The question: How can I get my portion sizes under control? I need to lose 20 pounds.
The answer: As a registered dietitian in private practice, many of my clients recognize that large portions are a reason why they're struggling with their weight. They may be eating healthy foods, but the filet of salmon, side of quinoa or snack of almonds is twice the size that's right for them. And those extra calories can lead to unwanted weight gain if you're not burning them off.
Growing portion sizes applies not only to foods served at home. Many foods – chocolate bars, snack foods, soft drinks, coffee shop muffins, restaurant meals – have practically doubled in size over the past two decades. It's no wonder so many people have lost touch with what's an appropriate amount of food to eat.
Learning portion control isn't as difficult as you think. The first step is to eat properly during the day to keep your appetite in check. If you arrive at a meal overly hungry, you'll be more likely to overeat. That means not skipping meals – especially breakfast – and including a small snack between meals to prevent hunger. Including a protein-rich food (e.g. egg whites, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, tofu, nuts) at meals and snacks also helps delay hunger.
The next step is to learn how much you actually eat. The best way to do this is to measure your foods. For two weeks, I encourage you to measure your foods with a measuring cup and measuring spoons. Weigh your serving of chicken, fish or meat on a kitchen scale. Are you eating two cups of brown rice instead of one? Eight ounces of salmon instead of four? How much olive oil are your drizzling over your salad or sauteing your vegetables in? Two teaspoons or two tablespoons?
Remember that your portion sizes can creep up over time. That's why I recommend my clients refresh their memories every so often by measuring their foods again.
You can also use what's called the "plate model" to help you eat less. Divide your plate into four sections, or quarters. Fill one quarter with protein such as lean meat, chicken, fish or tofu. Fill another quarter with a starchy food like cooked rice, pasta, sweet potato or quinoa. The remaining half of your plate should be filled with vegetables.
Another trick: Instead of filling a large dinner plate with food, serve your meal on a luncheon-sized plate (seven to nince inches in diameter). The plate will look full and you'll end up eating less. This strategy alone helped one of my clients lose 10 pounds over three months.
I also advise that you don't serve meals "family style." Seeing dishes of food on the table encourages overeating. Ideally, cook only enough food for one serving for yourself and your family. If there's extra food sitting on the stove, you might be tempted to go back for seconds. If you make extra for leftovers or the next day's lunch, store it in the fridge before you sit down to your meal.
Portion control also involves reading nutrition labels on food packages. Become familiar with serving sizes of the brands of cereal, crackers, soup, etc. you eat. The numbers on the nutrition-facts box – calories, grams of fat, protein, sugar, fibre and so on – apply to one serving of the food. To see how much you're eating, measure or count out one serving and put it on a plate. Don't snack directly from the package.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct; lesliebeck.com.