How to get the right portion size - every time!

This article appeared on the SumoSalad blog in November 2019. Click here to read the original.

When it comes to food, how much is too much? We asked nutritionist Ashleigh James to give us an easy guide to getting the right portion size for you. Ashleigh is an advocate for eating intuitively where possible, but believes it can still be helpful to monitor your portions – even if it’s just for a short time. While no one wants to be pulling out the kitchen scales or measuring cups every time they eat, Ashleigh points out that they can still be a useful tool – especially if you’re trying to change your eating habits. Here are her tips for portion perfection!

There has been extensive research on the topic of portion sizes, which shows that we are not good at judging how much to eat or when to stop – and larger portions means increased consumption. We are evolutionarily hard-wired to eat when food is available, and coupled with the amount of addictive food readily available to us and the ever-increasing size of meals in restaurants and eateries, it can spell disaster for our health and waistlines.

Sometimes it’s not enough to say “eat to your hunger and fullness” because if it’s on our plate, more often than not it will be eaten even if we are well past being physically satiated.

Should you weigh your food? While we don’t want people to be consumed with worry about portion sizes, it is good to be conscious about how much you are eating. If you are unsure about what a good size portion is, it can be useful to use scales, measuring cups and spoons for a few weeks or months to get an idea of what the portion sizes look like. This is something that I have been coaching my clients about more lately and have found people are responding very well to it. While some people are intuitive about how much of what food they should consume, they are generally the exception to the rule rather than the majority.

Sweets like chocolate and chips are very easy to overeat since they are high in sugar, fat and salt, the ingredients that activate the reward pathways in the brain that drive us to eat more. So, if you are having a treat, try portioning out a small serving rather than eating from the packet or container.

Looking at serving sizes on the packet can be helpful, but it also matters what else you are eating with it. For example, a 30-gram serving of oats for breakfast is plenty if you are adding fruit, yogurt or nuts to it, but probably not enough if you are just having it with water or milk.

Our society is big on meat too, which is also another food group to watch. A good size portion of meat or seafood is around 100g, or the size of your palm. If you are out for dinner and order a meat dish, you can always split it with a friends and order extra vegetables.

Rice, pasta and cereal, while healthy, are also very easy to overdo. Servings should be the size of your closed fist – or ½-1 cup cooked. There’s no need to limit your portion of leafy greens!

An Easy Guide Remember you can ‘eat with your hands’ — meaning, use your hands to estimate certain amounts of foods. For example:

Your fist = about the size of 1 cup of food (dry cereal, cooked grains) Your palm = 100g (meat and seafood) Handful = about 30-40 grams (nuts, crackers) Tip of your thumb = 1 teaspoon Length of your thumb = 1 tablespoon

In terms of your plate, half should be non-starchy vegetables, a quarter should be healthy carbohydrates like potato or rice, and about a quarter should be lean protein (fish, beans, tofu, meat). You should also have a serve of healthy fat at lunch and dinner, like 1 tbs of olive oil or about 1/3 of an avocado.

You don’t need to be concerned about overdoing it on non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens like kale, broccoli and spinach, as these foods are high in nutrients, low in calories and fill you up.

The bottom line is that you should be eating enough calories to support nutrition and physical needs. But it can be hard for some people to just ‘listen to their hunger’ because sometimes hunger is a manifestation of something else (like anxiety, for example). If you are wanting to lose a bit of weight or reduce bloating, it can be helpful to portion out your food, so you know what you are eating. Don’t be afraid to make use of some digital scales, measuring cups and spoons to help guide your decisions, at least for a little while.

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