The Diet Plate trial, which I conducted at the University of Calgary, was the first trial in the world to study a portion control tool to help people lose weight... and it worked!
Let me tell you the story of how the trial came to be.
Knowing how oversized the portions available to us are, and knowing how much they have grown in recent years, I went in search of a portion control plate that I thought contained appropriate portions, would be easy to use, and would be appealing enough that it could join a home dinnerware collection! With these criteria in mind, I reviewed the portion control tools that were available, and I settled on The Diet Plate ® ™ to study, because it fit all of these criteria nicely.
I contacted Kay Illingworth, the CEO of The Diet Plate ® ™ in Britain, and asked her if she would donate plates that I could use in my study. Kay is the inventor of these plates, which she designed to combat her own struggle with overweight. She tells a pretty funny story about the day the plates came to be: she got incredibly frustrated with her inability to control portions, which led her to take her entire kitchen plate set out and to use a marker to draw all sorts of various test portions out on them. Little did she know, it was not a water soluble pen! However, it was worth the ‘investment’: with her final portion determination created, she proceeded to lose weight using the plate. Same for her mother. Word soon spread about these successes... and the rest is history! Suffice it to say, when I contacted Kay about my study, she was more than happy to oblige...and soon thereafter I had my clinical trial underway.
In this study, we looked at the effectiveness of The Diet Plate to help obese people with Type 2 Diabetes lose weight. Half of the study participants received The Diet Plate and The Diet Bowl to use for a 6 month period, and we compared their weight loss to the weight loss of a control group, who did not receive the plate products. We found that the group using the plate were almost 4 times more likely to lose 5% body weight, compared to controls!
This ‘magic number’ of 5% is very important, because studies have shown that if an overweight individual can drop 5% of their body weight, they decrease their risk of getting diseases related to being overweight, and also decrease their risk of dying from these diseases (bluntly put). When we looked at people who were committed to using the plate on 80% or more of study days, we found that they were SIX TIMES more likely to lose that 5% of body weight compared to people who were not using the plate system. Remembering that all of the participants in the study had type 2 diabetes, the other important thing that we found was that people using the plate system were over twice as likely to require a decrease in their diabetes medication over the 6 month trial compared to people not using the plates. Conversely, people who were not using the plates were over twice as likely to need an increase in their diabetes medication, compared to the plate group!
The tendency of T2DM is to get worse with time, as insulin resistance worsens, and the ability of the pancreas to combat this resistance wears with time. So, we were seeing the typical progress of diabetes in the control group, but the plate system was able to put a halt to the progress of diabetes in many of these people, and even to reverse it and improve it in many! This is a powerful testament to the efficacy of portion control. Given that the entire group that we studied were Type 2 Diabetics, our results are even more impressive, because this is a group of people in whom it is notoriously difficult to achieve weight loss. Much of this has to do with the medications that they are taking, in that most medications that treat diabetes cause weight gain as a side effect. In our study, 94 out of 130 people were taking medication for their diabetes that causes weight gain as a side effect, and STILL we were able to show that this plate system was a success!
Individuals who are not diabetic are as likely, if not more likely, to have success with this plate system. This plate system makes sense because they are simple to use, and because they give you the freedom to choose what you would like to eat. Of course, I always advocate for healthy food choices, but this system does allow you the freedom to choose what you would like to have – you just have to portion it according to the boundaries on the plate!
There are many, many different types of portion plates and similar tools out there. ‘Would a different portion control tool work just as well?’ you might be wondering. Well, at this point in time, the Diet Plate ® ™ is the only one that has been studied and proven to work in a randomized, clinical trial fashion (the ‘gold standard’ type of trial). I am certain that a number of the other tools out there would work, but they need to be studied in a similar fashion for the evidence to be there to recommend them.
I would also like to point out that I have no financial interests in The Diet Plate ® ™ company.
By Dr Sue Pedersen MD, FRCPC
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