If you've ever tried to lose weight you know that one of the most important things you can do is to practice being more mindful around food. And one great way to do that is by practicing healthier portion sizing.
Diet culture tells us to "move more and eat less" but the truth is it's not that simple. You can work out more and harder, but if your food habits are not in line with your goals, you'll be challenged to see results. Bottom line: you can't out run your fork.
Okay, so you need to be aware of your portion sizes. Sounds simple enough, right?
The fact is we're bombarded with food menus that feature extra large sizes of everything and value meals pre-packaged with sides and beverages. And it seems like a no-brainer. We're often told we can get more for less by sizing up or ordering the full meal deal, and let's face it, the idea of a good bargain can be hard to pass up. But before you know it, those extra portions are adding to your waistline too.
So how do we start practicing healthier portion sizing without feeling deprived and restricted? Aside from the typical tricks like eating from a smaller plate and increasing servings of fruits and veggies there are some simple yet effective ways to do it and still feel satisfied and satiated too!
Here are Ten Tips to Help Practice Healthier Portion Sizing:
1. Take 20. When you finish your meal, push your plate away and take twenty minutes to sip a glass of water and enjoy some table conversation (when dining with others) before you decide whether you're still hungry and need to eat more. Learning to pause is a valuable skill and will save you loads of extra calories by teaching you to tune into your body's hunger and fullness cues. Studies show it takes twenty minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. When you pause, you give yourself some time to digest and more often than not you'll discover you don't need to head back to the kitchen for seconds.
2. Ditch the clean plate club. Many of us heard all about the starving children while we were growing up. We were encouraged to be part of the “Clean Plate Club” from a young age and guilted into it for any number of reasons. As a grown up we don't have to fall into that same trap. You don't need to eat all of Aunt Betty's signature dish to make her happy or feel wasteful by leaving food on your plate. It's okay to leave food behind. You can toss it or save it for another time, whatever makes it easier for you to remove the guilt and shame and walk away with a happy (not stuffed) gut.
3. Pack up BEFORE you sit down. This one can get a little tricky between timing your meal to the table and getting to it before it’s cold, but try packing up your leftovers, before you sit down to eat. When food is sitting on the kitchen counter calling your name, it’s much easier to load up a second helping than if you need to get it out of the fridge and reheat it. I tend to cook larger batches of soups, stews, chilis and staples like shredded chicken and ground turkey, so I like to set my weekly meal prep containers right on the counter as I'm cooking so I can load them up too. It's a simple hack that saves me loads of time later! For smaller dishes that will boast only a few leftovers I simply dish up everyone's plates and then put the leftovers in glass storage containers then place them in the fridge - BOOM! Out of sight, out of mind.
4. Don't eat out of the package. When you are trying to be mindful of portion sizes, the key is to know how much you are eating. Get yourself some fun and simple ways to manage portion sizes: snack size Ziplock baggies and different size ramekins, colorful plates and bowls are some of my favorite ways to portion out my foods. Rather than eating ice cream out of the pint, it goes in a pretty bowl, trail mix is not eaten out of the container but from a fun ramekin, and popcorn is poured into a special dedicated popcorn bowl. If you find you get to the bottom and don't remember eating it and are tempted to go fill it up again, it's a sign that you're eating mindlessly. To get maximum satisfaction, the key is to eat distraction free!
5. Carbs are best paired with others. To create a more balanced and satisfying plate pair your Carbs with protein. Pasta, potatoes, or rice paired with chicken, fish or tofu for example are going to give you more bang for your buck. First, this combo is more satisfying and will keep you feeling fuller longer. Second, the body works most efficiently when you're giving it the nutrients it needs to support energy, muscle, blood sugar, digestion and more. And remember, Carbs are not just found in grains, they're in all kinds of foods, including fruits and veggies too!
6. Identify a single serving. Understanding serving sizes is key to raising awareness around healthier portion sizing. Begin to notice the portion sizes of regular items that you buy, from prepackaged foods to beverages. It's not uncommon for one 16 oz. beverage to actually contain two servings. If you read the nutrition label of that green juice and notice a single serving is 120 calories and the whole bottle contains two servings, then that green drink is actually coming in at 240 calories! Now don't misunderstand, I'm not saying low calorie automatically means better. The trick is to know what you're consuming so you can make the best choices for you. In some cases that higher calorie item might make the best choice because it packs the best quality nutrition, in other cases it may not.
7. Make is easy. If the candy bowl is sitting on the counter, guess what you're likely to eat more of? Candy. The same is true when you set a fruit bowl on the counter. Every time you walk into the kitchen you'll see colorful apples, oranges, bananas and pears! One of my favorite books is Atomic Habits by James Clear where he talks about the four laws of habit forming: 1) Make it obvious, 2) Make it attractive, 3) Make it easy, and 4) Make it satisfying. Fruit is loaded full of natural sweetness, essential vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and water! When you set a fruit bowl on the counter, you make it an obvious choice. When you fill the bowl with fruits you love, you make it attractive. When you set it somewhere you'll see it consistently, you make it easy to make that choice. And the satisfaction of making a healthy choice is rewarding for body and mind!
8. Drink your water. If you want to reduce overeats and support healthy digestion drink more water. This tip is an oldie but a goodie. Drinking water with your meals will help you naturally pause between bites, giving you a moment to check in with your body's hunger and fullness signals, reducing overeating. Study after study confirms that drinking water before, during and after meals helps you eat less. And drinking water at meal times helps your body breakdown and process food more efficiently.
9. Ask for half. Restaurant portions today are HUGE compared to what they were even ten years ago. In fact, restaurant serving sizes are on average two and a half times that of a standard serving size, all the way up to eight times! Yikes! When eating out try ordering off the appetizer menu (I do this one a lot!) or children's menu for more realistic portion sizes, or opt to share a meal with someone (another fun one for date night or a girl's night out). And of course you can always order that fun favorite and then ask for half to be boxed up, giving you the opportunity to enjoy more of it later!
10. Eat distraction free. A meal should be an enjoyable experience. You will be more mindful of your serving sizes when you eat off of a fun plate that is a lovely contrast with your food, in an uncluttered space, free of distractions. Studies show that people eat more when they're distracted. So stop watching TV, scrolling your phone or eating in front of the computer and focus on the task at hand. Enjoy your meal in all its beautiful proportions, every sight, smell and taste.
Truth talk: changing the way you eat takes time and consistency. And it takes courage. A willingness to try doing things differently. You don't need to do all ten of these things all at once to make a meaningful improvement. Start with ONE. Practice it consistently for several days, even weeks, before you add on another. Small steps pave the way to progress.
Steps to Eliminate Portion Distortion
Let yourself have fun with it and be creative. Make like a kindergartner and share. Sharing dessert at your favorite restaurant, sharing half of your grab bag of chips, sharing a large dinner entree can be a great way to reduce portions and share the fun food experience with others!
Whether you're eating in, dining out, or on-the-go, there are simple solutions to help you practice healthier portion sizing, from pre-portioning out snacks in Ziplock bags or ramekins, to eating half the food on your plate and pausing to check in with yourself and re-evaluate your hunger / fullness, to packing simple non-perishable snack sizes of proteins, carbs and fats to take with you or picking some pre-washed, pre-cut and ready-to-go fruit and veggies you can pair with a hearty wrap from a convenience store or a grocery store on the road.
It all starts with a bit of strategic planning! It's the simple and effective way to score those eat better WINS!
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.