When it comes to portion control for me it’s about achieving a balance between something that is realistically going to fill me up and that which might be recommended.
One of the hardest things for me to overcome during recovery from my eating disordered ways was my inability to increase my portion sizes, the exceptions being fruit and vegetables, beyond the remit of what might be recommended on a label or what I had become comfortable with.
I now know that 1 slice of bread is just never enough, I need more than the recommended 1/3 cup serving of oats to tide me over until lunch and making 4 muffins from a recipe that might usually be intended to make 8-10 is much more realistic if I want them to truly satisfy my appetite.
Having weighed and measured food for the best part of my teenage life I can pretty much eyeball a portion size; my party piece should really be guesstimating the weight of carbohydrates both raw and uncooked merely by looking at them!
Although there are recommended guidelines when it comes to the different food groups, serving sizes printed on packages and measuring cups to do the work for us I feel it’s more important for us to learn how to eat intuitively, in a less structured methodical way that permits individual appetites, digestive systems and metabolic processes to lead the way.
Of course there is a case for a more controlled approach when people have weight to loose and perhaps need to readjust their appetites to more realistic and healthy levels. That said the following tips stand true whatever the case, over or underweight, young and old, and have helped me to overcome my long term issues with highly restrictive scrupulous portion control or what might be better described as distortion.
Keep a food diary and for a few days monitor what it is you’re actually eating in terms of portion size by weight or cup volume. The idea is to quickly learn how to estimate realistic serving sizes that meet your needs and goals without having to get out the scales or measuring tape! Pictures entirely optional!
- Don’t get overly caught up by recommended serving sizes. If you focus on eating whole foods, unprocessed and unrefined, low in sugar and nutrient dense your body will be much more capable of feeling realistically satisfied and telling you so. Eating “empty calories” will provide you a short lived false sense of satiety.
- Fill up your plate with veggies. When it comes to main meals be it midday or evening, even breakfast, you should aim to fill half of your plate, bowl or your vessel of choice with fruit and vegetables. The rest should be made up almost equally of carbohydrate and protein with a little fat thrown in for good measure – 1 –2 tbsp of your source of choice.
- Not every meal has to be balanced! If you eat mainly carbs for breakfast eat a little less and more protein at lunch. Likewise if you miss out on vegetables earlier in the day fill up at dinner time. It all balances out. Ideally you want to combine carbohydrates with a little bit of fat or protein at each meal to prevent drastic blood sugar spikes; to lower the GI of the meal in it’s entirety but it’s not a science and doesn’t have to be precise.
- Serve yourself up a plate. Rather than setting up a spread for all to dig in to at meal times serve up meals on plates so you know what you have and haven’t eaten. Becoming more aware of what you eat in a general sense will help you in the longer term when it comes to knowing what portions sizes meet your needs. When eating out portions tend to be excessive but by being in tune with what you usually fill up on you’ll be in a much better position to know when enough is enough.
- Listen to your body. As mentioned above when you eat whole foods your hunger cues will be much more realistic and greater determinant of what constitutes real hunger and subsequent satiety.
- Readjusting your expectations and appetite is crucial for those seeking to gain or loose weight. When I initially began to increase my food intake in an effort to gain weight all meals seemed unmanageable and difficult to complete. Likewise for someone seeking to loose weight readjusting what you envisage as a meal that will satisfy your appetite as a visual is important as much as is ensuring you’re eating nutrient dense fibre rich foods that will ensure you feel fuller more quickly and that the feeling is maintained for longer periods.
Most importantly as mentioned throughout it’s important to respect your individuality! It might sound a little deep and meaningful considering I’m referring to portion control but food is a big part of our lives, our health and overall well being and having a healthy relationship with it is mightily important for our own mental health. There is a huge spectrum when it comes to what might be considered an eating disorder and on the whole I feel that is the vast majority of people use food to some extent to balance emotions. Who doesn’t crave more comfort food when they’re feeling a little down? Or celebrate a victory with their favourite cuisine?
The relationship can be a little more volatile for some, the key for all being an intuitive approach where you alone become the expert on your own body!