Many of us find ourselves watching what we eat and exercising, but still we just can’t shed those extra pounds. The reason behind this may actually lie not in what we eat, but how much we eat. Controlling our portions can be a challenge.
Whether we are at the grocery store, fast food restaurant, sit-down restaurant, or plating our home-cooked dinner, research shows our portions are exploding compared to 20 years ago. This makes it easy to scarf down an extra 100-200 calories of food a day — and over time, those extra calories really add up. In one year, this can lead to a 10- to 20-pound weight gain!
Why do we overeat?
Today, what and how much we put into our mouths is the result of two opposite brain systems at play. The limbic system is subconscious, emotional, and a remnant of our hunting-gathering roots. It yells at us to eat when we can, and, hence, overeat! The rational decision-making system may seem more like a whisper in comparison, even though we logically know that there is likely food in our future.
Portion vs. Serving Size
A portion is the amount of each food that we choose to eat. It can be big or small; we decide. A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or one cup (eight ounces) of milk.
Many foods that come as a single portion actually contain multiple servings. Today’s bagel counts for three servings of bread, but many consider it one serving. Dangerously growing portion sizes have changed what Americans think of as a “normal” portion when away and at home too. This is called, “portion distortion.”
What is portion control?
It is the understanding of how much a serving size of food is and how many calories or how much food energy a serving contains. Portion control is knowledge and knowledge helps us to suppress the
instinctive limbic system that yells at us to overeat and gain weight.
After all, our weight is a direct function of the number of calories we consume via food and drink versus what we burn.
When considering portion control, there must be a premise—food is fuel and our bodies require certain amounts of nutrients to function at optimal performance. Portion control does not mean starving ourselves in order to decrease calorie intake at the cost of malnourishment.
How do we determine serving sizes?
1/2 cup = golf ball, ice cream scoop
1 cup = tennis ball, baseball, fist
3 ounces of meat = deck of cards, palm
1 teaspoon = thumb tip
1 tablespoon = whole thumb
Learn how to read (and understand) nutrition labels
On the back of packaged foods, the number of calories, fat, salt, vitamins and minerals are given for a serving size. And despite The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encouraging manufacturers to label a container as a single serving “if the entire contents of the package
can reasonably be consumed at a single-eating occasion,” many times it is not.
For example, a small bag of potato chips (individually packaged), may state that a serving size contains only 100 calories. However, the entire bag may consist of 3 servings and 300 calories. And many of us may consume the whole bag on a single-eating occasion. By reading and understanding what a serving size is for the particular item we are consuming, we are more likely to control the portions we eat.
Additionally, to avoid passive eating or munching, consider pre-portioning food into bags or containers; especially when it comes to value- or bulk-sized products.
Beware of supersized portions at fast food and sit down restaurants many of us have grown up being told to finish what is on our plates and not waste food. However, with larger portions being served and equating to better value (e.g. large fries and drink just $1 more), this can contribute to overeating. This also encourages us to rely on environmental factors (what someone else is giving us) instead of internal cues (our tummies are full).
When going out to eat, ask the server to package, in a “to-go” bag, half of the meal so you can enjoy a late night snack, breakfast, lunch or dinner the following day. And if at a fast-food restaurant,
consider splitting a value meal between people, or saving some for later.
Don’t eat distracted
Distracted eating—watching television, reading, texting, Tweeting, or posting on social media — can lead to overeating. Some experts even recommend “mindful eating” where we eat slowly and relish every bite of food from the colors to the smells to the flavor to the texture.
This allows us to experience food more intensely. Over the past few decades, portion sizes of everything from muffins to sandwiches have grown considerably along with larger servings from
fries to mochas. Unfortunately, America’s waistbands have reacted accordingly. In the 1970s, around 47 percent of Americans were overweight or obese; now 68 percent are.
What does this mean for all of us? Our ability to estimate the calories in food decreases as portions get bigger—leaving us more likely to under-estimate how many calories we are taking in. We need
to be diligent about portions sizes — and too, with understanding our food and labeling.
When it comes to what we consume, “bigger is not better.” Increased portion sizes give us more calories, encourages us to eat more, distorts perception of appropriate food quantities, and along with sedentary lifestyles, has contributed greatly to our national bulge.
Unless you’re trying to gain weight, it may be time to reacquaint yourself with serving sizes.
By learning and being mindful of how much we are supposed to eat along with monitoring our portions accordingly — while also being aware of the cues that encourage us to eat those portions — we will make a very positive impact on our health and a big difference in the life we live. Let’s do it!!
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This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional. Dr. Nina has
used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.