Portion Control

June 20, 2011

Eating a delicious, healthy meal

What is a portion?

A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat for a meal or snack. It can be as small as a spoonful of yogurt. It can be a rack of ribs. A portion is however big or small you make it.

The problem with portions starts when we confuse portions with servings. A serving is a measured amount of food or drink. Serving sizes can be found on the Nutrition Facts label on almost all the packaged food you buy.

A serving size tells you how much of a food or drink you can eat as part of a 2,000-calorie diet. It's based on the United States Department of Agriculture's food pyramid. It's a great way to find out how many servings of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins, and dairy you should be eating. For more information about the food pyramid, visit MyPyramid.gov.

Serving suggestions

When you're young, your parents control your portions. Once you can feed yourself, your portions are your responsibility. With a little education and some simple facts, you can control your portions, and your waistline as well.

  • Your tummy is talking. Listen up.
  • You don't have to eat until you're full. If you're hungry, start small and wait for the growling to stop.

  • You end up paying for larger-than-life portions.
  • People like getting more for their money. That's why people are drawn to bigger portions. Value-sized chips may save a few cents at the register, but if you can't control portions, you can develop weight-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

  • Portions have gotten bigger at restaurants.
  • Restaurants are serving bigger portions. And we're eating it up. Remember, you can always take your food home. Try asking for a to-go container when you order your meal. When it comes to your table, put half of your meal in your to-go box right away. That way, you eat less at dinner and you can enjoy it again later in the week

  • Watch your plate. It's growing too!
  • Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating tells us that we rely on "consumption norms" to tell us how much to eat. Simply put, when we see food on a plate, we tend to eat it all. If we're served the same amount of food on a small plate and a big plate, we fool ourselves into thinking we're not getting as much food. Switch to smaller plates and you just might fool your eyes into believing your stomach.

  • What makes you start eating? What makes you stop?
  • Wansink asked people to keep a food diary and asked them to write down what made them start and stop eating. Most people in the study started eating because of surrounding circumstances. Things like being with friends, seeing food, and having something to do while watching TV were all excuses people gave for starting to eat. They stopped eating when they saw something that told them they were done, like a friend stopping for example.

  • You eat more when it's easy.
  • A cafeteria study found that people ate more ice cream when the cooler lid was left open than when it was closed. They drank more water when a pitcher was on their table than when it was far away. So do yourself a favor. Make it a little harder to get at food that's not as good for you. Keep fruit and veggies at eye level in the fridge. Bury the cookies in the back of the pantry. If it's harder to get, laziness might keep you from making a munchie mistake.

  • Five 100-calorie packs do not equal 100 calories.
  • Convenient portion packaging can be your friend. But only when it's used responsibly. Those little full-flavored snacks in a bite-sized bag can really add up. Keep your food pyramid in mind. If you have one or two little bags, you'll have to either work out or cut back on something later. It takes 15 minutes of brisk walking to burn 100 calories. Just keep that in mind when you go for a second pack.

  • Mix it up.
  • Since fruit and vegetables are better for you, find some that you really enjoy eating and dive in. But don't get stuck in a rut. Try different dishes and recipes to add some variety. Get adventurous with your choices too. Have you ever tried kiwi? How about asparagus? You might be surprised how much you like new and different fruits and vegetables.

    It's easy to overdo it. It's a lot harder to keep yourself from overdoing it. By watching your portions you can keep a good eye on what goes into your body. You can even keep an eye on how much. Try keeping a journal of everything you eat. Even if it's just for a week, you get a good idea of what you're eating and how much. It can show you what you need to work on. If you're not eating enough vegetables, try eating more but cutting back on carbohydrates. If you notice that you have extra helping of ice cream late at night, try to find out why. Stress and boredom can cause you to start bad habits.

    A little discipline, and maybe even some exercise could get you on the road to better habits and better health. The pointers in this article are a great start, but come up with some of your own to help you eat healthier and live happier.

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