By Diane Mapes, contributing writer
What it is: The Diet Plate (sale price $40, plus postage and handling)
What it claims to do: According to the Web site, the Diet Plate system is "the world's first, original portion control method of weight management" – and with it, you'll avoid all the guesswork of maintaining a healthy, balanced diet "whilst losing weight" (as you might have guessed by that "whilst," the company is in England). The Diet Plate weight management system does this by providing you with "visual management of your daily intake of food." In other words, the 11-inch plate and the accompanying Calibrated Breakfast Bowl are cluttered with visual clues (illustrations of food, tape measures, arrows, circles, etc.) that tell you how much you should eat of what. Diet Plates come in three "sizes" – male, female and child (this last has a wizard motif) – and are microwave and dishwasher safe.
My experience: When I first opened the box containing my Diet Plate and Breakfast Bowl (they're a set), I thought they were adorable. Rimmed by a band of light blue (inside of which were affirming messages like "You can do it. Exercise daily. Diet with a friend."), the plate was cleverly divvied up into different sections. Protein, represented by illustrations of ham and fish, went here; starch, marked by bowls of rice and potatoes, went there. A circle around the outside showed how much pasta you could dish up; a smaller circle in the middle helped solve the sauce dilemma. The Breakfast Bowl was less ornate but still helpful. Colored bands indicated how many cups of cornflakes or shredded wheat you should eat each morning (the booklet offered a breakdown of what line to use for a 200-calorie serving of various cereals). The whole system seemed cute, colorful and ingenious, and I sort of regretted having to cover it all up with food.
Cover it up, I did, though, nearly every night for two weeks (I did not tote my Diet Plate with me while dining out). When I ate a traditional meal like salmon, green beans and baked potato, the plate was an easy way to figure out just how much meat and starch made up an appropriate serving (you're allowed to eat as many "free vegetables" as you like). I didn't have to worry about calories or points or weighing my food on an awkward little scale. Nor did I have to hold a sizzling chicken breast next to that woman's magazine standard – a deck of cards – to figure out the size of a proper serving. There was no gambling with the Diet Plate; I just had to cut a piece the approximate size of the wedge on my plate and I was good to go.
Of course, I still had questions, usually with regard to all-in-one meals like stir-fry chicken-and-veggies or steak tacos. According to the booklet, I was supposed to use the protein section for "mixed" entrees like steak pie, pork pie, Beef Wellington, salmon encroute, and sausage rolls (none of which were on my menu – much less my continent) and the starch section to measure lasagna, cannelloni, cottage pie, moussaka or pizza. But where did tacos fit into the equation? Was one a proper serving? Was two too much? It was a small but niggling issue that baffled my inner systems analyst. The plate also tempted my inner rule-bender. Some evenings, I would diligently stay within its tape-measure boundaries, but pile the starch or protein high. I'm not sure who exactly I was trying to fool with this gambit, but I did notice the booklet addressed this issue, so it may be a common Diet Plate ploy.
What the expert says: In a 2007 study conducted at the University of Calgary, 130 people with type 2 diabetes used the Diet Plate for six months in an attempt to lose weight. At the end of six months, 17 percent of the participants using the plate lost 5 percent or more of their body weight as compared to 4.6 percent of the people in the plate-free control group who lost the same amount of weight. In an article published in the Archive of Internal Medicine, researchers concluded that "the portion control tool studied was effective in inducing weight loss."
Rebecca Solomon, registered dietician with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, says portion control is critical for those seeking to lose weight, but other factors such as snacking habits, food choices, food preparation and support play a role, as well.
"Portion control works when people actually do it," she says. "The problem is when people do things like portion control at their three meals a day and then endless grazing and snacking between meals."
She also wondered if some people might be tempted to push the Diet Plate envelope: counting calorie-laden macaroni and cheese as if it were plain brown rice.
"In a society where our portion sizes have gotten out of control, I think a tool like this can be very effective, but I always think it's critical to have a support and counseling component where you deal with the underlying eating issues," she says. "Anyone can diet for a short period of time, but you need to keep these habits for life."
Bottom line: All in all, I liked the autonomy of the Diet Plate system, which doesn't preach at you to load up on Brussels sprouts or decry corn. The visual clues – like a 1-inch cube of Swiss cheese – were enough to let me know when I was overindulging. But while my Diet Plate worked fairly well at dinner (I'm a 200-calorie instant oatmeal fan so I didn't need the Breakfast Bowl), I did fall victim to the late night snack habit so aptly illustrated by Solomon. I liked this product, but it did not help me lose the estimated one to four pounds a week mentioned on the Web site. Support seemed to be the missing ingredient on my plate. I looked for that support at ClubDietPlate.com but alas, that section of the site was under construction. Perhaps when it's up and running, it will provide a portal to the kind of community (and accountability) a rule-bender like me clearly needs. If not, the folks at Diet Plate may want to develop a new component to their system: the Snack Sack.