How to Control Your Portion Sizes and Eat the Right Amount of Food
The mythical “clean plate club” has a solid mission: to finish the food presented to you, so that nothing is wasted. But what if there is way too much food in front of you, for more or less every meal, up to almost 3,600 calories one day?
American adults have little trouble licking their plates clean – to research published in the International Journal of Obesity a few years ago indicates that we finish 92% of the food we feed ourselves.
Yet these plates are sagging under the weight of portions that have ballooned in size over the past 50 years. Bagels, burgers, pots of theater popcorn, platters of Thai takeout…everything is bigger than before. And if your stomach is trained to expect a certain amount of food (ultra-processed, high-calorie foods, mind you), it’s only natural that you over-index when cooking for yourself as well.
How to regain control of your portions? This guide is a good starting point. From adopting a Confucian dinnertime technique to taking a stand on infamous cheat meals, here’s what you need to know.
Hara hachi bun me
It’s Japanese for “Eat until 80% full.” It is a common intonation before the meal in Okinawa, one of the five on the planet “Blue Zones” (a term that describes regions with an unusually high concentration of centenarians), and not so coincidentally, a place where daily calorie intake is less than 2,000.
Calorie counting is a difficult exercise, one that too often backfires and promotes unhealthy eating habits, but those who follow the 80% rule don’t care exactly about labels or weigh portions on food scales. digital kitchens. They listen to their body, practice a form of a concept that is now commonly called as “intuitive eating”.
It’s easiest to practice the 80% rule when making a standard weekday dinner list. It’s a subjective concept, obviously – despite the seemingly official percentage – but you can get used to it by paying close attention to your stomach throughout a meal. Slow down, eat with friends or family (instead of in front of the TV), and once you feel almost satisfied, call it. If you are really Hungry later, fine enough, but at least give yourself the chance to eat a serving that gets you where you need to be.
Beware of restaurants
They know what they’re doing: butter, salt, and enough food for two and a half dinners, not just one. At a time when standing out on Instagram is more important than ever, some establishments have topped even the allocations of conventionally oversized American portions. (Every day or two I see a food vlogger muscle up through a plate of chicken and waffles that would make even Homer Simpson happy.)
Going out to eat can torpedo any semblance of control over portion size, and in some ways that’s okay — like feasting on your birthday or during the holidays, it’s important to embrace happy events. Associating mental words with “big serve” and “I messed up” is a useless and self-defeating exercise. Life is hard. You have the right to seek good food.
But remember: if you wish, you are also allowed to ask your waiter for a half portion. Consider: checking the menu before you go, pairing a few sides instead of choosing a main course, ordering before everyone else (so you can stay firm in your decision!) having a thoughtful snack at home , say yes to salad or soup (giving you a bit of a clue as to how hungry you are), or share with a partner.
This is arguably the most important nutrition credo – if your plate is always a shade of caramel brown, you’re probably neglecting certain food groups and leaning a little too heavily on fried/frozen/processed foods. Meanwhile, qualifying for a “colorful” diet requires a little more than squirting various sauces onto those beige plates; that means embracing green vegetables, grains, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and fruits.
But embracing a variety of dishes and keeping them small and sequential can completely trivialize dinnertime…in a good way. Why not make a few small dishes (using the tapas philosophy) instead of garnishing the plate around a piece of meat? For example: create a tasting menu of blistered tomatoes, then oven-roasted asparagus, then mushroom risotto, then pan-fried scallops. Eat like cooks eat, if the spirit prompts you, cook as you go. This will help foster an appreciation for different flavors and how much you need to eat to feel full. Plus, you’ll probably become a better cook by accident.
On cheat meals
It’s delicate. Cheat meals are fun (and again, all over Instagram), but as nutritionists are quick to point out, they tend to work as a kind of permission slip for extreme overeating – the idea being that certain foods are considered bad, until on a holy day you are allowed to eat as many of them as possible (usually because you have completed a physically grueling challenge).
But the practice can lead to a weight cycle that, over time, can fuel feelings of anxiety and depression. If you are not The rockWhere Chris Hemsworthwith a full team dedicated to helping you stay fit, the problem will only get worse.
From a portion size perspective, think about why you’re prone to “cheating” on a meal in the first place. If you just finished a marathon or a multi-day hike, that’s fine. (You’ll probably vomit most of it anyway, fair warning.) But if you’re craving a medieval feast-level cheat meal every time Sunday rolls around, that could be a sign that you’re not eating properly. all week long. A compromise? Try to quell the urge without go crazy on the calories. See what a burger and fries do for you. Don’t start with two burgers, large fries, a shake, and chicken tenders.
To jump or to scarf
Intermittent fasting is legit. Not because some YouTuber told you that their exact 8:16:8 (or whatever) breakdown is “the only way to hack a fasting state and achieve god status here on Earth”, but because Generally, we all overeat, and occasionally skipping meals is a great way to cut calories. (More: there are genetic advantages to be hungry.)
But similar to hitting Trader Joe’s on an empty stomach, it’s possible to overdo it when hungry and prep/order way too much food, which simply won’t have a positive impact on portion control. When experimenting with intermittent fasting, pay attention to what skipping a meal does to your energy levels and mood; how this, in turn, affects your ability to work or train; and how rational you feel when you finally reach the time for your next meal.
It can be helpful to know exactly what you’re going to eat to break the fast ahead of time – and maybe make a habit of preparing that meal or snack ahead of time. But if you’re starting to feel like you’re forcing it, or the chosen time of day makes skipping a meal really difficult, then it might not be worth it. Similar to hara hachi bun methis is a situation where developing a subconscious understanding of wholeness will pay dividends for decades to come.
Grazing had a moment in the middle years, then became terribly obsolete when intermittent fasting burst onto the scene. Who cares – ignore the schizophrenic jockey of poppy-food trends. If snacking here and there throughout the day keeps you energized and, more importantly, keeps you from serving yourself too much when it’s time for a “real” meal, then that’s okay.
Keep it simple. Opt for apple slices, whole grain toast, avocados in all their forms, almonds and dried fruits. Personally, I make a smoothie with peanut butter, two bananas, and oat milk every day. That’s all I really want in the morning, next to a few cups of water and an iced coffee, and once I’ve done a bit of work, it’s time for lunch. Find what works for you, and when in doubt, drink more water and eat more fiber. Your portions later in the day will reflect this sensitivity.
Americans throw 80 billion pounds of food each year. Up to 40% of the US food supply ends up in the trash. It’s my fault, it’s your fault, it’s the fault of everyone you know. We all do it and it sucks. If you want to be part of the solution, learn your true serving size. This way you can buy and cook what you know you’ll actually want to eat – and save yourself from throwing the rest away (or making that thing where it sits in a container for three days… and then you throw it all away holding your nose in shame).
Size matters – when it comes to tableware. Research has confirmed that people eat larger portions of food when they eat from larger plates or bowls, and alarmingly, they don’t even realize they’re doing it. This is perhaps the most stupidly simple way to master your portion control; simply place your first serving on a small plate. If you want more, so be it. Add a little more. And go from there. Trust us: you’ll be satisfied—that’s 80% of the way there—in time.
This article was published in the Inside hook newsletter. Register now.
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