5 Ways To Manage Portion Size

Portion size, Nutrition, Diet, Food, Dietitian

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