If you’re among the half of all Americans whose health goals include losing a few pounds, then zeroing in on portion control is an essential first step for long-term success. This is even more critical as we face the specter of age-related lean muscle loss and weight gain associated with slowing metabolisms.
We’ve become so accustomed to humungous restaurant portions and ‘value’ packaging from food makers (think about that last Costco run) that big food is our expectation. The key to our collective nutritional success starts with fine-tuning our knowledge of portion sizes.
Knowledge is Power
I personally marched straight into portion-control bootcamp a few years ago when I found myself over 50, post-menopausal and carrying an extra 20 pounds, mostly around my midsection. It wasn’t a place I was ready to go, so I dug in learned all I could about what and how I was feeding my body.
‘Diet’ foods that I thought were healthy were actually processed, carb- and sodium-laden packaged foods that generally left me hungry and roaming around for a snack. The learning process had to start at square one, so understanding portions was the first item on my list.
Hassle-Free Portion Control
Here are 5 easy methods to take back control.
Use Your Hands
There’s no measuring tool more handy when it comes to eyeballing portion sizes than the palm of your hand. Use it often. Most food portions will either fill up your cupped hand, or just the center of the palm.
A portion of pasta – which provides about 200 calories of carbohydrates – fits into a cupped hand or is about the size of a baseball. A serving of nuts or seeds, on the other had, will fit just into the palm of your hand. These foods are much more dense sources of energy, primarily fat, so the portions should be smaller.
Split Restaurant Entrees or Pre-Box Leftovers for Later
When dining with your spouse, a friend or a family member, split entrees as often as possible. Select green salads as appetizers and savor the textures and flavors. Ask the server to bring the salads first. And then enjoy your half-entrée once the appetizers are cleared.
If your table-mate isn’t into splitting the main course, simply ask your server to bring half the entrée out on your plate and to box up the other half to take home. This way, you have the best of both worlds. Your eyeballs (and brain) don’t get to see the originally intended giant portion, and there is emotional comfort in knowing the rest of the food is there for tomorrow.
Practice the Serve & Store Method
This is a solid recommendation that has worked well for me over the years. When it’s time to serve your meal at home, plate the food and put the plates in a warmed oven.
Then take a few minutes to cover and store your instant leftovers right away.
This tactic prevents the temptation of second helpings, gives you a jump-start on kitchen cleanup and sets you up for a healthy, perfectly-portioned meal the next day.
Separate Packaged Foods Into Individual Servings
Made that trip to your favorite food warehouse store and faced with huge packages of your favorite snack foods? These are guaranteed danger zones because it’s way too easy to bust open the package and simply graze from it. The problem is the package. It’s so big that we are numbed to the reality of portion size.
So the first thing to do when you get home is take a few minutes and a box of snack-sized food storage bags and portion out servings. Put one or two servings into a bag and store in the pantry. Do enough to last you a few days at a time and store the rest of the huge package elsewhere. This will prevent the temptation of dipping your hand in the huge bag and give you a visual sense of correct portions.
Research Menus Before Arriving at the Restaurant
Many restaurants provide not only healthier options, but also nutritional information on their menu items. If you’re meeting friends at a new restaurant, you’ll be better off if you make your selection ahead of time.
You’ll also know ahead of time (based on the calorie count) if that entrée should be split in half and shared or boxed up. Planning is everything when it comes to dining out.
Check out these websites for additional tips and tricks for managing portions and staying a few steps ahead of temptations that can deter our best nutritional intentions:
- Centers for Disease Control healthy weight management tips.
- National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute guidelines on portion distortion.
- Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics guide to dining out.