It is my guess in this busy world of ours, that a lot of people don’t have time to think about portion sizes much. I imagine that when the word “portion” is used, that people consider that their portion was fine for that day, they were “good” because they didn’t go back for seconds. Portion size is important because in order to achieve optimum nutrition and optimum weight loss, we need to be able to gauge our portions intelligently to make the best possible choices. Besides, even if it is a good and healthy thing, you can eat too much of it!
Portions that are too big or too small can detract from your weight loss and fitness goals
Over the years, portion sizes have gotten bigger in restaurants and it is certainly noticeable in fast food restaurants. You can go to your favorite steakhouse and find servings of meat in 8 ounce, 12 ounce and 16 ounce servings. 16 ounces! Did you know that this is 4 servings worth or 4 meals worth? Our bodies aren’t meant to handle that much in one sitting! Over the years, food portions have increased while intake needs for our bodies have not.
In contrast, serving sizes can be too small. For breakfast cereal, a portion is noted as ¼ cup (usually for granola and other calorie dense cereals) and ½ cup for other cereals. Who do you know eats just a ‘shot glass’ of cereal for breakfast anyway? I don’t know about you, but I love cereal! It fulfills both of my daily sensory requirements of sweet and crunchy. I could easily eat half of a box of cereal in one sitting and still be hungry two hours later because of a lack of protein. You can have anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per “shot glass” serving of cereal and eat enough to satisfy you, okay let’s be conservative and say you eat 2 cups of cereal for breakfast and we are talking 480 – 1,600 calories, not including milk. And with cereal which virtually all carb, and no protein, you’re hungry again before lunch. So is this a good choice for your diet? I think not! If you are restricting your calories, which is a must if you want to lose weight, are you going to blow half you calorie budget for the day on something that is only going to make you hungry two hours later?
Pasta is delicious, but I choose to get my carbs in other places, because proportionately speaking, pasta is like cereal. Did you know that a serving of pasta is the size of a tennis ball? Who eats such a miniscule portion of pasta and feels satisfied? In my opinion, pasta is not the type of food that you can “taste” a tiny portion like that and be satisfied. Pasta is a comfort food, one that we enjoy having a big plate of, along with sauce, Parmesan cheese, bread… you get the picture. Pasta is not a wise choice for me if I am restricting or monitoring calories. It doesn’t fill me up nutritionally enough and doesn’t give much sensory satisfaction for such a high calorie load.
Strategy: Part One
To maintain control of your fitness and weight loss goals, put your portions and daily servings on a budget
If one is not informed about what they eat, then our choices can seem good, but aren’t really once it is tallied at the end of the day. Think in terms of your paycheck. If you just go out and buy a bunch of things because “they are a bargain and it seems good” or “I like it” or “I want it” and not consult your checkbook balance, you could become quickly “overdrawn” and over your budget.
A diet allocation works just like an allocation of money that you get each week. You budget your consumption of food the same way you would budget your wages. If you don’t plan ahead and think through your food choices, then it is too easy to go overboard. It is detrimental for your weight loss strategy when we just grab something to eat to put out the nutritional fire rather than analyzing it to consider whether or not we are getting the best fuel for our bodies. Again, eating too much of something healthy can take you away from your fitness goals as well. Remember, that just because it is good for you, doesn’t mean that you should eat too much of it because it can still cause you to go over your calorie budget for the day.
Strategy: Part Two
Become informed as to what amount of food constitutes a portion or a serving
The first thing for us to do is to become more educated about our portions by first checking the labels on the foods we eat to learn the value of a serving so we do not exceed our calorie budget. Go into your kitchen and pull out your measuring cup and learn how much volume is involved to fill up 1 cup, ½ cup and ¼ of a cup. You may discover that it isn’t as much as you probably think. Most measurements on the labels of food are in increments of a cup and sometimes even in increments of a tablespoon or a teaspoon. I use these kitchen tools as reference on a daily basis to stay on track. So learn what kind of increments that the labels are referring to when it gives nutritional information and how much food to eat for a serving. Once you are informed, then you can make better decisions about your food choices.
Meal Planning: best fuel and nutrition choices for your body vs. calories consumed
Now that you see the wisdom behind being educated about food values and serving sizes, let’s run through a practical exercise. Here are three different scenarios offering different options for breakfast. Look through them and decide which selection would be the best strategy for a 400-calorie breakfast.
Choice # 1
Pop Tarts for 200 calories each (x 2 in a pouch)
TOTAL – 400 calories
Choice # 2
½ cup Granola cereal 2 servings @ 180 cal (not unusual) 360 calories
½ cup 2% milk 61 calories
TOTAL – 421 calories
Choice # 3
2 extra large eggs cooked with Pam, 173 calories (not incl. Pam)
3 slices of turkey bacon 60 calories
2 pieces of 35 calorie toast 70 calories
2 TBSP of low sugar strawberry preserves 50 calories
TOTAL – 353 calories
Choice # 1 & Choice # 2 have no protein, and are high in calories, so therefore these aren’t the best choices because you will more than likely get hungry again before lunch. Choice # 3 takes more time to prepare, but will stay with you longer, and a little more time and effort is worth it to fuel your body properly.
Be proactive and plan your food options in advance
If you don’t have time in the morning to fix Choice # 3, you are in good company. Plan ahead. Cook up a pound of turkey bacon in advance, you can reheat it in the microwave. You can also cook eggs in the microwave (not my favorite, but it works) or eat a boiled egg or two prepared in advance and just pop the toast in the toaster and breakfast is done! Sometimes when I’m in a hurry, I will boil a few eggs in advance, and cut one up, mix it with a relatively low-cal and low-fat dill sauce recipe that I have, add some sugar free relish and put it on toast. Voila! My own tasty egg salad sandwich at just over 200 calories is way better nutrition-wise than one Pop Tart. At this point I imagine that a Pop Tart sounds more appealing to some than my egg-salad sandwich for breakfast, and you are right, for about 5 seconds. There is much better value nutrition-wise to fuel your body with energy to sustain you longer in the egg salad sandwich because it contains protein, good fat, and carbs. Planning ahead and preparing in advance can give you good choices when you are in a hurry. You will start your day out better with optimum fuel and therefore enough energy and you will have the satisfaction that you haven’t started your day off on the wrong foot with your diet. It may be a change in the way you do things in the morning, and it may be a hassle at first, but trust me it is worth it!
Hope this post helps you to start to become aware of what you eat and to analyze your portions and the nutritional value in them. This kind of awareness is essential to start the learning and discovery process to find out which kind of food is going to be best for your body in terms of keeping you fueled for optimum energy and to also encourage weight loss. Knowledge is power! Making the informed choices can help you save the extra 100, 200, 300, 400 and even 500 calories a day which can add up quickly when we are not paying attention to portion and serving sizes. Start discovering what you have to work with today so you can develop your best weight loss or maintenance strategy!
May your extra-large portions be ones of encouragement, hope and love.
Until next time,