Over the last 20 years, food portions have increased dramatically. As the size of our plates have grown, so has the expectation that the larger amount of food we receive, the better the value. However, taking in larger amounts of food can lead to weight gain, health problems, and expensive health care (e.g. lost time at work, doctor/hospital visits, and medications) - clearly not a value.
For easy portion control, use the healthy plate model to plan your meals. The healthy plate provides a filling meal with adequate but not excessive calories - all while balancing your meal and providing good nutrition. To build a healthy plate:
- Split your plate into quarters.
- Half of your plate will consist of non-starchy vegetables (greens, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.).
- One quarter of your plate will consist of about 3-4 ounces of lean protein (tofu, beef, fish, chicken, etc.).
- On the last quarter, place your starch. Starches are usually about half a cup and include foods like pasta, rice, corn, beans, peas, etc.
On the side of your plate, add a small fruit (about a cup worth) and a fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt. You can also add a small amount of fat (oil, butter, salad dressing), but a serving size is typically 1 teaspoon (for approximately 45 calories).
Sometimes you may eat something different than what is described on the health plate. Some foods are very high in calories, and even eating what is described as one serving can add up - especially condiments like salad dressing, mayonnaise, sour cream, and oils. If you aren't sure how much you should eat, tracking your intake and comparing it to your calorie goals for the day will help you determine what size will be appropriate for you. To start tracking your intake, go to FitDay's free diet and weight loss journal. If you are trying to lose weight, keep in mind that research shows that people who track what they eat will lose twice as much weight as people who do not keep track of what they eat.
If something you eat comes in a package, check the food label. The most important part of the food label is the serving size. Take a look at this and compare it to your calorie goal to see if this food fits into your eating plan.
Here are some other tips for easy portion control:
- When eating at home, use small plates.
- Drink 2 glasses of water before each meal.
- Fill up on high-fiber foods (5 grams or more per serving).
- When out to eat, split a meal with a friend.
- Alternatively, when you order, ask your waiter box up half of your meal. Take the remainder home to eat at another time.
- Eat slowly - be the last one at the table to finish your meal.
- Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables in each meal (they are high in water and fiber).
- If making large portions of food at home, freeze leftovers for an easy meal later.
- Don't eat in front of the TV or while doing distracting activities like working or reading.
- Don't go into a meal starving. If you anticipate going more than 4-5 hours without food, have a snack on hand.
Mandy Seay is a bilingual registered and licensed dietitian who holds both a bachelor's degree in nutrition and in journalism. After gaining 30 pounds while living abroad, Mandy worked to lose the weight and regain her health. It was here that she discovered her passion for nutrition and went on to pursue a career as a dietitian. Mandy currently works as a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in Austin, Texas, where she specializes in diabetes, weight management and general and preventive nutrition. She recently published her first book, Your Best Health, a personalized program to losing weight and gaining a healthy lifestyle. Please visit Mandy's website at Nutritionistics.com.