Portion control is the key to reaching your weight loss goals. Understanding more about healthy serving sizes and reducing portions to meet these recommendations provides a way to satisfy cravings while sticking to your nutritious eating plan.
Portions versus serving sizes
A serving size and a portion are not always the same thing. A serving is a healthy amount of a food recommended by health professionals, and a term used by food manufacturers as a base for determining nutritional information. A portion is how much food you serve yourself. A healthy goal is to reduce your portion sizes so that they more closely align with what health professionals consider to be an appropriate serving. For example, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one serving of grains is one slice of bread or a half-cup of pasta.
Gaining control of portion sizes doesn’t mean you have to carry around measuring cups. These tools can be helpful in your own kitchen, but you can also make yourself familiar with common objects and how they compare to appropriate serving sizes to make healthy eating easier.
Reduced portions and total calories
Regardless of the food, the more you eat of it, the more calories you consume. By simply reducing portion sizes, you can create the negative calorie balance necessary to initiate weight loss. Choosing nutritious foods is still an essential part of improving your health, but reducing portion sizes allows you to include your favorite treats while still losing weight. Choosing a mini cupcake over a full size dessert, or adding a half-cup of whole wheat pasta as a side instead of a main course are ways you can satisfy cravings without consuming excess calories.
Portion control and fullness
Research shows that the more food people are served, the more they eat. As a result, large portions, like those served in restaurants, cause people to eat much more food than they need. It takes time to get back in touch with hunger cues and to recognize true hunger and fullness. As you gradually decrease portions, you will begin to feel full after eating much less food. As a result, your calorie intake will decrease and you will be on your way to reaching your goal weight.
While many studies focus on how screen time affects body weight in youth, there is evidence that the same risks apply to all age groups. One study found that increased time spent watching television was significantly associated with increased body weight in adults. Other studies suggest that risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in women increase for every two hours of television watched daily. Limiting your screen time and paying better attention to how it influences your appetite and actions can help you better control your body weight.
Food ads trigger cravings.
Have you ever taken note of your hunger or cravings while watching television commercials or seeing food online? If not, start taking note. Simply seeing a food ad can lead to thoughts about food and take you straight to the kitchen or the fast food drive-thru. Reducing screen time reduces your exposure to these triggers and may help you better control your cravings.
Screen time can take the place of exercise.
Lacing up your tennis shoes and hitting the gym takes more organization and commitment than it takes to sit down and watch a television show or do some research online. It’s not surprising that screen time often takes the place of exercise, leading to fewer calories burned.
Screen time leads to mindless snacking.
Distractions like the television, laptop, or your smartphone can lead to overeating. When you are watching a movie or working at the computer, it is easy to grab snacks by the bag or box for convenience. One handful quickly leads to two and sometimes half the box. What’s worse is that not focusing on the food or truly enjoying it may leave you unsatisfied even after eating hundreds of extra calories.
Screen time can interfere with sleep.
Screen time activities can be addictive. You may stay up to finish watching a show or to play a few more rounds of your favorite computer game, which eats into the hours of sleep you need each night. In addition, research shows that light from electronic devices may lower levels of important hormones that help regulate sleep patterns. Not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can influence appetite hormones that lead to hunger and weight gain.
Understanding proper food portions allows you to develop a healthier relationship with food and decrease your calorie intake. For at least a few weeks, grab the measuring cups, spoons, and kitchen scale. Measure your food so that you know what a four ounce chicken breast, a half cup of rice, and eight ounces of milk look like. Over time you will be able to eyeball a healthy portion. This will help you better control the amount you eat when you are served too much food -- like when dining out.
Leave serving dishes in the kitchen.
Serve your meals buffet style in the kitchen. Fill your plate with healthy portions and take it to the dining room table. Save family-style meals where the serving dishes sit on the table for special occasions. It makes it much easier to mindlessly scoop out a second or third helping when the food is within reach.
Eat more often.
Research results are mixed as to whether it is more beneficial to eat three larger meals a day or to incorporate smaller meals with snacks. If you find you can’t control your appetite between meals, consider spreading your calorie intake more evenly throughout the day. This makes it easier to listen to hunger signals and have a snack when you are truly hungry without consuming too many calories that could prevent weight loss. Everyone is different. Experiment a little to find what combination of healthy meals and snacks work best to keep you satisfied.
Increase your protein intake.
Protein helps to stabilize your blood sugar and prevent spikes and crashes that drain your energy. If your diet is heavy in carbohydrates, like fruit or grains, try increasing your protein intake to better control hunger. Eat a few nuts with your fruit, or try beans with rice or quinoa.
Incorporate your favorite foods.
Deprivation always leads to more cravings. When you deny yourself your favorite foods, you risk overdoing it when you finally indulge. When you know a food is not off limits and that you can have a small amount whenever you truly want it, you will be less likely to become fixated and binge on those foods.
Clear off the countertops.
