Your Daily Diet: 5 Ways To Manage Portion Size

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Your Daily Diet: 5 Ways To Manage Portion Size

Posted 03 Aug 2019

Diet & Weight Management

Jeanne Bedard

Your Daily Diet: 5 Ways To Manage Portion Size

How do you choose the quantity of food you eat at meals and snacks? Most wellness plans and diets you might have tried give you more or less strict guidelines about the portions and when to eat.  When people diet intermittently, we notice that following a novel rigid structure tends to deplete their cognitive energy. This can lead to a sense of loss of control seeking full food freedom, and is often accompanied by excessive overeating. This black and white mentality or pendulum effect is truly unhelpful when it comes to health, nourishment and finding balance.

But how do you navigate portion sizes when you are not on a specific dietary plan; if you are on vacation; stressed at work; or somewhere celebrating with friends? 

In many ways, the health and fitness industry gives us conflicting information. On the one hand attributing us with 100% of the responsibility for our health; on the other, imposing specific rules that are “scientifically” the “right thing to do regarding diet”. The problem with adhering to a rule or guideline is that we can easily lose sight of the big picture, ignoring how complex and personalized nutrition is and the fact that optimal health is a balance of both physical and mental vigor.

What are the factors affecting your decision-making about portion size? How can we improve these choices according to internal psychological and physiological nutritional needs so that you can feel energized and on top of the world no matter which situation you may be in.

Here are 5 things to consider:

1. Timing

Depending on how hungry we are affects our serving size decision. Self-care and schedule are challenges for most of us. Life gets busy. Having breakfast on the run, potentially skipping lunch, snacking all afternoon, arriving home famished, celebrating and indulging on the weekend…

Here is a fact: being mindful of portion size when we are really hungry is very difficult. Does your level of hunger prevent you from making the best choices about quantity? Check out my blog on hunger.

For alot of clients, when guided to reflect and capitalize on their past food and diet experience, we realize that the timing and meal structure is often the biggest difference between them being on and off a diet. Having a plan is the common factor and significant difference from their variable, random or even chaotic eating pattern. Reality is, it is more often about the planning than the food you cut out.

What if this planning was at the centre of why you might feel better and maintain a good energy level? How much of your time is dedicated to food in your life? What level of planning would give you food flexibility and peace of mind?

2. Comfort zone

What is the recommended serving size of protein or rice? Before you try to restrict the portion size of a specific food, think about satiety. Let’s picture you are sitting in front of a meal that has a variety of ingredients. Let’s imagine grilled salmon with roasted potatoes and broccoli or a burger with a side of fattoush salad or fried chicken with fries. I wonder how it would feel if you were to make your decision about how much to eat based only on how full you feel or how comfortable you are? To do so, you could imagine fullness on a scale of 0 to 10 or simply ask yourself "do I feel comfortable (energized and satisfied) or uncomfortable (bloated, slow and sluggish)?” 

3. Value & packages

We often pay for food sold in a various ways and packages. Would you eat food differently if it were more expensive or came in a smaller container? Sometimes we are given tasty treats as a gift or offered food that someone cooked especially for us as a demonstration of love and care. Assuming that the portion size, whether offered, purchased in a meal delivery plan or served in a restaurant is the right amount for you is giving too much power to someone other than yourself.

If you tend to finish food or drinks you pay for in a restaurant, you might want to consider the “value” you attribute to food and also the “value” you could extrapolate to other health and fitness goals. If you were strongly invited to finish your plate when you were younger, you do not need to carry your “clean plate club” badge into your adult life.

4. Variety

The diversity of food we eat can have different effects. Limiting variety can increase craving for different tastes and food. In short, it can make things repetitive and or boring! This cognitive restriction can lead to being intensely attracted to food outside of what “we allow” ourselves and make us eat larger amount than we would normally if we had “full permission to eat”.

Restricting food choices can also lead to the necessity of planning ahead. It gets harder to just grab any food available and go. Do you find menu planning too limiting or does having less choice somehow make it easier for you? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed with the options and end up eating a little bit of everything all night?

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the number of dishes we are exposed to can sway our choices and the total amount of food we eat (especially when someone has recently had little food variety). Exposure to a wide range of foods can be enough to create mental hunger. Even those not on a diet, will be tempted to taste everything at brunch, in a gathering or at the buffet. What I tend to recommend in those cases is to walk around without a plate in hand to look at the variety offered and ask yourself:

  • What will taste best? (clue: fish and chips is never the best in buffet!)
  • What do I feel like eating and what would be satisfying?
  • hat will be a good nourishing combination?

5. Emotions & social life

Sometimes clients tell me “oh we went crazy on the weekend” and there is often a sense of shame and guilt involved. Going “crazy” is not the kindest term there is, is it? As I pride myself to practice in a guilt free, curious, empowering and action-oriented environment, here are some of the questions that I would suggest to explore. Have you ever tracked how emotions, events or people affect the way you eat? Do you eat more or less when you are alone? Do you hide to eat certain things? Does fast music make you eat faster? In what context do you tend to eat past your comfort zone? Do you graze when you are not hungry out of boredom? Does celebration or sadness tend to affect the amount you eat?

Understanding your “default setting” around food is precious and a key factor in moving forward about health and wellness. 

If, in the end you notice your triggers, are not really about the food, you could reach out to a therapist or a dietitian to work through some of those emotions and ultimately help with food balance and quantity.

Are you willing to take a look at what affects your portion sizes?

Awareness is left right and center in all the factors affecting the way you eat. If you are looking at improving your eating habits and health, take the steps to first acknowledge what made you succeed or fail in the past and what affects the way you eat daily. Focusing on internal cues (like comfort & satisfaction) with a self-care mindset as opposed to external cues (packages and serving sizes) with a self-control spin has more power than you think.

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Tasha says:

11 months 3 weeks ago
I find that I can eat anything I want without worrying about putting on weight, including chocolates and other sinful foods-because they are enough to fill me but don't take up alot of room in my stomach versus if I eat a huge salad and bowl of pasta, which is far more nutritious but also far greater in volume and therefore impacts the numbers on the scales. Tash

Jeanne_Bedard says:

11 months 2 weeks ago
Hi Tasha. Thank you for your comment and for reading the article! I am glad you don’t worry about your weight and enjoy a variety of foods. Weight fluctuations, fortunately or unfortunately does happen in different ways in different people. That’s why I think intuitive eating and body intelligence need to be at the centre of finding what works for an individual as opposed to adopting a one size fits all diet plan. As for specific foods, you are right that both the volume and the energy density have an impact on how satiated and satisfied we feel. For example, a cup of blueberries has 8 times less energy than a cup of chocolate chips and, for the same volume, will have different effects on the blood sugar. I often see people choose the more « nutritious » or lower caloric option but won’t necessarily feel full, might get hungry soon after a meal and will end up eating more or grazing during the day. This can accumulate and lead to weight changes. In this case, I would not say that it’s the specific weight or volume of food that affects your weight directly but the fullness and satisfaction sensation that will affect our overall intake in the short and long term. There is also some interesting research about how treating food as good or bad / sinful or healthy can make it difficult to find a nourishing eating style and a healthy relationship to food.

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