Healthy Habits Heroes: Ann-Marie and Ed Stephens

Practical techniques help keep your eyes on the size without sacrificing the foods you love.
Kate Meyers

Diabetes is an epidemic in America, one Ed and Ann-Marie Stephens have seen firsthand. Ed's older sister has type 2 diabetes, and two of Ed's older brothers and their spouses have the condition, too. "My brother would see his wife cooking green vegetables and immediately leave the house in search of a Big Mac," he says. "As a nation, we are facing a nutrition crisis that has led to an obesity crisis. The idea of a portion has become so distorted that consumers lack awareness of food groups and proper sizes and nutrition."

Wanting to help their family members better manage the disease, Ed and Ann-Marie turned their know-how as successful chemical engineers into action. "We started to coach them so they would better understand the side effects of medications, learn how to eat differently, and how to exercise," Ann-Marie says. The couple launched typefreediabetes.com to establish a community where diabetics and their families could share products and solutions to the daily struggles they face.

They knew that portion control was an under-addressed issue essential to diabetes management. "Most people would just get a smaller plate, but if the T-bone steak takes up most of the plate and the leafy veg is only a very small portion, that's not any better. The balance is the key," Ann-Marie says.

The couple looked around the marketplace for useful portion-control products they could recommend, but they came up empty-handed. "Most of the products are industrial. They were not very friendly," Ann-Marie says. Together they created their portion-control product line, Precise Portions. Today, Ed's siblings are using the products designed by Ed and Ann-Marie and practicing the healthy-living strategies they've learned with the help of their family members. "They've lost weight," Ed says. "They're exercising more. They are in better positions than they were."

Ed and Ann-Marie's Top 3 Smart Strategies for Perfect Portions

  1. Eat by number. Ed and Ann-Marie suggest getting back to basics and eating from a template for a while. Follow the USDA MyPlate suggestion: 50% fruits and vegetables, 30% grains, and 20% lean meat (or other proteins). You can use a plate like the one they've designed or divide the plates you have at home. "This helps us because it subconsciously or, really, consciously forces us to think about fruits and vegetables. They take up half the plate, so the awareness that we have to fill it is incredibly high," says Ann-Marie.
  2. Rethink the meal plan. Ann-Marie suggests reversing the way you look at and think about a meal—even when it comes to your much-anticipated holiday meals. "The first thing you typically start to think about is the meat and starchy sides, and vegetables are thrown in at the end," she says. Switch the way you lay it out, and reverse the mind-set. "That guarantees your focus is on the most important part of the plate first," Ann-Marie says.
  3. Downsize the snack bowl. Mindless eating, such as snacking in front of the television or eating chips straight from the bag, can be a portion hazard, too. "You're not paying attention to the signals from your brain, which is a bad habit that has to be corrected. Plus, you have no idea how much you're eating," Ann-Marie says. Ed adds a trick the couple uses: "We love peanuts. Before we launched the brand, we would pour peanuts into a very large bowl. Now we pour them into our 2-ounce snack bowl." You can use the same trick with ramekins or other small containers.