Portion Control: Size It Up

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Portions have become greatly distorted in American culture.  In fact, many would argue that oversized portions are the root cause of our obesity epidemic.  Not only are we as a society more overweight than ever, we are now facing alarmingly increasing prevalence in diabetes, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related diseases.  If portion sizes are truly a causing factor, then we must attack the weight management issue with portion control.  But what is a “portion” anyway?

A “portion” is the amount of food you put on your plate.  Unfortunately, most Americans fill large plates with extra large portions.  Instead, we should be following standard dietary guidelines for serving sizes.  Recommended serving sizes are as follows:

  • MEAT – 3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards or palm of your hand
  • GRAINS – 1 cup, or about the size of your fist
  • FRUITS AND VEGETABLES – ½ cup (size of a lightbulb) to 1 cup (size of a baseball)
  • FATS AND SWEETS – sparingly, or about the size of a poker chip or small pack of dental floss

(for additional info on standard serving sizes, visit WebMD.com or MayoClinic.com)

 Knowing about serving sizes is a start, but that knowledge is not always practical and is often forgotten in everyday life.  So here are some additional tips to help you in your efforts to reign in your portion sizes:

1. Read labels.

You may be surprised to find out that a serving size of your favorite chips or crackers is only about 16 pieces (which, let’s face it, is about a handful).  When preparing your meals and snacks, only put on your plate or in your bowl the recommended serving size on the package…and then put it away.  Once your bowl or plate is empty, stop eating.  Learn your serving sizes and stick to them.

2. Use smaller plates, especially when eating pasta.
Keeping in mind that a serving size of pasta is about the size of your fist, think about how many portions you are piling onto a typical American dinner plate.  Yikes!  So next time you have pasta for dinner, downsize to those smaller plates that are probably just taking up space in your cabinet.  Though you are eating a smaller portion, the plate will still look full, and therefore will deceive your eyes (and your stomach) into thinking you are eating more than you actually are.

3. Rearrange your plate.
Try this approach to filling your plate: ½ vegetables, ¼ meat, ¼ grains.  Unfortunately, we as Americans probably do 1/3 of each of the above – or, even worse, skip the vegetables altogether.  By rearranging your plate, you will be more apt to get those 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, while also getting closer to the lower recommended serving sizes for meats and grains.

4. Prepare more meals at home.
People tend to eat less when they prepare meals at home versus eating out.  You will also likely prepare the meals in a healthier fashion.  Either way, you will be consuming less calories than fast food or even restaurant food.

5. Separate your leftovers into mini meals.
One of the main excuses for grabbing lunch or dinner on-the-go is convenience.  So once you finish dinner at home, go ahead and separate the leftovers into smaller containers – little mini meals ready to grab and take to work (or throw in the microwave for dinner the next night).

6. When eating out, cut it in half.
If you must eat out, remember that the portions are going to be very large and full of extra calories.  When your food arrives at the table, go ahead and request a to-go box.  Divide your meal at least in half – eat half now, take the rest home.  Not only will you not feel so stuffed that you later regret it, but you automatically have your next lunch or dinner ready to grab and go the next day.

Weight management can be as simple as starting with better portion control.  As with anything new, this process will take some practice before mastering, but it is easy enough for anyone to try – anytime, anywhere.   Portion control is really just being mindful of the amount you put on your plate, and has nothing to do with starving yourself or restricting calories; simply reprogram yourself to the recommended servings for each food group.  Also know that, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, you can really never go wrong, so eat up!  The key to your size is in your portion sizes.

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