Heaping, mountainous piles of food on your plate may look good – but are your meals portioned right?Sizing It DownPortion Control is the Key to Healthy Lifestyles and Trim Bodies
By Ashley Kahn
We’ve all heard it before: “Eat anything you want … (Sounds great, right?) … in moderation.” (Oh. Right.)
It’s time to take a look at who’s dispensing this sage advice. Chances are she’s slim, pretty and otherwise hopelessly naïve.
Here’s the skinny: The Gisele Bündchens of the world can tout their anti-diets and fabulous fannies all they want. If most of us eat whatever we want, we’re going to be staring at bulging bellies.
How much we eat is just as important as what we eat. Moderation can be a tough topic to tackle, particularly when the scent of banana bread comes wafting from the office break room mid-morning.
If you can learn to love a nibble instead of a slice (or, let’s be honest, the entire loaf), your wellbeing will improve by leaps and bounds – while your waistline sheds those extra pounds.
Downsize Your Diet
There are myriad reasons so many people are overweight and obese in America, says Tallahassee clinical nutritionist Freddy S. Kaye.
At the top of the list? It’s as simple as pie. We eat too much.
“Our portion control is out of control,” Kaye says. “Part of the problem is our population doesn’t really know what to eat. Nobody taught us.”
We may have mastered the food pyramid in elementary school, but even our indubitable triangle can’t fight this battle alone.
“We need a national diet or food guideline, not just the pyramid,” Kaye says. “We need guidelines on volume and what is really the ideal intake by percentage of fat, carbohydrates and protein.”
When it comes to portions, beware of distortion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web site, mypyramid.gov, compares today’s portions with those of 20 years ago. Most servings have nearly doubled in volume – requiring up to two hours of moderate exercise to burn off the excess calories. For example, the wee cheeseburger of yesteryear boasted approximately 333 calories, while today’s monster weighs in at 590.
The site advocates measuring your plates, bowls and cups to determine the average portions you consume at home. It even offers a food gallery featuring photos of foods in each group – grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy and proteins – along with appropriate serving sizes.
Designed to conquer everything from grocery lists to personal accountability, the MyPyramid Menu Planner and MyPyramid Tracker count as two servings of viable educational resources for the public.
Kaye, too, is adamant about education.
“Nutrition is not taught in schools, a problem I’ve addressed on both a state and national level,” he says.
“If the Food and Drug Administration can give guidelines as to the Recommended Dietary Allowances of vitamins and minerals we need each day, they can certainly recommend calories, portions and even healthy meal suggestions.”
Practice Makes Portioned
What the best nutritionists counsel is not a diet, per se, but rather a way of living.
One great thing about portion control is that it shouldn’t put a damper on your daily routine. A surefire way to look and feel lighter is to eat half of what you normally would consume.
So next time you crave the Ultimate Turkey sub at Hopkins’ Eatery, order it on rye-pumpernickel and promptly wrap up the less-luscious-looking half. Instead of chips, chew carrot or celery sticks, and stick to the unsweetened spearmint tea.
“People do not realize how many calories are in beverages because we are conditioned to think we need a flavored drink with every meal,” Kaye says.
He unleashes a fact that may surprise you: A 12-ounce glass of sweetened soda has 144 calories from 9 teaspoons of sugar. The same serving of orange juice has 170 calories from 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Water is your friend. If you’re going to drink fruit juice, wine or beer, stick to half-cup (4-ounce) portions in limited quantities.
With portions in America so out of whack, it will be difficult to adjust to significantly smaller servings. The key is visualization. You need to be able to see what proper portions look like before you can control your food intake.
Equate the size of your foods with everyday objects. Nutritionists use a list of common comparisons (see box, next page).
When you first start controlling your portions, it may be best to cook and eat at home for a while. Try not to hit the grocery store when you’re hungry. Try to plan meals for the week before heading to Publix.
Eventually you’ll want to dine out, but you can eat right off the menu if you keep smart, small choices in mind.
“Eating out is a portion-control challenge, yet it is totally possible,” Kaye says. “You’re not at the restaurant to please the server, so you want to control your eating environment without letting it control you.”
Use these options to eat out without busting out:
• Split your meal with a friend and order an extra side salad.
• Order the whole entrée, but ask your server to wrap half of it to go before he brings your plate.
• Choose a side salad to start and an appetizer as your entrée.
You also can maintain the small aesthetic by using salad plates instead of dinner plates, cups instead of bowls, and tumblers instead of goblets. You’ll eat less when you can’t pile on the food.
One more thing: Eat slowly and give your brain time to get the message that your stomach is full. Your body will tell you when you’ve had enough to keep you nourished.
Eat Less and Be Merry
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) are dependent on a range of factors, from metabolic rate to emotional state.
