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Avoiding Portion Pitfalls

A few simple ways to help you eat more healthful amounts

What’s one of the most important not-so-secret strategies for controlling your weight? I believe it’s not only what you eat, but also how much you eat. Over the past years, restaurant and packaged food and portions have increased significantly in America, paralleling the rise in obesity and an overweight diagnosis. I know from experience that portion planning may help keep weight in check and carb counts in your desired range, as well.

I’ve written about ways to stock your pantry and refrigerator, but simply having healthy food around isn’t always enough. Here’s my prescription for avoiding portion-size pitfalls.

Use simple division

Take a nine-inch plate (the average dinner plate is twelve inches across) and divide it with an imaginary line down the middle. Fill one half with non-starchy, lower-carb vegetables like carrots, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, kale, and tomatoes. Fill the other half with equal portions of lean meat and starches such as whole grain rice, barley, pasta, potatoes, or corn. If that’s not enough help, consider buying portion control dishes, which provide visual guides for appropriate portion sizes.

Get to know your portions

For at least three days, weigh and measure everything you prepare or eat at home. That way, you will start to develop a sense of, say, just how much meat is contained in three ounces. You don’t have to do this trick forever, but just enough to help you understand how large a portion actually is.

Spoil your dinner

Here’s one situation where defying mom can be good for your health. If you’re hungry or if dinner is going to be late, have a small snack to tame those hunger pangs that tempt you to overeat later. By the way, it’s good if your snack can be something your diet is low in – especially vegetables or fruit. Whatever you snack on, remember to count the carbs.

Don’t dish out anything at the table except vegetables

Make filling up on veggies the easy choice. Serve meats and starches from the stove and put the leftovers away before sitting down to eat.

Pre-measure enticing foods

Fill small plastic bags with single servings of crackers, chips, cookies, trail mix, or other tempting treats to make eating the right amount effortless. You can store the bags in the original food containers to save pantry space. Whenever I have leftover cake, I wrap each small slice in wax paper. I put it all in a storage container and pop it into the freezer. When I need (read: want!) cake, I take out one piece.

Eat from a real plate or bowl

I’ve had clients who hadn’t lost weight finally start to when they employed this one rule. Chips, ice cream, everything – no eating out of the container because you can’t see how much you’re consuming. And it doesn’t work if you nibble from someone else’s plate.

Be wary of the health halo

Research by food psychologist Brian Wansink of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab suggests that we eat more when we deem a food to be healthful. In one study he conducted at Cornell, people watching a video ate eighty-four more calories of granola when it was labeled low-fat than when the exact same granola was labeled regular. Don’t let phrases like “low-fat,” “diabetes-friendly,” or “organic” trick you into eating more than you should.

Rethink what it means to “waste” food

If you eat more food than your body needs, it’s still being wasted. If there is more than you and others need, toss it out where it can do no harm. As I grew accustomed to smaller portions, I also began to make less food, so I had fewer leftovers.

Make it last

Try to slow down and enjoy every bite. Sip water or put your fork down between bites; eat ice cream with a baby spoon; use chopsticks at dinner – particularly if you aren’t very handy with them; engage in a one-person contest to be the slowest eater at the table. All these tips may help you feel full at the end of the meal. They work for me!

Enjoy dining out, but take care

Restaurant portions can be pretty huge, so proceed with caution. A few suggestions:

  • Be picky. It might be worth it occasionally to indulge in something you crave, but it’s not usually worth it to waste calories or carbs on a dish that’s mediocre.
  • Order first, so other people’s orders don’t tempt you into unhealthy choices.
  • When your plate arrives, push away any food that seems like too much. Leave it on your plate, share it with a companion, or ask for a to-go bag.
  • Instead of letting the immediate cost of the dish rule your choice, consider the health value of your meal. You don’t need to finish the whole plate to get your money’s worth; and you might end up spending less if tonight’s dinner is also tomorrow’s lunch.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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