Nutrition Training with Food Replica Models
Date Posted:9 July 2015
Using food replica models can help nutritionists teach their clients proper serving size, allowing them to eat appropriate portions and become more healthy.
Scientific studies (and our nation’s bulging waistlines) show that providing people with larger portion sizes of both foods and drinks have played a large role in our increasingly obese society.
Teaching people to choose appropriate portion sizes is critical to bringing the obesity epidemic we are in under control. There are several methods dietitians can use to help people choose appropriate portions, including teaching people to choose the right amount of food.
It can be difficult to judge how much one serving of any food is, particularly if one does not cook from scratch very often. One half cup of starch can seem like a mysterious measurement, and measurements based on hand size vary between individuals. Amorphous foods, foods that do not have a rigidly defined shape such as macaroni and cheese, are often very difficult to assess in terms of portion size, particularly when put on a plate of a similar color.
It is also not sufficient to tell people to ‘eat less’ because if proportions of all foods are lessened, higher calorie foods become proportionally higher in the daily food intake than those lower in calories. A better method is to encourage people to eat less of the higher calorie foods while allowing all the fruits and vegetables (traditionally lower in calories) a person desires.
Early studies have shown that people have a ‘completion compulsion’ – a tendency to eat entire units of food. If there is one cookie in a package, a person will eat one cookie, but if there are three cookies, the same person will eat all three.
Dietitians have a tool at their disposal, however, that will show their clients exactly how large a serving size is: food replica models. With food replica models, a client can see exactly how large a half cup of mashed potatoes is, or how truly small a teaspoon of butter is. When looking at a well-constructed model of a food, it is much easier to remember what a portion size is. The ability to hold and inspect this serving size (without getting food all over you) triggers the tactile memory and allows the client to use his or her own hands as a rough estimate for portion size. Nutritionists can also show their clients how apparent proportion size changes when food is placed on different size or color plates. Teaching clients to be on the lookout for these visual inaccuracies will help them be more mindful when choosing how much food to eat.
One facet of the ‘completion compulsion’ is that people like to sit down to a meal with a full plate of food and then eat it all. It is emotionally satisfying to finish a plate of food. Food replica models allow dietitians to show their clients how to fill up their plates with more healthful, lower calorie foods. They will eat more healthy foods, stay within an appropriate caloric range and still have the emotional satisfaction of eating a full plate of food.
Large proportions of high-calorie foods are available everywhere and some are considered appropriate and healthy, even though they lead to far too many calories being consumed most days. It is critical for dietitians and all health care practitioners to ensure proper portion control
A large set of food models can also familiarize a patient who does not eat a wide variety of foods with several new, tasty options. Patients can get into a food rut, always purchasing the same items because they are not sure what other options are available.
 Young LR, Nestle M. The contribution of expanding portion sizes to the US obesity epidemic. Am J Public Health 202; 92: 246-249.
 Van Ittersum, Koert, & Wansink, B. (2012). Plate size and color suggestibility: The Delboeuf illusion's bias on serving and eating behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 215-228.
 Siegel PS. The completion compulsion in human eating. Psychol Rep 1957; 3: 15–16.
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