I thought I’d wrap up the work week tackling a food-related topic I get lots of questions about: portion control.
For better or worse, anyone who lives in the USA knows all too well that we live in a super-sized society. When an extra quarter gets you an extra-large side of fries or a cookie, it can be tough to make smart decisions. So learning how to keep track of portions at home can help when you’re not protected by the safety of your own kitchen.
As I remind everyone before I launch into my diet-related tips, I’m not a registered dietitian or nutritionist. Therefore, these tips are simply examples of the options that work for me and my lifestyle.
- Scale down, divide and conquer: Use a smaller plate (like a salad dish) for your meal. Make sure that meal includes raw or steamed veggies or salad and fill half your plate with that. Use the remaining space for your lean protein and starch – preferably some sort of whole grain. If you can’t stomach the idea of using a smaller plate, stick with the half-plate veggie and remaining quarters for protein and starch.
- Prep once or twice, eat all week! I am not a cook, let alone a chef. But for anyone who knows his or her way around the kitchen, go ahead and prepare things in bulk, then freeze portion sizes in reusable containers for lunches and dinners that last all week. Click here for a reminder on how non-cooks like me prep other items for a week’s worth of healthy snacks.
- Sizing Things Up: This is often the trickiest part of portion control. When you’re home, until you can eyeball what’s a portion size, I strongly encourage using measuring cups and even a food scale for accurate serving sizes. When you’re not home, here are some of the tricks I learned through Weight Watchers. (I have been a lifetime member since November 2010). All you need is your hand!
- Fist = 1 cup
- Thumb (tip to base) = 1 oz meat or cheese
- Palm (without your fingers) = 3 oz lean protein
- Fingertip = 1 tsp
- Thumb tip = 1 tbsp
- Cupped hand = 1 to 2 oz of crunchy snacks e.g. almonds / pretzels
I leave you with two final tips that have more to do with common sense than accurate measurements.
- Know when to stop eating! I’m lucky to have grown up in a household where I was encouraged to stop eating when I felt full. The trick is to put down that fork before you’re so uncomfortable you’re looking for your first opportunity to get into those sweats.
- Have that cupcake! No, that wasn’t a typo. Whatever your favorite treat is, I guarantee denying yourself the pleasure of indulging in a serving now and then will only make you crave it even more. Trying to satisfy the craving with a substitutes can be another recipe for disaster. Why? Think about it. Instead of having one slice of cookies-and-cream cheesecake, you opt for the low-fat cookies, end up eating the whole bag…and you STILL want the cheesecake! Treating yourself once in a while can help prevent a serious caloric meltdown later. Want a great way to indulge without all the guilt? Split dessert with a friend!
With a little know-how and patience, developing healthy eating habits to compliment your exercise routine is the best way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Nutritionists and registered dietitians are the experts when it comes to healthy eating. I am neither, but as part of the fitness industry, I get plenty of questions about what people should and shouldn’t eat. So, in order to address this topic early in my blogging adventures, here’s a 100% personal account of how I try to maintain a healthy diet.
I joined Weight Watchers in May 2007. Why? Because the post-divorce “diet” I started which included a dinner of half-a-jar of peanut butter with chocolate syrup and a side of vodka on ice was not a healthy regimen to maintain. Also, being in my 30s, I couldn’t rely on the workouts I started during my Northwestern days to counterbalance the bad food choices I was making too often. Aside from worrying about gaining weight, I felt absolutely awful.
Today, I am a lifetime Weight Watchers member. I continue to go to meetings when I can and the program works for my lifestyle. Again, for me, it was not about losing a lot of weight, it was about learning to eat better. I’m not here to offer a lesson about point values and food. Instead, here’s a snapshot of what I’ve learned that helps me stay on track.
- I never skip breakfast. During the work week, I’ll make my own parfait with non-fat plain Greek yogurt, sliced banana, strawberries or blueberries (there’s two – three servings of fruit for the day!) and a serving of high-fiber cereal.
- Instead of having three big meals, I eat every three to four hours. This prevents me from being so hungry that I go overboard at the next meal.
- Every Sunday, I spend 30-60 minutes chopping red peppers and celery and pack up the sticks up with baby carrots or cherry tomatoes in individual containers, one for each day of the week. It’s an easy way to get in two servings of veggies while sitting at my desk. (The idea works just as well if you’re home.)
- I have embraced whole grains! I like Weight Watchers breads for sandwiches, cook whole grain pasta at home and on “bad”nights when we order Chinese or burritos, we ask for brown rice.
- Finally, I refuse to say “I will never eat (a fudge-covered Oreo/a bacon cheeseburger/lasagna) ever again!” First of all, life’s too short. Second, in my experience, the longer you deny yourself something you really like, the better chance you have of over-indulging when you do finally “break down.”
Now listen, I have my fair share of “bad food” days. I love dessert, especially chocolate, and I love Prosecco and red wine. But one bad day doesn’t have to mean “well, I blew it today, so I may as well throw the whole week out the window and start over on Monday.” On the contrary, every day offers a clean slate and a brand new chance to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!