Smart Portions: Watch how much you eat

Linda Benedict  |  11/21/2008 3:14:44 AM

Beth Reames

The LSU AgCenter’s Smart Portions Healthy Weight Program was developed to help participants learn healthy lifestyle habits to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Smart Portions, launched in 2007, is the revised version of the Portions Healthy Weight curriculum originally launched in 2001.
 
Smart Portions is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans and incorporates research-based information from research institutions and health and nutrition organizations.
 
A principal resource promoted through Smart Portions is MyPyramid. This comprehensive site includes educational information in a variety of formats, including podcasts.

Smart Portions emphasizes these lifestyle changes:

  • Healthy eating using MyPyramid food groups and portion sizes.
  • Regular physical activity most days of the week. 
  • Focus on a healthy weight – not pounds lost.

 The Smart Portions curriculum includes eight lessons:

  • Smart Portions Works – Discover what the plan and why it works.
  • Smart Portions in Control – Break old, bad habits and start new healthful ones.
  • Smart Activity Portions – Choose the type and amount of physical activity right for you.
  • Smart Portions Essentials – Learn the basics of good nutrition. 
  • Smart Portions Made Tasty – Plan nutritious meals with good-tasting recipes.
  • Smart Portions Away from Home – Dine out wisely on fast food, Tex-Mex, Italian and more.
  • Smart Portions for Healthy Self- Esteem – Feel good about yourself by treating your body well.
  • Smart Portions for Life – Make your new lifestyle last a lifetime.

Extension agents present the Smart Portions lesson series to participants in community workshops and collaborate with community health centers to offer health assessments including blood glucose, blood cholesterol and blood pressures screenings in conjunction with the workshops. Extension agents have conducted the Smart Portions workshops in approximately one-third of Louisiana’s parishes for more than 1,500 people from various community and business organizations, city employees’ offices, school boards, hospitals and community groups.

Data from participants indicate that 97 percent made at least one recommended lifestyle change. Many participants reported starting a walking or other exercise program. Some groups formed walking clubs or asked for a fitness class. Although most reported learning the importance of moderate exercise most days of the week, many cited finding time to exercise as an obstacle.
 
Although the number of pounds lost was not emphasized, a healthy weight loss of 4-8 pounds was experienced by participants who chose to report their weight. But more importantly, more than 90 percent of the participants (where beginning and ending health assessments were made) improved their cholesterol, blood pressure or blood glucose levels.
 
Here are some comments from participants about what they learned:

  • "My portion sizes of food have been much too large."
  • "I’ve been eating too much saturated fat."
  • "I’ve been skipping meals to lose weight."

Extension agents reported a change in the participants’ attitudes and sense of well-being after participation with comments like "I feel so much better." Participants reported that the program helped them break habits that had led to overeating and not being physically active. The discussion on fad diets revealed that participants had tried numerous fad diets. Agents observed that participants resolved never to go on an unhealthy fad diet again.
 
Examples of Smart Portions parish programs
Ninety-five employees at the Wal-Mart in Minden, La., learned to eat healthier – on work time – by participating in the Smart Portions healthy weight workshops taught by Joan Almond, extension agent. Participants were not required to record weight, but for those who did, a total weight loss of 33 pounds was reported by 13 of 42 participants in the first session and in the second session, 20 people reported a total weight loss of 55 pounds. The manager was the biggest loser with a grand total of 12.2 pounds.
 
Almond also conducted the program for 16 Webster Parish Courthouse employees during their lunch break. The total weight loss of participants was 72 pounds and two lost 22 and 23.6 pounds respectively in 10 weeks.

Read the press release about Almond's program in Minden.
 
In 2007, Debbie Melvin, extension agent, conducted Smart Portions workshops for employees of the city of Thibodaux and the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese.

Additionally, she presented the workshops to employees of Bollinger Shipyards and Central Boat Rentals. Amy Juneau, assistant extension agent, helped with the latter. These employers provided lunch, a pedometer, a stipend and paid for printing costs. For these two groups, post questionnaire results indicated improvements in level of daily physical activity and better choices when dining out.
 
To present the Smart Portions healthy weight program to 13 participants of a parenting class at Even Start in Bernice, La., extension agent Cathy Judd arranged to have a translator help students. Of the 13 participants in the class, six were Spanish-speaking. The eight-week class met weekly to learn about lifestyle changes to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
 
Terri Crawford, extension agent, presented Smart Portions workshops to a community group in LaSalle Parish. Program evaluation showed that 80 percent of the participants indicated they had become more physically active since the classes began, and 80 percent said they had made changes in their food choices since starting the classes. Sixty percent of participants doubled their daily vegetable consumption.

Learn tips to watch your portions.

Beth Reames, Professor, School of Human Ecology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article appears in the fall 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture)

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