drinks, french fries, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, pizza and Mexican food. Portion sizes tended to be largest at fast food places and smallest at restaurants.

Lean young men ate more when offered larger portions in research by Dr. Barbara Rolls, Pennsylvania State University nutrition professor and author of Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories. Young men ate 10 ounces of a 16 ounce portion of macaroni. When they were offered 25 ounces, they ate 15 ounces, a 50 percent increase!

Home and Away Portion Control Tips

Here are some commonly cited images to help visualize approximate portion sizes, whether at home or eating out. Hand-size illustrations are just guidelines -- we don't get to choose the largest hand in the group when dishing up ice cream!

  • 3 ounces of meat = a deck of cards or the palm of your hand

  • 1/2 cup of cereal, rice, pasta or ice cream = 1/2 baseball

  • 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese = a 9-volt battery or 3 dominoes

  • 1 teaspoon butter, margarine, mayonnaise or oil = a thumb tip (the top joint)

  • 1 ounce nuts = one handful (not heaping!)

  • 1 tablespoon of salad dressing or peanut butter = 1/2 ping-pong ball

Restaurant Portion Control Tips

If restaurant main dish portions are larger than you want, share them with a friend or order an appetizer or side dish instead. If you'll be able to refrigerate leftovers within TWO hours of being served -- take extra food home for a later meal. Eat within TWO days for best safety and quality.

Fast Food Portion Control Tips

Be size-wise and order smaller burgers, fries and drinks. If we super-size our food, we may super-size ourselves, as well too!

For More Information:

To learn more about portion sizes, check "Sizing Up Portion Sizes" at

3. Slow Down to Slim Down

It takes about 20 minutes after food enters our mouths before the brain starts perceiving we're filling up.

Take time to sit down and savor food flavors. When eating on the run, we miss the full impact of the taste sensations that come through when food is eaten more slowly. At the very least, we should wait until we've swallowed one bite before we take the next one!

4. Turn Up the Volume!

"When left to their own devices, people choose a fairly constant portion of foods from day to day" according to Dr. Rolls in describing her research related to "volumetrics." "Volumetrics is based on maintaining the usual amount of food you eat yet lowering the calories in each portion so you can consume fewer calories yet feel just as full."

Choosing nutrient-dense foods higher in fiber and water and lower in fat and sugar help you feel full, obtain essential nutrients and aid in weight loss/maintenance. Some tips for food choices from the various food groups include:

  • Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta. Choose those with higher fiber and water contents. For example, choose whole grain bread and cereals. Avoid eating lots of dry, low fiber foods that are easy to overeat, such as dry crackers, pretzels, etc. Rolls gives the example of how five tiny pretzels provide 25 calories, while for the same calories, you could eat a whole medium tomato.

  • Fruits and Vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables can be eaten in unlimited quantities as they're high in water and fiber. Just go easy on adding fat and sugar. Include a variety of forms of fruit, since juices by themselves offer very little fiber and dried fruits have a much smaller volume than regular fruit.

  • Milk, Yogurt and Cheese. Choose lower fat forms. We can have about two glasses of skim milk for the same calories as one glass of whole milk.

  • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Legumes, Eggs and Nuts. Choose lower fat forms and preparation methods. Enjoy small portions of nuts.

  • Soup. Broth- and tomato-based soups tend to be lower in calories than cream-based ones and offer a lot of satiety.

  • Beverages. While water-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables and soups, will help you feel full, water alone doesn't have the same effect. Soft drinks are processed differently by the body than milk-based drinks and drinks with protein. According to Rolls, "The hunger and thirst mechanisms are quite separate. A soft drink will trigger thirst mechanisms, not hunger mechanisms, and add calories without satisfying hunger. You may end up consuming more total calories than if you didn't take the drink."

  • Desserts. Chocoholics will enjoy this advice from Rolls: "Having a piece of chocolate at the end of a meal is really not a bad strategy. You're already pretty full and less likely to overeat and sit down and eat the whole box. I find myself that having the most delicious chocolate I can think of in a small amount at the end of the meal really helps me end the meal!"

For More Information:

To learn more about Volumetrics, read "Feel Full on Fewer Calories: An Interview with Dr. Barbara Rolls about Volumetrics" at

5. Step to It!

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) studies successful weight control strategies of people aged 18 years and older who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. The average person listed with NWCR expends about 400 calories a day in physical exercise, with walking the most frequently cited activity.

Health experts recommend walking around 10,000 steps/day (about 5 miles) on most days for cardiovascular health. It's possible more steps may be needed for weight loss. Investing in an inexpensive pedometer is a good way to begin and stay motivated with walking. Simply determine your current number of steps for a couple of days and gradually build up. The average person gets less than 6,000 steps per day. Many people need to include some type of daily walking program for about a half hour to one hour to get to 10,000 steps. If you can't get to 10,000 steps, becoming more active than you were before is still better than not being active at all.

To help stay on track, track your steps -- keeping a record of how we're doing can help us stay on target.

Some pedometers can be adjusted to calculate miles, speed and approximate calories burned, but simply monitoring the number of steps is enough and may be more accurate than some of the other measurements.

Shoes are the most important equipment. They should be flexible with good support and allow the foot to expand while walking. The more often a person walks, the more frequently shoes need to be replaced. If you walk daily, you may need new shoes every six months. If you only plan to walk, buy walking shoes. If you might progress to a little jogging, buy running shoes. Comfortable, well-fitting socks are important to prevent blisters.

As a general guideline, a person will burn about 100 calories walking a mile. Fitness, weight and age will affect how many calories each person burns.

For some general guidelines on starting a 10,000 step walking program, check the "Shape Up America!" Web site at or the Public Broadcasting Service Web site's America's Walking section at

Many cooperative extension offices, health departments and fitness-related organizations can provide you more information about getting started with a 10,000 step walking program. Check with these sources for local programs.

6. Sleep on It!

Too little sleep may lead to weight gain. Studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Aug. 16, 2000) and The Lancet (Oct. 23, 1999) suggest chronic sleep loss can make it harder to maintain or lose weight by affecting various components of metabolism that influence hunger and weight gain.

The National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) 2002 "Sleep in America" poll found "Over one-half (58%) of adults experience symptoms of insomnia a few nights a week or more." The number getting eight or more hours of sleep each night in the 2002 poll appears fewer than compared to one year ago (38% vs. 30%). While past surveys, since 1998, have shown overall consistent sleep habits, the 2002 survey showed a trend toward less sleep.

Though most healthy adults generally need an average of eight hours of sleep nightly, some people can function on less while others may need more, according to NSF. Here are general tips from NSF that may help you sleep better; for more ideas, check their Web site at

  • Drink less fluids before bedtime.

  • Avoid heavy meals shortly before bedtime.

  • Don't smoke.

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time daily, including weekends.

  • Exercise regularly, but at least three hours before going to bed.

  • Avoid napping during the day if you have trouble sleeping at night.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. While caffeine may keep you awake, alcohol may cause you to awake later in the night.

If you continue to have sleep problems, check with your physician.

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Special Thanks To . . .

I'd like to express my appreciation to my colleague, Linda Boeckner, PhD, RD, University of Nebraska Cooperation Extension Nutrition Specialist, for her help and suggestions as I prepared this month's Food Reflections article.

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Food Reflections is a FREE monthly e-mail newsletter from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension and also is archived at It provides a "how-to" message on food, nutrition, or food safety for health professionals, educators, and consumers.

  • Author: Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator.

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