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Portion control in practice

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Weight is about how much is on the plate, says Kay Illingworth.

From a personal point of view, visiting the doctor to ask for help with weight loss was something I could never do. Mostly because I already knew the calorific value of almost every food, that too much chocolate would make me fatter and that if I bothered to exercise regularly my health would improve. I was a size 26, weighing nearly 18 stone, when I decided to see a private dietician rather than a GP.

The dietician gave me a list of all 'allowed foods' and half an hour of good advice, with an invitation to return in three weeks to step on the scales and track my progress. The first rule of thumb was to weigh out food at home.  I was permitted two to three ounces of protein and three to four ounces of starchy carbohydrates with each meal. An unreasonable request, I thought as I left the dietician's office - weighing out hot food into cold scales is something only the most dedicated dieters would do, as is calorie, point or fat gram counting. The inevitable outcome, although my food choices followed the dietician's lists, was that the weighing of food did not materialise and I reduced my portion sizes by guesswork instead.

Three weeks later when I returned for my first weigh-in, I had swapped my poor diet for the recommended healthy one and my halo was gleaming as I mounted the scales, only to find that I had lost just one pound in weight. My halo slipped sheepishly as I had to admit that I had failed to weigh my portions.

That evening I started afresh, weighing out a pasta meal on to my plate, mumbling under my breath that I probably had seven ounces of food rather than three. When I checked the scale, they revealed, to my horror, a full pound (16 ounces), enough for at least four meals. No wonder I hadn't lost any weight - I had no visual concept of a dietary portion and felt like shouting at the walls; 'Well, what do three ounces look like then?'

At that moment a cartoon light bulb flicked on in my head: what if a certain volume of food was to equal a set weight? What if I could divide my plate into food groups? What if I could devise a portion for every meal type and cover all my recipes? Throughout the course of the evening I emptied my fridge and larder, calibrated every meal, calculating calories, sorting my starchy carbohydrates out, thinking how I would handle something like lasagne. I didn't want to be on a 'diet'. I wanted to eat all my favourite foods but in a portion size that would still allow me to lose weight.

The following evening, I cut out hundreds of grease-proof paper templates, which I used each night as a guide for my evening meal. Twenty-eight weeks later I had reduced from a size 26 to a size 14/16, from 18 stone to 12 stone.

Clinical Controls
Progressing from the use of grease-proof paper, I started my company, The Diet Plate Ltd, in January 2000 after obtaining the trademark and registering the design rights. Sales initially took place via the internet and I also wrote to more than a thousand UK dieticians, informing them of 'portion control' as a method of weight loss instead of calorie counting. The response was very positive.

Dieticians at Birmingham Heartlands sent off for some samples of the Diet Plate and tested the calibrations. One of the experts there, Christine Baker, said that if the NHS could ever endorse a product then the Diet Plate should be it. Another dietician at Guys Hospital also took a sample, with yet more encouraging feedback.

In 2002 I was awarded the title of British Female Inventor of the Year, and in February 2003 a team of endocrinologists from Calgary University in Canada approached me about allowing them to conduct clinical trials on the control of diabetes type two insulin based users. The Diet Plate passed the ethics committee on its first hearing, apparently unheard of for a weight loss product.

In 2004, I contacted the National Obesity Forum and spoke with its founder and then president, Dr Ian Campbell, who told me that he had been a fan of the Diet Plate since he had heard of it a number of years earlier. Dr Campbell, who works as a GP and associate specialist at University Hospital, Nottingham, comments:

'One of the major causes of increased food intake in recent years has been that larger restaurant portions have found their way into the home. We have become accustomed to heaping up our plates and 'super-sizing' our meals. The beauty of The Diet Plate is that it gives weight loss patients the help they need to regain control over their food intake….early results from clinical trials indicate that it can also help improve diabetes management.

We're all busy trying to deliver the best practice for our patients in chronic disease management and, as well as treating those affected, prevention is increasingly recognised as an important part of our work. I think GPs and practice nurses should see The Diet Plate as a safe, inexpensive tool to help patients manage their food intake at meal times, to enable their patients help themselves…but to a little less than usual.'

The Diet Plate was recently accepted by NICE as a commercial stakeholder for its new obesity guidelines, which means a closer relationship with primary care trusts and GPs, who I hope will recommend the Diet Plate weight management system with confidence to their patients. The retail price of the plates is £19.99 and £16.99 for bowls. However, there is a wholesale price available for PCTs and their clinics should they be able to provide them to patients directly. With this in mind, Club Diet Plate has been formed, primarily a website due to launch in early 2007. Health professionals and patients can access this website for support in conjunction with the range of products. There is a version of the Diet Plate for each member of the family so that obesity can be addressed in the home, starting as young as three years old.

The Future
A 36-page booklet is planned to accompany every product, containing a synopsis of an eight-week weight management course that patients will be able to access online. One of my goals is to get the range produced in melamine so that it can be made available on prescription, although this development is somewhere down the line at present.

I am soon to meet with a distributor to get the Diet Plate sold in every Irish pharmacy in Ireland in 2007.


By Kay Illingworth
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Kay Illingworth

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Biography: This article was reprinted with kind permission of 'Practice Management' - www.practice-management.net

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