Portion Control – Because Size Matters


I walked into the den to tell my grandmother dinner was ready.  She sat in her favorite chair, shaking her head at the television as a reporter talked about the obesity rate in America.  When I asked about the scowl on her face, Grandma replied, “In my day, the fat lady was something you only saw at the circus.”  With that, she turned off the television and made her way to the dinner table.  As we filled our plates, my brother commented jokingly that his plate wasn't big enough.  That’s when it hit me. 

Size matters.  The bigger our plates, the bigger our portions, the bigger our caloric intake.  And I'm not the only one who has noticed the circus of events.

A 2009 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine looks at cookbook recipes (mainly from the classic The Joy of Cooking) over the last 70 years or so.  What it found was that calorie counts per serving have gone up considerably as the writers of said cookbooks have increased portion sizes to conform to changing cultural norms.  For example, the 1936 edition of the kitchen classic averaged 268 calories per serving, the 2006 edition averaged 384 calories.  That’s a pretty considerable jump.

So how can we control our portion sizes?  Here are a few simple ideas:

  1. Downsize your plate. One thing the study pointed out is that the average plate size has increased over the years, which means the portion size has kept pace.  Try eating your meals off a salad or dessert plate.  A smaller plate will make portions look larger, it’s a visual trick that will make your brain think you're eating more. You could also cut down any shoveling behavior you might be tempted to engage in at the dinner table by switching to a smaller fork.
  2. Divide and conquer.  Depending on what the meal is, you can divide your food onto two plates—one for now and one for lunch the next day. As a bonus, this can help you tighten your wallet while you tighten your waistline.
  3. Timing is everything.  I takes your stomach about 20 minutes to tell your brain you're full. So try this: Before reaching for seconds, glance at the time (you know you have your cell phone handy). Spend the next 20 minutes having dinner conversation, reading, or playing candy Crush (ok, so that might just be me).  Anyway, after 20 minutes, see if you're still starving for another plate of lasagna. Chances are, your cravings are gone. If you're still hungry, fill up on some low-cal veggies or have a big glass of water. Sometimes it's easy to confuse thirst with hunger.
  4. Embrace your inner child.  That’s not permission to have candy for dinner. It is permission to order from the kid’s menu  when you're out and about.  Don't be ashamed, the kid’s menu often has the most sensibly sized and nutritious options available.  Not to mention, if you play your cards right, free toy.  Enough said.

Give Yourself a Hand

It's kind of crucial to understand what a portion actually is. So here is what may prove to be an invaluable tip: Use your hand as a guideline for portion sizes. (If your hands happen to be extra-large or extra-small for your size, adjust accordingly.)  

Palm = Proteins: Make protein portions the size of your palm. Protein would be products like fish, poultry, meats, and cottage cheese. Some veggie protein sources include legumes (beans, etc.), tofu, tempeh, and wheat glutens.

Thumb = Fats: Fats are important, but also very dense, so use the rule of thumbs...match fat portions to the size of your thumb. Good fat sources are avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

Fist = Fruits, Grains, etc.: Your bread, fruit, cereal, rice, and grain portions should be about equal to the size of your closed fist. Remember whole grains are best.

Hand = Veggies: Open your hand and spread your fingers as wide as you can. That's a good vegetable portion. Raw veggies are loaded with fiber and nutrients and contain very few calories.

We've grown accustomed to eating more and more per meal, but with these tips and adding in healthy snacks between meals, maybe we can avoid the circus life. 

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