Q+A | Sheila Kemper Dietrich

Livliga dinnerware promotes right-size eating

Updated: 2013-05-19T02:09:39Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Known for her many civic and philanthropic contributions to her hometown, Kansas City native Sheila Kemper Dietrich took on a new challenge following a move to Boulder, Colo., eight years ago with her husband, Walter Dietrich, and daughter Cynthia. After years of raising three children, working in the banking business and serving on the Kansas City Parks Board, Dietrich has a new passion: Livliga, a line of dinnerware with a mission that she founded in 2011.

What’s different about Livliga dinnerware?

It’s dinnerware that is right-sized and beautifully designed to help guide people to put the right amount of food on the plate. Dinner plates have grown more than 51 percent over the past 50-plus years. Once they were a little over 9 inches. Now you can buy a plate that is 14 to 16 inches for your home.

The problem is we can put even more on our plates, and now with coupe plates, which are rimless, you can get even more on them.

What inspired you to design dinnerware?

Five years ago, I was director of the American Heart Association in Denver, where I had access to statistics and research. The American Heart Association spends millions of dollars trying to help people manage and improve their health, but we’re failing. Seventy-three percent of all Americans are either overweight or obese, and the obesity rate in kids is growing.

When the CDC came out with a statement that parents are going to outlive their children because of obesity, I decided I needed to do research.

What did you learn?

What I found out is that it’s all about the psychology of eating. I discovered that we make all of our decisions about food according to our eyes and our brain, not our stomach. Everything is supersized now. How do we get to the right size?

The way we do that is to right-size what we put our food on. If you have a plate that is too big — you know the old saying, ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach’ — you want to fill it so it looks full. That may be twice as much as our stomachs need.

All I’ve done is design a suite of dinnerware that incorporates the psychology of eating in its actual design. The circular icons on the Livliga plate are actual serving sizes.

How did you come up with the portion sizes?

The USDA prescribes serving sizes of 1/2 cup for carbs, a cup for vegetables and fruit, and 2 to 6 ounces of protein. The average is 3 to 4. That’s shocking to Midwesterners. Growing up I had skirt steak for breakfast, 10 or 12 ounces. I still love steak.

I literally designed the Livliga line with my measuring cups in my kitchen, and then I went to a paint your own pottery studio and decorated the pottery according to what I learned. I took it home and used it. I lost 50 pounds. Walt and Cynthia lost 20 pounds each. It naturally works. It makes you feel full. Everything is right-sized.

If we feel denied, it doesn’t work. By right-sizing the plate, we can have our mashed potatoes, but we have a 1/2 cup, which is the standard serving size for carbs.

I’m really struck by those comparison shots of the way food looks on a Livliga plate and a regular plate.

The size that was chosen is important. When you put on the right amount of food, the relationship of the food to the size of the dish makes it look plentiful.

What were the challenges?

I picked everything. It took me a year. I ended up having to go to China because there was no existing set of dishware where everything was the right size. I had to hand-pick every piece. At one point we had so many dishware samples in our house that I couldn’t walk around.

Mugs are so big now. It was really hard to find a mug that was the right size so when you put the recommended 8 ounces in it, it looks like enough.

Did you have help with all this?

I have experience in running a business and developing product. I wrote a paper summarizing my research that I took to nutritionists and doctors and others in the weight field. They all thought what I was focusing on made a lot of sense.

One of my mentors is the fellow who created Izze beverages. He gave me feedback. I also met with the guy who invented Horizon milk. All of these people live here.

I wrote a business plan, and I lucked out with a start-up marketing firm that took us on as a project. Walt has been working with me all along.

You decided to expand the line into glassware.

It was really a journey to find a wineglass that was elegant and beautiful and made 6 ounces of wine look like enough. I think of New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign to get rid of the 32-ounce cup, which we’ve come to think of as a serving size. Everything has to be right-size so that the eyes get used to what 8 ounces looks like. It’s about helping your body track what its taking in.

How did you come up with the name Livliga?

It’s Swedish for lively, vibrant and vivid. It’s kind of like a salute to living.

Your blog has a lot of tips about weight control.

We are really hooked on sugar. Take it out. If you have a coffee that finishes with a smooth sweet taste, you don’t need sugar. Buy plain yogurt and add berries. It’s more satisfying than sweetened yogurt.

And we have to acknowledge when we’re eating. Sit down and breathe. If we’re grazing, our bodies never say, ‘OK, I’m going into gear to metabolize this,’ and we don’t metabolize as well.

You’ve also posted some great recipes.

One of the things I learned is that if we combine savory with sweet and engage more of our taste buds, it’s more satisfying to us. One of my favorite recipes is rosemary dark chocolate chip cookies. They’re not as sweet as usual cookies. Also, they’re right-size. I use a tablespoon scoop.

Have you always liked to cook?

All of this is because I love food. After college, when I was in the Peace Corps, I helped write a cookbook for the kids who came from the U.S. and didn’t know how to cook with the foods available where they were posted. I’ve battled weight all my life, and I’ve had to learn to cook with the right ingredients and amounts: You don’t need a quarter cup of olive oil. A tablespoon will do.

Do you have some new products in the works?

We are launching the children’s line Kidliga in the fall, and I’ve written a children’s book, “Sammie and Sax in the Land of Quinoa: The Search for a Balanced Meal.”

What we found out in our research is that kids don’t know where food comes from. Kids don’t know what a balanced meal is. So the characters I developed go on an adventure to magical lands because their mom has asked what they want for dinner. They meet fruits, vegetables and proteins, and at the end they all come together in a balanced meal, and those recipes are in the back of the book.

Research tells us that if kids are involved in the preparation of food, they like it more. So if you’re introducing healthy food, it’s great way to give them ownership in preparing and also learning how to cook.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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