I wish I could tell you that a portion of nuts is two whopping handfuls,

but I’m only a dietitian,

not a magician!

What I can do is help by providing some tips and good visual aids to:

  • Show you what a portion of meat, chicken, fish, nuts, beans, bread, pasta, rice, veggies, and fruit looks like.
  • Help you manage your portions.

Portion control is super important. First off, you will notice that portion and serving sizes differ. A portion is what people usually choose to eat at any one time. A serving is the amount usually recommended in educational materials from MyPlate, or the American Heart Association. The purpose here is to address portions, so you can plan a meal … well, proportionately.

When my clients and patients tell me that they eat salads, yogurt, nuts, avocado, brown rice, whole grain pastas, lean meats, chicken with no skin, and omega-3 packed fish, I am elated! What can I say, healthy food turns me on! Nonetheless, the truth remains:

ANY food in  excess –

even healthy foods

– will contribute to weight gain.

Calories are calories, which is why portion control is so important. That’s why I’ve come up with three little tips to help make portion control easier to manage:

Tip #1) Don’t skip meals. Your stomach empties about every 3-4 hours. If you listen to your body, you’re probably going to start thinking about food about three hours after your last meal (of course this depends on the size of your last meal – which is part of portion control).

  • Listen to the signs of hungerThese signs begin when you start thinking about food – like when you start to wonder when lunch or dinnertime is, or you start to feel a little sluggish, or simply find that you can’t focus as well. When you’ve passed these basic signs, the next big sign is a growling stomach. You want to plan to eat before your stomach starts to shout, demanding to be fed!
  • EAT! When you skip meals, you set yourself up to overeat the next time you get a chance to eat. Remember, if by the time you finally eat, you’ve gotten to that “I AM STARVING!” place – well, you can pretty much forget about trying to manage portion sizes. If you feel as if you are starving, you will probably wind up overeating – which is why calorie restricting diets don’t work.
  • Don’t Bottom Load(Eating most of your calories at dinnertime). There’s quite a few hours between lunch and dinner – especially if you’re eating at Noon (12pm), and don’t eat dinner until 6, 7, or 8 pm. Stick a workout in there, and I guarantee you will be cranky, hungry, tired – and even dehydrated – by the time you eat dinner. That’s why a second lunch or mini-meal works like a charm. How’s this work? Well, for simplicity sake – say you usually eat a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch. Instead, eat 1/2 your sandwich, a salad, and the fruit – and of course this assumes that you’re not starving by the time lunch rolls around because you ate a great breakfast 3-4 hours prior to lunch (now you can see why meal planning is important). Anyway, about 3-4 hours after lunch, eat the saved half of your sandwich with a cup of sliced veggies and/or fruit. This will give you energy for your workout, help you keep your dinner portions in check, and prevent you from bottom loading.

Tip #2) Know your portions! To be exact you can spend time weighing and measuring your foods – but unless you’re a body builder and need to measure all your fat, carbs, and protein, I suggest a simpler method. It’s best to compare portion sizes with objects you are most familiar with. For example:

  • A portion of  milk, yogurt, dry cereal, vegetables, or whole fruit is about the size of your fist, a baseball, or 1 cup. This is a good point to stop and notice differences between portions and serving size:
    • The American Heart Association and USDA MYPlate states: that one serving is 1/2 cup of cooked rice, beans, pasta, or cereal, 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of juice, 1/2 cup of dried, canned or cooked fruit, or 1/2 cup chopped fruits or vegetables.
  • A portion of meat, chicken or fish is about the size of your palm, the size of a deck of cards, or 3 ounces
  • A portion of nuts or raisins is about one cupped handful, the size of a golf ball, or 1 ounce
  • A portion of snack foods, like pretzels or chips, is about two handfuls, the size of a tennis ball, or 1 ounce
  • A portion of nut butter or cheese is about the size of your thumb, 3 dice, 2 tablespoons, or 1 ounce.
  • A portion of oil, mayonnaise, or a pat of butter is about the tip of your thumb, 1 poker chip, or 1 teaspoon.

Here is a good visual to help get you recognize portion sizes:

Tip #3) Be a Mindful Eater. There are several ways you can practice this skill when you’re eat out, eating at home, or snacking:

  • Eating Out: Look at the recommended portion size for meat, chicken, or fish – it’s 3 ounces. Does any restaurant serve a 3 ounce steak? I’ve seen 6-14 ounces, but never 3 ounces. Portion distortion at restaurants is out of control. Here are some tips to help you control portions when eating out:
    • Ask for smaller portions
    • Ask for a doggy bag and pack up half of your meal before you start eating
    • Share an entree and/or desert – this helps with cost too
    • Skip all you can eat buffets!
    • Avoid drinking your calories
HEPApr2013 2

Harvard Healthy Plate

  • Eating at Home: A nice visual to help you portion your meals at home is MyPlate or the Harvard healthy Plate: Start with an 8-10″ plate. Divide the plate in half. Load one half with vegetables, and/or a salad (include fruit at breakfast, or for dessert, and/or snacks). Split the other half into two – fill one side with grains (brown rice, whole grain pasta, bread, couscous, or quinoa), and the other side with protein (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, or beans). For more tips try to:
    • Serve meals and correct portions from stove or counter top instead of family style at the table to avoid second helping impulses. (Exception: salad bowls). Once the meal is over, put any leftovers in containers to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Out of sight = out of mind!
    • Focus on what you are eating. Don’t eat in front of the television, in the living room, family room, or car. Paying attention to what you’re eating is important because it could take up to 20 minutes before your brain realizes that your stomach is full. Paying attention to your meal and how you feel while eating can help you keep your portions in check. Designating the kitchen as the only place in the house to eat also helps prevent mindless eating habits.
  • Snacking: It can help to portion out your snacks before indulging.  Kudos to one of my patients who portions out her almonds everyday! She knows she loves almonds, she understands how easy it can be for her to overindulge, and she’s worked out a way to “Have her cake and eat it too!” (I had to, the pun was there!) So, remember above we talked about serving size? Now is a good time to take a look at the serving size on the package of nuts, pretzels, chips, and crackers. This will help you determine the recommended serving size. Keep these serving sizes in check by following these extra tips:
    • Buy snack foods that are pre-packaged as single servings. Steer clear of the jumbo sized snack bags – especially if these are Trigger Foods: Foods that you feel you can’t stop eating once you start.
    • Don’t be fooled by health promises or marketing slang. Even if something is organic, GMO, or Gluten Free – it’s not calorie free. Re: calories are still calories.
    • Keep bowls of fruit, washed and ready to eat, on the kitchen table.
    • Keep bowls or bags of washed and sliced vegetables in the refrigerator.
    • Position fresh fruits and vegetables front and center in your refrigerator to catch your eye when you open the frig.
    • Don’t keep bowls, bags or containers of chips, pretzels, or candy out. Re: Out of sight, out of mind!

Remember, the amount of calories you eat affects your weight and health. It’s not enough to select, and eat healthy foods – you need to focus, and manage portion sizes also. Choosing healthy foods, and eating the right portions, can help you reach your health goals.

Need help in getting started?

Call 973.852.3335

I’d love to help!