If you’re a perpetual fad dieter, you’ll be familiar with strict eating regimes which have you cutting out whole food groups and cutting back drastically on portion sizes.
Whether you’re cutting out carbs one month and cutting down fat the next, you just can’t seem to hack these types of diets and several weeks later you find yourself back at square one. So let’s talk about portion control as a potential long-term weight loss strategy.
In 2010, the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that ‘strong evidence documents a positive relationship between portion size and body weight’.
This seems to support additional studies in the recent decades that show the rise in obesity levels occurring in parallel with the increase in portion sizes – including what people eat at home, at restaurants and with packaged foods and snacks. Our idea of what a regular meal should look like is vastly different to the needs of our body. Thus we struggle on such restrictive diets which leave us hungry and dissatisfied.
It has become evident to me through my work with individuals trying to lose weight that it is not enough to tell someone to simply eat less. We also need to encourage the increase of nutrient dense foods which are low in calories and high in fibre. In order to improve satiety – the feeling of fullness and satisfaction after a meal.
Learning to manage portion sizes takes time
And like any good lifestyle change, it’s important to remember that small changes make the difference long term. This shouldn’t be seen as a ‘diet’ with an end date but rather a lasting method to losing weight and keeping it off.
When putting together each main meal, namely breakfast, lunch and dinner a few basic guidelines can be adhered to. In-between meals or ‘snacks’ will be covered further on. The idea of using these portion control guidelines is to reduce your overall calorie intake without going down the same destructive path of eating too little and bouncing back to old habits.
The first thing you want to get on your plate is protein. For women my recommended serving is the size of your palm (cooked) and for men you can double your palm size. Proteins from wholefood sources are the most thermogenic of all the food groups. Meaning they require the most energy to digest and absorb – which equals extra calories being burned! Good sources of lean proteins include; chicken or turkey breast, lean beef steak or extra lean beef mince, ostrich. Or other wild meats, egg whites, fish like hake, haddock, prawns or tuna.
The next thing you want to add to your plate which is incredibly important for satiety and fibre is vegetables. Here you want to add low calorie, nutrient dense vegetables to fill up to half of your plate. And keep you satisfied without adding unnecessary calories. It’s also a good idea to get experimental with the way you prepare the veg to keep things interesting and colourful. Think stir-fry’s, roasted, steamed, raw, mashed, made into ‘noodles’ or ‘rice’ to create the perfect complement to the other food on your plate. I like to have at least one green vegetable such as broccoli, spinach, green beans, asparagus, brussel sprouts or baby marrows. Then add a good helping of one or more of the following; cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, celery, tomato, onion, salad greens, cucumber, mushrooms or cauliflower.
Now carbs get a bad rep these days but if eaten in the correct portion sizes they are not the enemy in your battle against the bulge. Aim for a portion size of a cupped handful (or ½ cup cooked measurement) at each main meal and for those who are fairly active this portion can be doubled. This will provide the right amount of energy to keep your body and mind going without exceeding the calorie deficit needed for weight loss to occur. This is however probably a much smaller portion than what you are used to. But combined with the veggies and protein, you’ll still be full and content after your meal.
Carb choices could include starchy vegetables such as butternut, pumpkin, any potato varieties, corn or peas for those wanting to eat more wholefoods. But any rice varieties, quinoa, pasta, bread or cous cous are also perfectly fine. There is also no need to cut evening carbs especially if you exercise later in the day if the portion guidelines are followed.
Lastly, we need to add a portion of fats to our plate and while most are packed with nutrients they are also calorie dense. So portion control is essential for keeping the deficit in check. Remember that if you add oil or butter to your cooking, you will most likely need to forgo this addition as the fat calories will already have been met. In this case using a great non-stick pan and some cooking spray will greatly benefit you.
General guidelines advise your fat portion should be the size of your thumb and while this will meet your calorie needs it can be challenging to measure this way. Some examples would be a ¼ avocado or 2 egg yolks, a tablespoon peanut butter or 10 whole nuts or a tablespoon oil based salad dressing.
So now you have a plate made up weight loss friendly portion controlled sizes
Lean protein, plenty low calorie vegetables, a carbohydrate portion and a fat portion for each of the three main meals.
These meals should keep you full and provide ample energy to get you through the day. Vital in being able to adhere to the plan and make steady progress in your weight loss efforts. Should you feel the need to add smaller additional meals between each main meal? I highly recommend including a protein portion as well as either a carbohydrate portion (for active individuals) or a fat portion (for sedentary individuals). But having more than two snacks per day may cause you to exceed your calorie intake and stall progress.
By following the portion guidelines as covered herein you won’t need to cut any food groups or count calories
You just need to be particularly mindful of the serving of each food group on your plate. Also remember that water intake is a crucial component to any weight loss attempts. As it will fight off cravings by keeping you full as well as aiding key bodily functions and keeping you hydrated. Eventually you will learn how to mix and match portions as well as foods which don’t fall into one specific category and still be able to maintain your body and energy levels.
Steadily adjust the food you’re already eating by reducing the portion size of your carbohydrates and fats. And likely increasing your protein and low-calorie vegetable intake. The more restrictive your plan is the more likely you are to succumb to ‘temptation’ and fall back into bad habits. Start with smaller more manageable steps in portion control which will allow you to still feel satisfied – this will improve your chances of success.