April 3, 2013 by mybattlebuddyfitness
written by Melissa Eisner and Elisabeth Meany
That’s what a serving size looks like?
Over the weekend I was in Nashville visiting friends that I have not seen in ages. With two kids it can sometimes get tough cooking every meal, so they took me out for lunch at a Mexican food restaurant around the corner from the house. I’ve given up refined carbs recently, which means no white rice, no tortillas, no chips. At a Mexican food place, that means that I am boring. Looking over the menu, I ordered the vegetarian fajitas, hold the rice, tortillas, cheese, and sour cream. It was basically guacamole, refried baked beans, and sautéed vegetables. When it arrived, there were 3 scoops of refried beans, a mountain of vegetables, and about a cup of guacamole. I looked at my meal and thought to myself, “How much do these folks think I can actually eat?”
A little science / math for the day: the human stomach, on average, is around the size of your fist (which is not very large at all). It expands to a 1.5 liter / 6 cup size AT MAX when you fill up on food, again, on average. Looking at my lunch, there were roughly 10 cups of food sitting in front of me.
For a given meal, it helps to visualize your plate in 4 quadrants: for ¼ of your plate, you should have lean protein (meat, beans, tofu, etc.), about the size of the palm of your hand. For the other ¼ of your plate, you should have a whole grain (brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa), and this should be about the size of your fist. The remaining half of your plate should be filled with vegetables (green veggies, cauliflower, carrots), and this could be the size of two fists. All told, that would give you roughly 3 ½ cups, plus small amounts of healthy fats (about the size of your thumb fingernail). And we’re talking about portions for those NOT trying to lose weight. It goes down from there.
So if you looked at my plate, I had enough for three meals. But I only knew I had enough for three meals because I know what portion sizes are supposed to look like. I think most people would have simply eaten most or all of what was served to them. We get a lot of this from not wanting to waste food, and from not understand what our bodies really need to eat vs. what we can get our bodies to eat.
OK Mrs. Meany, what would you suggest for attacking the portion size problem?
First of all, let me say that I was delighted when Melissa suggested that we blog about portion sizes. I think this is one of the primary roadblocks that people face when they begin trying to lose weight. Our idea of what is an appropriate serving size has become completely absurd. That “Super Size” me notion has become ingrained into what we eat for every meal—not just the ones that we order at the drive-thru window. It HAS to stop. And I’ve got some sad news for you—no one is going to stop you from eating too much—no one, except for you. You will go out to eat and you WILL be over-served. It is up to you to decide how much to eat and when to stop.
I think that Melissa is right. From the time that we are very young, we are told that we must eat everything on our plates and that we shouldn’t waste food. “No leaving the dinner table until all your food is gone…” It’s a lesson that we have brought with us into adulthood, and it no longer serves us well. I’m not saying that I advocate wasting food. I’m saying that you need to become hyper-aware of how much food you put on your plate to begin with.
So how do you do this? Simple. If you don’t know what a 4 oz. serving of chicken breast looks like, buy a food scale! Admittedly, I didn’t own a food scale until about 8 weeks ago. I truly think this has changed the way I will eat forever. It was only $17 on amazon.com. You don’t need anything fancy. Just something that zeros, and weighs food in ounces or grams, and preferably a top that cleans easily. I always followed the size of your palm, fistful of this or that, rule of thumb, and I think I’ve been off. I wasn’t giving myself enough of the protein, and I was giving myself too much of the whole grains and starchy veggies. Do you know what 3 oz. of sweet potato looks like? Neither did I! Let me tell you, it doesn’t look like much when you weigh it out! After I bought the food scale and began measuring my portions, I quickly realized that I even during the times when I would track my food, I was doing myself a huge disservice because I was eyeballing and estimating my portion sizes.
I know it probably seems like a major pain in the butt to start weighing out your portion sizes, but it’s really not! I promise. After only a short time, I’ve already gotten into the habit, and I truly think it adds maybe 1 extra minute of food prep time to each meal. It’s so worth it because now I KNOW exactly what I’m putting into my body. The first two weeks were a little rough. I would stare at my sad little 1/4 cup of steel-cut oats and think, “that’s it?” But I would eat it, and I quickly realized that I was satisfied! That’s really all the oats my body needs at one time. Genius.
In short, here are my suggestions for controlling your portion sizes at home:
(1) Cook giant portions of healthy recipes at one time. Follow the recipes and be sure to measure everything accurately—especially ingredients like olive oil.
(2) Before consuming your food, weigh it, measure it, and portion it out. This can be made easier by buying a large package of small Tupperware or Pyrex containers. Walmart often has great prices on those super-sets of Ziploc Tupperware. No need to buy the expensive stuff—I find that mine disappears fairly quickly.
Pull out your food scale and measure whatever the appropriate serving size is (according to the nutritional info in the recipe), and put it in your Tupperware. Wah-lah. You’ve already measured the correct amount for lunch, dinner, etc. for the following day. Then when you’re hungry and in a hurry, you can pull it out, heat it up, and be done. No need to worry about overeating. The initial time investment is a little bit longer, but I truly think it saves you time and energy in the end. If you’re serious about losing weight, I HIGHLY recommend doing this.
(3) Stop eating your dinner on those giant “dinner plates.” I ALWAYS eat my dinner on a “salad plate.” The amount that I eat at one time fills a salad plate quite nicely. If it is spilling over, then I know I have served myself too much. Those huge dinner platters that we typically eat from make the correct serving size look sad, and they make it way too easy to overeat.
As for eating out when you are trying to lose weight…There is a reason why I strongly discourage my clients from eating out while they are losing weight. First of all, the temptations are everywhere in a restaurant. At home, you don’t have to worry about accidentally ordering up a plate of nachos or buffalo wings. In a restaurant, you have to be very particular about what you order and how you order it. Unless you are already in the habit of doing this, it can be very difficult and can very quickly derail your efforts. Even if you do order the right thing, they will likely bring you too much of it (see Melissa’s story above).
So of course, my first tip is simple: don’t eat out! Okay, okay. I know this isn’t completely realistic. If you MUST eat out, there are several things you can do to ensure that you won’t eat a double or even triple serving size of whatever you order.
(1) Read the menu carefully and ask questions. Be sure that when you order your chicken dish that it doesn’t come slathered in cheese with a side of cheesy potatoes and buttery broccoli. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutes, and don’t be afraid to ask them to hold the cheese! Tell them you’re allergic. Then they’ll pay more attention to your requests. Does the salad come with dressing on top? Ask for it on the side, this way you can see how much you’re putting on the food.
(2) When the food arrives, take a look at your plate. If you know that there is way too much food on your plate, ask for a to-go box right away. They will look at you strangely. Who cares? Put half your meal in the to-go box and take it off the table. Out of sight, out of mind. Then you don’t have to even tempt yourself with the possibility of eating twice what you should.
These are simple changes that you can begin to implement in your life and I truly believe that you will notice a difference in your waistline right away. If you are serious about wanting to lose weight, you must become aware and always be mindful of what a true serving size looks like. Often times people become frustrated because they aren’t losing weight, despite eating healthy. Sadly, even too many of the “right” calories still equals too many calories. Do yourself a favor, buy that food scale and watch yourself shrink…
Keep us posted on how it goes for you.