Nutrition Challenge: How to Manage Your Portion Sizes

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“You’re not leaving the table til you’ve cleared everything on your plate.”

How many times were we told this as children, engraining it into us that cleared plates were the goal?

Between this life time of conditioning, plus the ready abundance of hyper-palatable foods, and portion sizes from restaurants which have become bigger and bigger over the years, it’s no wonder that correct portion size can be a struggle.

The Diet & Nutrition club made a request last weekend that we talked about in class this week: how can I be sure that I’m eating an appropriately sized portion? A great question, and one that can be a tough habit to start.

Getting used to proper portion sizes can be difficult, and like lots of difficult things, it can take some practice to get used to.

Eat slowly

Credit to Rhian for this suggestion – something we know we should do, but can struggle with.

This is the easiest option in as far as it doesn’t require any special preparation or much change from how you currently manage your mealtimes. But full disclosure? I can’t actually get through a full meal mindfully, and I’ve been actively working on this for about 2 years now.

The idea is that whatever you’re going to eat, eat slowly and mindfully. Put your fork down as you chew, and take your time enjoying your meal. Eat to 80% full, and know that you can come back to your meal later if you still feel hungry after a break.

Eat your meals from smaller plates

This is pretty accessible for most of us; a great idea from Martyn this morning. Once we’ve decided what we’re making to eat, you simply dish it up on a smaller plate than you’d otherwise use.

This can make you feel like you’re having a big plateful when in reality – although your plate is full, it doesn’t mean more food than you want to consume. It can help with the feelings of being hard done by when on a diet, which leads me into this next point:

Bulking your portions with veggies

This is such a sensible suggestion by Lyndsey – because it simply involves swapping higher calorie items for things which have an awesome micronutrient profile, and usually are packed with fibre and goodness.

Taking some of your rice and swapping it for mixed salad, or steamed vegetables doesn’t detract from your enjoyment (I find that sometimes a 100% swap can do that).

Take one or two spoonfuls of rice, or pasta, or potatoes or whatever out, and mix in two of three spoonfuls of peas, carrots, lettuce, or any other veg you fancy. Keeping volume of food high but dropping calories.

Weigh and measure your portions

This could be anything from using rough visual estimates of your plate (half your plate veg, one quarter carbs, one quarter protein), to using a digital scale and accurately weighing and tracking to the gram.

Some form of portioning is appropriate but not everyone needs to or benefits from weighing their food. I really like it as a guide, particularly in the beginning, or while someone is learning what appropriate sizes are (the 40g portion sizing of cereal is a real eye opener, for example) but this isn’t necessarily something that you’ve got to keep doing forever.

As we go down the list, each of these requires more adjustment to how you’re approaching meal times, so picking just one and trying to apply it consistently is more important than trying to do everything. Remember the point is to improve – not to be perfect.

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