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 often leads to a sense of loss of control seeking full food freedom, and is often accompanied by excess / 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, overwhelmed and stressed at work or celebrating with friends?
If you are reading this, I make the vast assumption that you are curious, motivated, smart and are trying to find what works for you. In a lot of ways, the health and fitness industry gives us conflicting information; on the one hand attributing us with 100% of the responsibility for our health and on the other hand imposing specific rules that are “scientifically” the “right thing to do /eat”. The problem arises when adhering to a rule or guideline, we lose the big picture, ignore how complex and personalized nutrition is and how total health is a balance of physical and mental health.
So I am asking you the questions: what are the factors affecting your decision-making about portion sizes? How can we improve these choices according to internal psychological and physiological nutritional needs, bringing YOU more energy, comfort and satisfaction wherever you are?
Here are 5 points to explore :
1. Timing: We can all agree that how hungry we are affects our serving size decisions. Self-care and schedule are challenges for most of us. Life gets busy. Having breakfast on the run, potentially skipping lunch, snacking all afternoon, getting home starving, celebrating and indulging on the weekend…
Here is a fact: being mindful of portion size when we are starving is very difficult. Does your level of hunger prevent you from making the best choices about quantity? If you have not already, take a look at my previous blog about hunger.
For a lot of clients, when guided to reflect and capitalize on their past food and diet experience, we realize that the timing/ 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 was 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?
What 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.
So what do you think?
Are you willing to take a look at what affects your portion sizes?
Awareness is left right and centre 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.