Nutrition-wise blog

Getting a handle on meal portions

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. November 25, 2008

First, thanks for the great response to the last posting.

Many of you want to lose weight and you're feeling overwhelmed. You don't want to hear "eat less — exercise more."

You know you have issues with eating, exercise and coping. You know that you need to narrow it down so that when you meet with your health expert you will get meaningful help. Drawing upon last week's blog, let's say you want to focus on portion control.

Studies have shown that if you struggle with controlling how much you eat, you may have been brought up to "clean your plate." You eat fast and don't know that you're full. And, because our environment "super sizes" everything we purchase at the grocery store, at restaurants, and at home, we unconsciously eat more. Furthermore, the types of foods most accessible to us are higher in calories — with lots of unhealthy fat and hidden sugar.

Your health care provider can help you identify which issues are most relevant to you. Beyond the knee-jerk advice of "eat less, exercise more" you and your health care provider will select a strategy that you feel will be most successful. These strategies include:

  • Ways to eat more slowly
  • Eating more food — but foods that are lower in calories
  • Re-sizing those portions that you eat
  • How to deal with super-sized eating situations

Eat more slowly. If your usual meal time lasts less than 30 minutes, chances are you are not giving your body the chance it needs to recognize that it is filling up. You are likely to be eating 200 or more unwanted calories by the time you end your day. Slow down by putting a watch or clock in front of you, putting your fork down between bites, chewing and savoring each bite, and eating without any other diversions like TV, newspaper, driving — make it a pure experience.

Eat more food — but foods that are lower in calories. I know you're thinking that if you eat for 30 minutes 3 times daily that you'll eat tons more calories. No. You also need to choose foods that are lower in calories but don't leave you feeling hungry and deprived.

Eat bigger, more filling portions of lower calorie food by emphasizing more vegetables and fruit, eat these foods before a meal; and make sure your plate is half filled with veggies and fruit, one-fourth filled with whole grains or starch, and only one-fourth filled with lean protein.

Re-size portions. If you are an overeater, you don't have a good idea what normal portions are like. It's not your fault, you need to adjust your perception from "super size" to a more normal size portion. Train yourself by using smaller plates, smaller spoons and smaller cups. Try preportioned, single-serve, healthy-type frozen meals only for several days (be sure to have a salad or soup before, a piece of fruit after, and an 8 ounce healthy beverage like skim milk, unsweetened tea or water). Purchase items in smaller packages — or repackage items into single serve zipper bags.

Deal with super-sized situations. These situations include restaurants, parties, office munchies, and even how you serve food at home. Be conscious of what you eat. Slow down and savor each bite. It is helpful to eat more of the lower calorie foods. Keep food as far away from you as possible — stand away from buffet tables, serve food in the kitchen and not at the table, ask for the bread plate to be removed, ask for the "doggie bag" to come with the meal and save half of your meal for later (or for the dog). Limit alcohol because it is not only high in calories, but it also stimulates appetite and weakens your will power.

These tips should help you focus your time and efforts, and your health care provider's ability to provide meaningful help to you. It's certainly better than hearing "eat less, exercise more."

Next week let's focus on the category of exercise. Are you a couch potato? Don't know how to begin an exercise program? Are you an all or nothing exerciser? Your success and the best advice will depend on you narrowing it down!

Keep sending me your feedback.

11 Comments Posted

Nov. 25, 2008