What is portion control? In an era where the sizes of meals seem to be ever-expanding, understanding the concept of portion control is more important than ever for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Portion control involves being mindful of the quantity of food you consume, ensuring that it provides the necessary nutrients without excess calories.
It is an essential skill for anyone who wants to maintain or achieve a healthy weight, and improve overall well-being. In this article, we will delve into how to practice portion control, offer portion control tips, and discuss the effective ways to incorporate this practice into your daily routine.
Moreover, we’ll also shed light on the potential downsides of portion control and how to tackle them in a healthy and balanced way. Whether you're new to this concept or already mastering portion control techniques, this article will equip you with valuable insights to make informed choices for your health.
What is Portion Control and Why is it Important?
Before we discuss how to do portion control, it's crucial to have a solid grasp of what it entails. Portion control is the practice of moderating the amount of food you consume in one sitting. It doesn’t mean you are cutting down on food to the point of starvation; rather, it’s about understanding your body’s needs and not exceeding them.
In today’s world, the prevalence of oversized meals and the constant exposure to unhealthy food options has contributed to an alarming increase in obesity rates and other health-related issues. For instance, a study by the University of Cambridge highlighted that people consistently consume more food or non-alcoholic drinks when offered larger-sized portions or packages, without realizing it. This unconscious overconsumption is where portion control can make a significant difference.
Practising portion control can help in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, which, in turn, reduces the risk of various chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It is also a more sustainable approach compared to fad diets as it does not involve eliminating any food groups but emphasizes moderation and balance.
However, it's not just about physical health. Portion control also plays an essential role in enhancing mental well-being. When you are in better control of what you eat, it positively affects your self-esteem and reduces the guilt associated with overindulgence.
How to Practice Portion Control Effectively
Now that we are equipped with the knowledge of what portion control is and its importance, let's move on to how to practice portion control without feeling deprived.
Understanding Serving Sizes
One of the first steps in portion control is understanding the difference between a portion and a serving. A “portion” is the amount of food you choose to eat, whereas a “serving” is a standard amount used to help give advice about how much to eat, or to identify how many calories and nutrients are in a food. For instance, one serving of pasta is typically about half a cup, but the portion you serve yourself might be more than that.
To grasp this concept, it's essential to read food labels carefully. Look for the serving size and the number of servings in the package. This will give you a clearer idea of how much you should be eating. In Canada, Health Canada has developed a useful guide called Canada’s Food Guide, which can be a valuable resource in understanding serving sizes (source).
Using Smaller Plates and Bowls
Another effective technique is to use smaller plates and bowls. This is based on the idea that using larger plates often leads us to serve ourselves more food simply because there is more space to fill. A study conducted by Cornell University found that people who used larger plates tended to serve themselves 16% more food.
Meal Planning and Prepping
Planning and prepping your meals in advance can be a game-changer when it comes to portion control. When you prepare meals ahead of time, you can measure out servings for each meal, ensuring you stick to the correct portions. This also reduces the chances of opting for fast food or take-out, which usually come in larger portions.
Staying Mindful While Eating
Being mindful of your eating habits is key. Eat slowly, savour each bite, and listen to your body’s hunger cues. Sometimes we continue to eat not because we are still hungry, but because the food is in front of us. By paying attention to how your body feels, you can avoid overeating.
Incorporating Veggies and Protein
Including a good balance of vegetables and protein in your meals can help you feel fuller for longer. These foods tend to be lower in calories but higher in nutrients and will sustain you until your next meal without the need for excess portions.
The Downsides of Portion Control and Navigating Them
Obsession with Control
While portion control has numerous benefits, it’s important not to become overly obsessed with measuring and controlling everything you eat. This can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and, in severe cases, eating disorders. This excessive focus on portion sizes might develop into what is known as orthorexia, a condition where individuals become so fixated on the idea of healthy eating that they end up harming their own well-being.
