The New Year is a time to reflect on the changes we want or need to make… Have you made all of your New Year’s resolutions yet? Read on:
When clients ask me about nutrition resolutions, I encourage them to focus on challenges that are both practical and realistic. One that I often hear is: “I want to be better about eating the right portion size for different foods.”
Nutritionists agree that understanding and being able to visualize accurate portion sizes is the key to a successful eating plan. So if you’re looking to get the New Year off to a wholesome start, think about right-sizing your portions for a healthier you. This is one of the best areas of nutrition knowledge that you can master.
An extra bite here and there might not seem like much, but trust me, the calories from eating just one more scoop of rice, an extra glass of juice or flavored coffee drink, or a handful of pretzels on a daily basis add up. According to the Surgeon General, the average adult can gain 1-3 pounds per year by consuming as little as an extra 100 calories per day. For example, this 100 calories difference can be as subtle as choosing a small handful of cashews vs. a large handful; a medium baked potato vs. a large one; or 1 cup of pasta vs. 1 1/2 cups.
Visualizing Appropriate Portion Sizes:
The portion size of foods that we typically choose to eat are simply too large for most of us. Regardless of how you say it—trenta, jumbo, super—just about everything is available in distorted portion sizes. Soft drinks, French fries, coffee drinks, steaks, burgers, bagels and muffins have all increased over the years. Many food portions are now two to five times larger than they were 50 years ago!
About 20 years ago, a fast food meal typically consisted of a 4-ounce hamburger, 3 oz. serving of French fries, and a 10 oz. soft drink. Compare this to an 8 oz. burger, 7 oz. serving of fries, and 32 oz. drink you might order today. Unfortunately, many of us have adopted this super-size mentality for meals at home too.
With all of this portion distortion, we no longer know what a realistic serving and portion looks like! Although the terms “serving” and “portion” often are used interchangeably, they actually mean different things. Sometimes the portion size and serving size are the same, but sometimes they are not.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a “portion” is how much food you choose to eat at one time—which may be more or less than a serving whether you’re eating in a restaurant, your own kitchen or from a pre-packaged food item. A portion of food can be big or small—you get to decide.
A “serving” size is a specific amount of food or drink such as a cup of Greek yogurt or a slice of whole grain bread. Many foods that come as a single portion actually contain multiple servings. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods—on the backs of cans, and sides of boxes and packages—tells you the number of servings in the container.
Ten Ways To Choose Healthier Portions:
- Spend some time measuring and weighing your typical food and beverages portions to get an accurate assessment of how much you’re actually eating. Use a measuring cup, tablespoon, teaspoon, and food scale. Eventually, you will be able to guestimate by eye.
- Then, for additional support, learn how to estimate serving sizes using common items for comparison:
- 3 oz. meat, fish or poultry is the size of a deck of cards
- ½ cup is the size of an ice cream scoop
- 1 cup is the size of a tennis ball
- 1 ounce of cheese is the size of a domino
- The bigger the package, the more food you’ll tend to pour out of it—so instead of eating directly from the bag—make your own single-portion packs. Stash bulk quantities of favorite foods such as pasta, rice, dried fruit like raisins, trail mix, nuts and cereal into snack pack zipper bags.
- Visualize your portion plate by drawing an imaginary line down the middle (dividing it in half). Automatically fill one side with fruits or vegetables, leaving the rest for equal parts protein and starchy foods. This way, you begin to see what a balanced meal looks like. Pasta and chicken? Steak and mashed potatoes? They’re only half a meal—your plate is not complete without fruits and vegetables. By doing this simple trick you’ve automatically re-portioned the foods on your plate.
- Over the years, plate sizes have increased along with the portions we serve ourselves. It’s no secret that the bigger the plate, the more we tend to pile on… and then eat. On a standard 8 to 10-inch dinner plate, a portion of vegetable and tofu stir-fry looks like a meal. On a 12 to14-inch dinner plate, it looks small, so the tendency is to serve up a bigger portion to fill up the plate.
- It’s important to evaluate the plates, bowls, cups, and glassware in your kitchen and measure what they hold. You might find that a bowl you thought held 8 ounces actually holds 16, meaning you’ve been eating twice what you thought.
- The eye is a poor judge of volume in relation to height and width—so when it comes to glassware know how many ounces you’re drinking. Calories from beverages can add up quickly!
- Although healthier, oils like olive and safflower have just as many calories as their unhealthy counterparts so it’s best not to pour oil directly into a pan or over food. Measure first! This goes for add-ons like salad dressing, sour cream, and sauces as well.
- Most of us have lost connection with our hunger cues because we’re often doing other things while eating. Take time to focus on eating—and, YES—this means turning off the TV for mealtime! Also, pay attention to how you’re feeling when eating a meal or snack. Work towards putting down your fork and pushing the plate back when satisfied or comfortably (about 80%) full.
- Most importantly, learning about portion sizes means that you don’t need to deprive yourself of foods that you enjoy. A small portion can be just as satisfying as a large portion once you get the hang of it. It’s all about variety and moderation!
You’ve likely heard the expression, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” Just observe people walking through a buffet line. In fact, studies have shown that the more food we see—the more we tend to take and consume. Eating healthy portions in a supersized world takes some practice. But it’s worth it!
I encourage you to make “I will be more conscious of portion sizes” as one of your nutrition resolutions for 2016. You’ll find that it’s empowering not only to choose what, when, and where you’re going to eat—but how much (portion) you’re going to put on your plate for a healthier you!
Next up: why do you eat?