Portion control. Do you cringe when you hear that? It’s more like portion distortion. The bigger is better mentality has surfaced everywhere – smart phones, television screens, computer monitors, boobs (yea, I said it), muscles, tires, cars, houses, and on and on.
Here’s the deal….most of us don’t even know what a portion of any food actually is. And when we do find out, it’s laughable. Why is that? Well, because we have become conditioned to super-sized servings. Now, a portion is an actual MEASURED amount. A serving is whatever you put on your plate. They are two very different things. So here’s a little education for you:
1 portion of carbohydrate = 1/2 cup (cooked, plain cereal like oatmeal/grits, potatoes, pasta corn, peas, beans) (80 calories) *rice is an exception at only 1/3 cup per serving
1 portion non starchy vegetable = 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked, but really – unlimited (25 calories)
1 portion fresh fruit = 1 cup raw, 1 cup frozen or 1/2 cup canned (60 calories)
1 portion added fat = 1 teaspoon (oil, butter) (100 calories)
1 portion nut butter or avocado, sour cream = 1 tablespoon (90 calories)
1 portion nuts = 1/4 cup (170 calories)
1 portion dairy (milk, plain yogurt, cottage cheese) = 1 cup (110 calories)
1 portion of lean meat (chicken, fish, pork tenderloin, egg) = 3 ounces or 1 egg (110 calories)
1 portion of high fat meat (beef, ribs, fatty fish) = 1 1/2 ounces (110 calories)
Note these are all estimates and foods vary A LOT depending on added sugars and fats or lack thereof. So reading labels is important too. But the key here is to understand that you are probably over-eating. For example, in a restaurant, the smallest sirloin is 9 ounces, that’s SIX TIMES as much as a “portion size”. I’m not saying you can only eat 1 1/2 ounces, but calories count and they add up fast if you aren’t paying attention. It’s really no wonder how people gain weight easily when they are eating out frequently.
But it’s not just restaurants to blame. It’s how we cook at home, too. For instance, when you make pasta – do you cook the entire box? Have you ever looked at the label? A pound of pasta is enough to feed sixteen people if you are sticking to the 1/2 cup serving. If you go with the box’s suggested serving of two ounces or 1 cup each, then you are cooking for eight people. I’m guessing you aren’t feeding that many people for dinner on a regular basis though. So how do you deal without feeling hungry all the time?
Here are some tried and true tricks:
- Realize this is not willpower. I repeat – NOT willpower. It’s skill-power. So first of all, STOP cooking for an army and start cooking for the number of people having the actual dinner. I once counseled a couple that did this and each lost forty pounds without changing what they were eating. If you really don’t want to do this, then plan for leftovers, but make two pans/pots/casseroles and immediately put one in the freezer or whatever you need to do BEFORE you start eating. Remove that temptation.
- Use smaller plates – as in six to eight inch plates. You know those salad plates you have that came with your ten inch dinner plates. Yeah, those ones. In a study done by food scientist and researcher, Brian Wansink, he explored how an optical illusion leads us to make inaccurate estimates of serving size, depending on what size plate they are presented on. The more “white space” around the circle, the smaller it appears and thus, we feel the need to fill the plate to the edges. Same goes with bowls, in another study he conducted at a health and fitness camp, campers who were given larger bowls served and consumed 16% more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Despite the fact that those campers were eating more, they estimated eating 7% less than the group eating from the smaller bowls. Interesting, huh?
- Allow a good twenty minutes to finish your first plate before getting seconds. It takes your brain that long to register that you have eaten. Now I do understand that it can be quite annoying to eat slow if you are a naturally fast eater. So I suggest if you zip through your meal in five to ten minutes, then wait for the next ten minutes to pass before you decide if you truly need a second helping. And if you do, go for veggies first since they are the lowest in calories.
- Use the plate method and shift the calorie make up on your plate. This goes with the concept of a volumetrics type diet. Notice how vegetables only have twenty-five calories per portion? But the starchy carbohydrates have eighty? And that’s assuming you didn’t load them up with gravy, butter, or other fats. Same with meats, 110 calories per one to two ounces? Fill up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (so NOT corn/peas/potatoes), a third with high fiber carbohydrates, and the rest with a meat, preferably a lean meat. If it’s breakfast time, fill that half with fruits. Make sense? You are eating more low calorie foods and less high calorie foods, but not sacrificing volume. Another way of looking at is like this: one cup of salad dressing is around 1440 calories, one cup of nuts is 680 calories, one cup of fat free milk is 90 calories and one cup of raw vegetables is 25 calories. In other words, a large plate of pasta is going to be a ton more calories than a plate of salad. Here’s the issue with most of us: usually our plates are half meat (often high fat), half starch, and vegetables as an afterthought or something starchy like corn (at least here in the south!) Personally, I prefer the plate method over measuring my food. I got kids and if I don’t inhale my food, I don’t eat before there’s an explosion of a hot mess in my house. Like many of you I’m sure, I don’t get the luxury of measuring, weighing, and taking my time to eat dinner – so I’m thankful for these hacks that still make it possible to eat well.
Lastly, remember that the above will not work if you arrive to the dinner table starving. The day starts with a healthy breakfast, planned out high protein snacks and a healthy lunch. If you didn’t eat high protein, healthy foods every three to five hours earlier in the day, you can forget about the rest because you will want to eat the refrigerator door by the time you sit down for dinner and a six inch plate will just piss you off. For tips on preplanning meals – head over to this previous post on how to do that.
P.S. Love to eat out but not sure how to fit it in with your health and wellness goals? Get these tips sent to your inbox and hopefully they will help you out.
P.P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.
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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN