In our “Super-Size Me” world of fast food, portions have gotten completely out of control. This isn’t just a problem in fast food restaurants though, it’s happening everywhere! Even before the super-size meals became available, larger and larger beverage choices were available. In a Big Gulp® size of regular soda, you get a whopping 310 calories in a 32-oz. drink! A Super Big Gulp® packs over 500 calories, which can be approximately ¼ of your daily calories. And that doesn’t count the meal or snacks you’re having with your drink. It’s easy to chug down a huge beverage like this without even being aware of the calories.
Do you notice the portion sizes at most restaurants? They’re typically at least double what most people would eat at a meal at home. Even when you go to the movies, they try to get you to ‘buy up’ and purchase the largest size tub of popcorn. The problem is, the more food we have in front of us, the more we will eat.
A multitude of studies show that when larger portions are put in front of us, we’ll consume up to 50% more than what we normally would. All those calories add up! Can you believe that just an extra 200 calories a day over the course of a year adds up to an extra 73,000 calories? This equals approximately 20 pounds!
Being mindful and better prepared is key.
- Don’t skip meals. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make. Start your day with breakfast and plan ahead for lunch. It’s also a good idea to bring a healthy snack with you to get you through the afternoon before dinner. Portion control is very difficult when you’re starving! It is more of an issue when we skip meals, or we aren’t eating enough at each meal. We end up ravenous later, reaching for anything and everything in sight! This is when we are most vulnerable to making poor food choices. When the “I’m starving” mode kicks in, it’s hard to put the brakes on! Skipping a meal to cut calories backfires. Our body is smart – it keeps track of what it needs, sends the white flag of hunger up and we then try to make up for it, usually with over indulgence.
- Focus on eating whole foods (avoiding pre-packaged, food-like substances as much as possible), including plenty of protein and vegetables, until you are satiated (that feeling where you are about 80% full). Don’t deprive yourself. This always backfires, causing you to eat more food later in the day. Most processed foods have chemical additives that make it difficult for us to limit consumption.
- Include quality food, like healthy fats, in your diet. This will help you feel satiated longer and allow your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins your body needs. Ideas include: avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, salmon and beans. When we focus more on the quality of the food we eat, the portion control part usually takes care of itself. We don’t usually overdo it on the broccoli and kale, right? Many times, the issue is that our body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, so when we eat a meal (or snack) that doesn’t fulfill our needs on a cellular level, our body stays hungry, a signal that it needs more nutrition. Unfortunately, we usually grab more “fillers,” the foods lower in nutrients and higher in carbs and calories.
- Eat a healthy snack, like veggies, before dinner (especially if you’ll be eating out). You can tell the waiter not to bring the rolls or chips to your table. Plan on taking part of your meal home for leftovers since most restaurants give you huge portions. You can even ask for an extra plate and put ½ the meal on that plate and pack the rest up to take home for leftovers – before you start your meal.
- Using smaller plates can be helpful. When you put food on a large plate, you almost automatically want to try to fill it up and then feel like you need to finish it all. By using smaller plates (and bowls), you may find that you eat less but still feel comfortably full. An article published in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that we need to pay attention to both the size and the color of the dinnerware we use as it impacts how much we even serve ourselves. What’s interesting is that in 1900 a dinner plate was a mere 9 inches. In 1950, plates were 10 inches and by 2010 had grown to a diameter of 12 inches.
- When snacking, place the snack in a small bowl or on a small plate rather than eating right out of the bag or container. This is a huge help so you’re more aware of how much you are eating, and you can better manage your portions.
- Plan ahead when ordering your meal if you plan to order dessert. Order a smaller size dinner or share your entree. Often there are healthy appetizers that can actually be a full meal. Skip the alcohol and then enjoy a little dessert. Healthy eating is all about moderation. Don’t feel like you ‘can’t have it’, just decide what you would enjoy more and make the choice.
- Slow down when you eat and chew your food more. By slowing down and enjoying our food more, we end up eating less. Digestion actually begins in the mouth with the chewing process. Enzymes that breakdown your food are released through your salivary glands. Chewing your food adequately allows your body to absorb and assimilate more nutrients and improves digestion. Because you’re taking more time to chew, you’ll notice that you feel full sooner, which means you’re much more likely to consume fewer calories while still feeling full.
Ask yourself “What is the best choice I can make that will give my body what it needs in order to thrive?” Quality counts.
Instead of feeling like you have to ration your food, change your focus to eating the most nutrient dense foods you can find. Nutrient dense foods will have you feeling better, looking better and being more in control of your food choices and portion sizes.