Cutting Calories: Portion Control, Energy Density

Yes, you can use portion control to cut calories and still meet your nutritional needs
Cutting Calories Portion Control Energy Density
In order to lose weight, energy balance must be put into the red zone. In other words, you must:
  • Eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight;
  • Increase the calories burned in physical activity, or
  • Do a combination of the two.
Credible weight-loss methods are designed to reduce calories from food in a way that meets overall nutritional needs. Two approaches with a proven track record for weight management are portion control1 and energy density.2

Portion Control
Portion control works by specifying the amount, or portion size, of foods eaten in a day with the goal of eating a specific number of calories. Weight-loss plans that work on portion control are characterized by "counting" foods eaten by serving or following a very specific meal plan. Examples of diets that are based on portion control include the diabetic exchange diet, the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and most "7-day diets" in women's magazines.

Energy Density
Energy density works by focusing choices on foods that provide a good volume-for-calories ratio. Low energy density foods tend to be rich in water and fiber and low in fat. Examples include soups, stews, vegetables, and fruits. Weight-loss plans that work on energy density concentrate on what foods are eaten instead of how much (e.g., "start every lunch and dinner with a broth-based soup or green salad" or "eat whole grains").

Emerging research suggests that energy density and portion control are independent factors for weight loss.3 This finding suggests that weight-loss plans that combine elements from each approach may lead to a greater weight loss than either used alone.

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The Weight Watchers Approach
Weight Watchers offers a portion-controlled approach to reducing calories by allowing any food in moderation without exceeding your daily POINTS target and following the Good Health Guidelines. However there is also a focus onlower energy density as these foods are wholesome and nutritious. When eating primarily Filling Foods, intake is based on hunger signals which determines portion size.


Other Science Library Topics:

1Hannum SM, Carson L, Evans EM, Canene KA, Petr EL, Bui L, Erdman JW Jr. Use of portion-controlled entrees enhances weight loss in women. Obes Res. 2004 Mar;12(3):538-46.

2Drewnowski A. The role of energy density. Lipids. 2003 Feb;38(2):109-15

3Kral TV, Rolls BJ. Energy density and portion size: their independent and combined effects on energy intake. Physiol Behav. 2004 Aug;82(1):131-8.