You’ve heard it before – one of the easiest things you can do to overhaul your diet, without giving up everything you love, is to scale back on the portions. Kind of like having your cake and eating it too, just that the piece of cake has become a sliver that won’t wreck your waistline.
For anyone that has ever followed a diet program where you have to purchase and eat their food, you’ve experienced portion control. Precise amounts of food are plated so that you eat just that amount and nothing more, allowing you stay within your calorie goal and achieve the desired weight loss. Yes, this method does work (for a period of time). The downsides of this type of weight control program are that they are expensive and they teach you nothing about shopping, cooking, and portioning out your food for yourself. Once you stop following the program, the old habits return, including larger portion sizes, and the weight creeps back on.
Let’s talk about how you can successfully master portion control without feeling like you have to weigh and measure everything.
1. Divide the Plate. Draw an imaginary line down the center of your plate. Fill one half with fruits and/or veggies. Divide the other half of the plate in half again and fill 1/4 with whole grains and the other 1/4 with a lean protein.
2. Pre-portion high-calorie foods. The bigger the package, the more you’ll eat. From this finding, the 100-calorie snack pack was born. Rather than fill up on these store-bought calorie-controlled packs (which are usually just junk food), make your own homemade 100-calorie packs using snack-sized zip top bags and 1/2 cup plastic containers. Keep nuts to around 100 calories by fitting them into an Altoids tin.
3. When you eat, just eat. Turn off the TV, put away the book, close the newspaper, shut down the computer, and stick the cell phone in the other room. Meal time should be devoted to enjoying your meal, uninterrupted. Use the time to notice the taste, texture, temperature, aroma, and visual appeal of your meal. Not only will you enjoy your meal more than usual, but you’ll also be more in tune with your fullness cues. If your brain gets the signal from your stomach to slow down or stop before you’ve polished off everything (this takes 20 minutes), then heed the message and wrap the rest of it up for later. Your waist will thank you.
4. Downsize your plates and cups. Rather than continue to eat off of the typical 12-inch dinner plates, which encourage larger portions, try plating your meal onto 8-inch plates. Same goes for bowls (use 1 cup ramekins) and glasses. Did you know that people drink less out of tall, skinny glasses than short, wide ones?
5. Limit choices. They say that variety is the spice of life, but it also encourages overeating and results in higher calorie intake. This doesn’t mean that your meal has to be Johnny-one-note, rather choose 3 items to feature on your plate, make sure they have lots of great flavor, and enjoy every bite.
6. Out of sight, out of mind. Office workers who kept candy in a clear jar on their desks sampled 71% more often than those who kept the candy in a desk drawer. So, keep the junk out of sight and replace the desk-top candy dish with a bowl of fresh fruit so that everyone can benefit.
7. Don’t drink your calories. If you’re watching your calories in the quest to drop some pounds, skip the juices, smoothies, and coffee drinks that pack in hundreds of calories. Even worse, these liquids empty out of your system quicker than food, leaving you hungrier, sooner. Then you’re left to search of something else to eat, which can result in a higher calorie intake for the day than expected.
8. Super-size good-for-you foods. This is the ultimate in reverse portion control. Think salads (watch the dressing), cooked vegetables, broth-based soups, crudité and healthy dips. Fill up on generous amounts of these foods at the beginning of every meal, which leaves less room for the rest of the food being offered. A few bites of your protein and whole grain and you realize you’re too full to continue.
About the Author:
Erin Macdonald, R.D. is a Nutrition, Fitness, and Wellness Coach in southern California where she has a private practice and teaches cooking classes. She is the co-founder of U Rock Girl, a web site full of nutrition, fitness, and wellness information and recipes to nourish the mind, body, and spirit. She also writes a regular column for Oxygen Magazine, called “Easy Does It” and will have a new column in Clean Eating magazine called, “Ask the dietitians.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.