Learn how to control your food portion to achieve your weight goals

Portion control for weigh loss

In the Oh mighty food – eating good is half the job blog post I have written about the 7 simple food rules to keep your weight under control on a sustainable basis. One of these food rules which is in my view the most important and might be the hardest to get it right is the portion control.

Why is it so hard to know what is the right portion to reach your weight loss goals without measuring every single calorie you put on your plate? You see, everybody understands something else under small and big portions, dependent on the habits we learned from our parents, our genetics or even the country we are living in. We do not always carry around a scale or a calculator to know exactly the calorie intake and to be fair this would be a pretty exhausting activity (and in my view totally contra-productive being obsessed with calorie counting).

I’m not a nutrition consultant and do not have scientifically proven methods but I did spend a lot of time observing my own body how it changes when I took control over the portions. And this is a pretty powerful tool, if you master it you can be sure that weight will not be your problem. This being said, you have to realise that this is a try and error process, not everything works for everybody the same way. You have to start observing your own body along the way…

Before we start I want you to think first about the most common pitfalls which prevents you today to stick to the healthy portion your body needs. At the first glance it might sounds trivial but these pitfalls rooted deep inside us without us being conscious about them.

Pitfall 1:

Your eyes are always bigger than your hunger.

We do eat and take portions based on our routine we learned throughout our childhood and younger years. I’m coming from a culture where food is playing an important role in the social interaction. For every family celebration we had just way too much food on the table. I really loved it when I was a child and could not really control myself when it was about sweets. I was lucky enough that I did not have a weight problem and it only caught up with me in my adult years. I was just simply not used to think twice if I can take another portion. We were all told to finish our plates and take more. It is now coded inside us and our eyes just got customised to it.

Pitfall 2:

Your plate size also matters.

I read about a very interesting experiment they made with two different groups of students. The students were invited to a lecture and during the break they were served food. They were not aware of the purpose of the experiment and therefore behaved in a natural manner. The food was served in buffet style (the real fat maker), the only difference between the two groups was the plate size. It does not come as a surprise that the group with the smaller plate size generally ate less then the group with bigger plates. So why is that, they could have taken equally the same. It is somehow coded into our brain that it is ok to fill our plate once max twice but our brain does not say anything about the size of the plate. If you are living in a country where the serving sizes are bigger you will eat more automatically.

Pitfall 3:

The rest is also food / be aware of the package size.

The next pitfall I observed on myself is my shopping and cooking habits. Somehow I was hardwired to buy enough food at once, so I do not have to go shopping again or just to make sure we do not run out of ingredients. I mean who buys two pieces of tomato at once? We are encouraged to get bigger and more “economical” package sizes. However if you are not cooking for an army or having a really big family you do not really need that. Think about it this way, it always creates rest which we do not want to throw away (who throws away food?) so you just eat it even though you would not need to.

To sum it up, these pitfalls create eating habits which we do not realise, do not question and therefore do not control. It is much harder to stop munching on your favorite food and leave the half plate aside than just get the right portion and be happily satisfied with it.

Let’s establish the ground rules:

Rule 1: 

Stick to your receipt book.

Nowadays there are so many sources of healthy receipts available which also indicate calories and serving sizes. You do not need to think about it just follow the instructions. But most importantly you have to stick to the quantities the receipt advises. Do not get tempted to cook for 1 person the portion which meant for 2. Also, do not feel ridiculous in the shop to buy two pieces of tomato if the receipt requires only that much, even though you could get a best bargain package. Think about it this way, food is much better fresh and at the end of the day you will spend even less if you follow this strategy.

Rule 2:

Keep the cups or use your palm.

Healthy_portion_fruits_vegetablesWhen I eat fruits and vegetables (which is forming a big part of my food intake) I have adopted two really simple rules. A hand full of fruits after each meal which translates into approximately half a cup. When it comes to vegetables I take 1 cup or 2 hand full of my favourite veggies as a side dish besides protein and carbs.  I apply exactly these measures in the morning when I prepare my favorite muesli with blueberries or in the evening when I have my mango chicken with green beans. I find 1 apple a day rule also brilliant, I normally eat it in the afternoon when I start getting a small hunger.

Rule 3:

Get the right quantity of  the clean carbohydrates.

Carb_healthy_serving_sizeThere is a whole paranoia about eating carbs. Carbs are known as real fat maker and I still recommend them to eat? Yes, if you stick to the clean carbs which do not spike up your insulin but convert them to glucose over a longer period of time (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, sweet potatoes, whole grain oatmeal). Low carbs diets just do not work long term, you might lose weight at the first instance, however when you want to live a healthy and fit lifestyle (which I assume if you are reading this post) you need to fuel your sport activity. If you stop eating them your body will use protein to keep going and you would eventually lose your muscle mass which you definitely do not want. Instead you should take the right portion of the clean carbs. As a rule of the thumb I take 1/3 cup from quinoa, bulgur or brown rice for lunch as a side dish beside protein and vegetables. For breakfast I usually take 1/4 cup or 2 tbsp of whole grain oatmeal besides fruits and yoghurt.

Rule 4:

Take your lean proteins to build muscle.

Proteins are extremely important especially when you are living an active life and do regular sports as they are the main building blocks of your muscles. What is also important that you go for the lean proteins to keep your fat intake under control (e.g. eggs, chicken, fish, seafood, lean beef, greek yoghurt). Try to eat for each meal a portion of  lean protein but like with everything keep a healthy balance. As a general rule I normally take from fish and chicken 110-120 gram for one meal.  This is also how I shop, I go for the small package or ask for the exact size at the counter. 3 big tbsp (70 gram) from cottage cheese or greek yoghurt is perfect to start my day. I generally eat eggs on the weekends after my long run but no more than two. I keep cheese consumption rather low, taking mainly feta or halloumi cheese to my salad but keep it max 4 slices (approx. 40gram) for 1 serving.

The next is your turn…