Simply keeping food out of sight can do wonders for controlling your appetite. Seal up those bags of pretzels and boxes of crackers and put them in the pantry. This will prevent you from wanting to grab a quick handful every time you walk into the kitchen.
Sometimes simply staying busy is enough to keep your mind off unnecessary snacking. Make a running list of things you would like to accomplish or things that will distract you from food. When you find yourself tempted to snack during down time, pull out the list. Send the email you’ve been putting off, organize your pile of magazines, or do a quick set of ab exercises.
Eliminate distracted eating.
Eating when your focus is not on the activity at hand only leads to overeating. Turn off the television, close the laptop, and set down the smartphone. Eat mindfully, enjoy your food, and stop when you begin to feel full.
Developing healthy habits and eating to lose weight takes discipline and that means setting a few boundaries. This might be closing the kitchen after dinner, only eating pre-portioned healthy snacks, or having dessert only twice a week. Identify what makes you stray from your plan and develop some healthy rules that help you stay on track.
Whether you overeat at one meal or throughout a whole weekend, it is important that you get back on track as soon as possible. Avoid letting the slip up send you into a spiral of guilt and self-doubt. Put the past behind you and use these tips to quickly return to your healthy habits.
Cut out the criticism.
Everyone overindulges from time to time, so don't dwell on it. Criticizing yourself will get you nowhere and you risk making yourself feel worse, which could lead to emotional eating. Identify any negative self-talk and replace it with supportive affirmations. Focus on the positives of the experience. Maybe it was a wonderful meal spent catching up with old friends. Perhaps getting off track has filled you with a renewed sense of motivation. Start planning your next healthy meal or energizing workout and continue to move forward.
Sit down and eat.
It’s tempting to skip meals to save calories, but this will only leave you hungry and at risk for overindulging all over again. It’s okay to cut back on a few calories, but do it in a healthy way. Return to mindful eating, prepare your meal, sit down, and eat it slowly. Focus on foods that are naturally low in calories, but also full of nutrients like a salad with seasonal fruits and vegetables, and a salmon filet for lean protein and heart-healthy fat. Listen to hunger cues and eat when you are hungry, but stop when you are full. The sooner you can get back to your normal, healthy eating habits, the more quickly you will feel in control of the situation and your ability to reach your goals.
Move your body, don't punish it.
Few things will improve your mood and outlook better than a challenging workout, but do it for the right reasons. Using it as punishment for unhealthy eating may result in pushing yourself to the point of injury. You will end your workout feeling beat up and guilty instead of energized. Exercise is a great way to burn off some of the extra calories you’ve eaten, but do something you enjoy that will also lift your spirits. A long bike ride or a hike can give you time to reflect and reevaluate your goals. An evening of dancing or a game of softball will reiterate that exercise is a fun way to improve health.
You deserve some rest and relaxation while on vacation, but that doesn't mean you have to pack on the pounds. By incorporating a few simple practices, you can enjoy your break without returning with unwanted weight.
Incorporate activity into your trip, but this doesn't mean you have to spend every morning in the hotel gym. A vacation is a time to take a break from your normal routine and try some activities that are unique to your travel. Hike a national park, rent a city bike, or hit the water for paddle boarding. Even sightseeing on foot or a day of shopping at the outlet mall will keep you moving and burn extra calories.
Plan your treats ahead of time
It’s okay to enjoy ice cream with the family or a cocktail with friends. Planning when you will enjoy special treats will keep you from overindulging the entire trip. For example, if your trip will include special dinners, aim to eat light and healthy breakfasts and lunches. If you’d like to enjoy a cocktail on the beach in the afternoons, pass on dessert with dinner. By balancing your splurges, you can enjoy the foods you want without going overboard.
Fill up on lighter foods
You can have foods like French fries and cinnamon rolls at home any time of year. Vacation often takes you to warmer climates where fresh foods are easily accessible. Take advantage of tropical fruits, salads made with seasonal vegetables, and grilled fish and seafood. These foods provide a healthy way to enjoy local flavors while saving calories.
Pack smart snacks
Whether you are traveling by car or airplane, don’t leave your hunger to chance. Airline meals and rest stop vending snacks can be loaded with calories and fat. Lack of planning causes you to waste calories on these foods just to curb your hunger. Pack small portions of homemade trail mix or dried cereals. Take along a few pieces of fruit or natural fruit leather. Pack a variety of sweet and salty options so you can fulfill any craving in a healthy way.
You never know when you might have the opportunity to go for a quick walk or take the stairs. These are valuable moments that get you moving between long periods of sitting. Be ready for them by always wearing comfortable clothes and shoes that allow you to get active.
Let go of guilt
It’s easy to be so preoccupied with not gaining weight on vacation that you forget to enjoy yourself. Many times this leads to feelings of guilt when you do decide to have a treat. Guilt ruins the experience and prevents mindful eating. Incorporating a few of your favorite treats on vacation is part of a balanced eating plan, and balance is what a healthy lifestyle is all about.