“A person’s proclivity to gain and lose weight depends on age, gender, mechanisms of coping with stress, self-control, physical activity and metabolism, to name but a few,” Kaye says.
A woman’s metabolism is 20 percent slower than a man’s and as both sexes age, beginning at 25 years old, metabolic rates slow up to 8 percent every 10 years.
Moreover, once a person becomes overweight, even as a child – and even if he or she loses the bulk and keeps it off for 15 years – that person still could have the propensity to gain as a result of the fat cells created during the developmental years.
From birth to age 2 and again from ages 7 to 12, we create these cells to store extra food we don’t need, Kaye says. As adults, if we habitually overeat and don’t exercise, we create even more fat cells to store the unused energy.
How we use food also can contribute to our overall health. Though you might not be familiar with the terms “emotional eater,” “recreational eater” or “boredom eater,” you may fall into one or more of these categories.
As Kaye puts it, “Food doesn’t talk back to us; food is nice to us; food is our friend.”
He refers to the refrigerator as the “white (or stainless steel) psychologist,” but offers an alternative method to emotional eating – write down what is bothering you while it is bothering you.
Other tactics? Get serious about hydration, or try eating in bed.
“One method of control is to eat your evening snack in bed – far from the kitchen – then go into your bathroom, floss and brush your teeth, and get back into bed,” Kaye advises.
He adds: “Drinking a lot of water will fill you, thus delaying the hunger response. What is better is to eat on time so you’re not waiting too long to eat.”
If you let too many hours lapse between meals, your blood sugar will drop, creating the sensation of being hungry. Instead, try mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Just remember to keep them within bounds – a portion of low-fat cheddar cheese is only as big as two dominoes, while a large apple could knock out your fruit allotment for half a day.
Enough is Enough
In the age of “Super Size” portions and the “All U Can Eat” buffet, you may have trouble digesting the concept of smaller portions. Your actual digestive process, on the other hand, should function more efficiently, leading to a happier, healthier, well-balanced you.
Learning to Be Size-Wise Grains/Carbohydrates
One cup of cereal should be no bigger than your fist.
One pancake or waffle should resemble a compact disc. (No cheating with vinyl records!)
One slice of bread looks like a cassette tape.
One cup of cooked rice, pasta or potato resembles half a baseball.
Vegetables and Fruits
One cup of lettuce should be as big as a baseball.
One orange, apple or pear looks like a baseball, too.
A half-cup of raisins tops out at the size of a large egg.
One-and-a-half ounces of cheese looks like two flat dominoes or four stacked dice.
A half-cup of ice cream appears the size of half a baseball.
One cup of milk or yogurt should be no bigger than your fist.
Three ounces of red meat, pork or poultry resembles a deck of cards.
Three ounces of grilled or baked fish looks like a checkbook.
Two tablespoons of peanut butter are the size of a Ping-Pong ball.
One teaspoon of olive oil is the size of the tip of your thumb.
A Brand New Outlook: Restaurants andProducts Offering Small Portions
100 Calorie Packs Kraft Foods started the trend with its “Snack Purple” campaign, but now you can find everything from Hostess cakes to Pringles chips in bite-size packages. (Proctor & Gamble, Frito-Lay and General Mills have since followed suit.) Try the latest and greatest, Mr. Salty Milk Chocolate Covered Pretzels from Nabisco.
Go Nuts with Portion Control Blue Diamond Almonds are packaged in a tall canister with a portion control window, divvying your snacks up by the ounce. The lid of an Emerald Nuts can doubles as a measuring cup, doling out the appropriate one-third-cup serving.
Right Portion, Right Price T.G.I. Friday’s has launched a new menu offering smaller entrées when dining out. It includes favorites such as Strawberry Salad with Chicken and Half-Rack Baby Back Ribs, all less than $9.99.
Plate Your Fate:Portion-Control Plates Make Moderation Easy
The Portion Plate Available at theportion plate.com in adult or kid versions that cost $11.95, this plate is sectioned into segments for each food group with whimsical illustrations of the everyday objects that measure up. A deck of cards represents lean meats, a compact disc delineates your grain allotment, and a baseball and computer mouse show just how many fruits and veggies you need.
The Healthy Plate Check out healthy plates.com for three takes on portion plates. At $17.95, all healthy plates divide the plate into three sections – one-half plate for fruits and vegetables, one-fourth for whole grains and one-fourth for lean protein. The “Original” plate provides illustrations of the foods that belong in each space, while the “Daisy” and “Leaf” plates feature subtle foliage and flower patterns to block off servings.
The E-Z Weight Plate Developed for diabetics who are advised to use scales and measuring cups when crafting a meal, the E-Z Weight Plate offers portion-control convenience. Available for $19.95 at ezweightplate.com, the cups are built right into the plate, so you can’t overdo it.