An obsession with portion control can also result in psychological stress. Continuously worrying about the amount of food consumed can lead to anxiety and may even diminish the enjoyment of eating. This is especially true in social settings, where the focus should be on interaction and enjoyment rather than stressing over every bite.
Strained Social Interactions
Furthermore, an obsession with portion control can sometimes strain social interactions. When dining out or attending social gatherings, there may not always be an opportunity to measure food meticulously. Insisting on doing so can create tension between friends and family members who might not understand the need for such precise control.
Over-zealous portion control can also lead to nutritional imbalances. In the quest to limit portion sizes, there's a risk of not consuming enough of the essential nutrients that the body needs to function properly. This can lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, which are critical for maintaining health.
Strategies for Balanced Portion Control
Adopt a Flexible Approach
It is essential to adopt a flexible approach to portion control. Understand that it is okay to indulge occasionally. Be gentle with yourself and avoid beating yourself up if you sometimes consume more than what you planned.
Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods
Focusing on consuming nutrient-dense foods, rather than simply cutting portions across the board, can help ensure that you are getting the necessary nutrients without excessive calories. Include a variety of foods in your diet to ensure a balance of vitamins and minerals.
Seek Professional Guidance
If you find that your focus on portion control is becoming an obsession and negatively impacting your life, it might be wise to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional. Dietitians and psychologists can provide strategies for maintaining a balanced approach to eating.
Communication and Education
When it comes to social settings, communicate your goals and the reasons behind your portion control to family and friends. Often, people are more understanding and supportive when they have a better understanding of your intentions. Additionally, educate yourself on healthier options when dining out so that you can make informed choices without stressing over exact portion sizes.
Tips for Successful Portion Control
Incorporating portion control into your daily routine can be a seamless and hassle-free process when equipped with the right strategies. Here’s a roundup of practical tips to help you succeed in managing your portions while enjoying a satisfying and nutritious diet:
● Use the Plate Method: Divide your plate into sections to balance different food groups. Fill half the plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein, and the remaining quarter with grains or starchy foods. This ensures a balanced meal without overdoing it on portion sizes.
● Leverage Measuring Tools: Initially, use measuring cups and a food scale to familiarize yourself with serving sizes. Over time, you’ll be able to estimate portion sizes more accurately without the tools.
● Implement the “Half-Plate” Rule: When eating meals, especially at restaurants, try the half-plate rule. Eat half of what’s on your plate and consider taking the rest home. This can be particularly helpful in places where portion sizes are notoriously large.
● Stay Hydrated: Sometimes thirst is mistaken for hunger. Drink a glass of water before meals to help control appetite and prevent overeating.
● Eat Mindfully: Be present while eating. Avoid distractions like watching TV or scrolling on your phone. When you pay attention to what you’re eating, you’re more likely to notice when you’re full.
● Wait Before Going for Seconds: It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full. Wait for a bit before deciding to take additional servings. You might find that you’re no longer hungry.
● Choose Pre-Portioned Snacks: Opt for single-serving snack packages or portion out snacks into small containers or bags. This prevents mindless eating from larger packages.
● Practice Saying “No” Politely: At social gatherings, you might feel pressure to eat more than you need. Practice politely declining additional servings or explaining that you’re trying to eat mindfully.
● Keep a Food Diary: Write down what and how much you eat. This can help you become more aware of your eating habits and make necessary adjustments.
● Ask for a To-Go Box: When eating out, ask for a to-go box at the beginning of the meal and save half for later. This not only controls your portion but also provides you with another meal for later.
Finding the Right Balance
Striking the right balance is crucial. Ensure that you are eating enough to sustain your energy levels and to get all the nutrients your body needs. Remember that portion control is not about depriving yourself; it’s about eating in moderation and making healthier choices.
Portion control is an effective and sustainable way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, it’s important to approach it in a balanced way to avoid any negative impacts on your relationship with food. By understanding serving sizes, using smaller plates, planning meals, eating mindfully, and incorporating vegetables and protein, you can successfully implement portion control strategies for the long term.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.