Portion Control Pays Off in Weight Loss

Controlling portion size may be the single most effective thing you can do to promote lasting weight loss, a new study shows.

Researchers found overweight people who spent the most efforts in controlling the portion size of what they ate were more likely to lose weight and keep it off. Although increasing planned exercise also helps people shed pounds, researchers found portion control efforts seem to offer the biggest payoff.

"Portion control may be behaviorally easier to change than increasing planned exercise for many obese individuals," researcher Everett Logue, PhD, of Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio, said in a news release. "However, other research suggests that planned exercise is an important component of long-term weight management."

The results of the study appear in the Sept. 9 issue of Obesity Research.

Portion Control Promotes Weight Loss

In the study, researchers followed nearly 300 obese and overweight adults as they entered a weight loss program. All of the participants received instruction in five different weight loss strategies, including:

--Increasing planned exercise (walking)

--Increasing regular physical activity (incidental walking associated with chores or work)

--Cutting back on fat in the diet

--Eating more fruits and vegetables

--Increasing portion control in the diet

After two years of follow up, researchers found those participants who spent the most time actively controlling portion size during their weight loss and maintenance efforts were more likely to lose weight.

The study showed 38 percent of obese people who consistently spent the two years practicing food portion control lost 5 percent or more of their body weight during the study.

In contrast, 33 percent of the participants who did not consistently practice portion control gained 5 percent or more of their weight during the study.

Practicing the other strategies also increased the likelihood of losing weight, but controlling portion size had the greatest impact.

"The message in the study is that you have to eat fewer calories and/or burn more calories if you want to loss weight," says Logue. "There are no short cuts. However, there are multiple ways of eating fewer calories and/or burning more calories. The trick is to find a way of eating and exercising that works for you that you can maintain for a lifetime."

"You cannot rely on the overeating and sedentary signals that the environment is constantly sending," says Logue. "You cannot follow the crowd, because the crowd is getting more overweight each year."

By Jennifer Warner; reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

SOURCES: Logue, E. Obesity Research, September 2004; vol 12: pp 1499-1508. News release, Summa Health System.