by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND
Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, Herbalife
Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body, and you are never too young or old to start caring for it. Yet, non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease are on the rise 1 in Asia Pacific because of risk factors that are largely preventable. Being overweight and obese is one of those factors impacting heart health and for people who want to lose weight effectively, it’s not only about eating a healthy diet. The size of your portions is just as crucial as the foods you’re putting on your plate!
Portion control is a great method to help you monitor how much you’re eating by keeping your calories in check. A portion is the amount of food you put on your plate, while a serving is a measured amount of food that you see on the product package – like a slice of bread or 30g of nuts. The idea is to understand what your body needs and just eat to that level. If you eat a healthy diet, you might think that it would be hard to overeat. But plenty of people who fill their plates with healthy foods actually struggle with their weight because they simply eat way too much.
In fact, according to a meta-analysis published on Obesity Research & Clinical Practice2, the use of portion-controlled-plates among study subjects resulted in significant reductions in body weight, body mass index, and waist circumference.
Portion size matters
The adage that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” really applies here. When you’re loading up your plate, you’re relying on what you see to determine your portion, which is often a lot more than what you can – or should – eat.
And, as aforementioned, there’s a difference between a “serving” and a “portion”. Serving sizes are what you see on the nutrition facts panel of food packages – but that may or may not reflect the amount that you actually eat. We are programmed to finish whatever is put in front of us, whether it’s a lot or a little. That’s your “portion.” And, oftentimes, the only way you know that you’re finished eating is when the empty plate tells you, “I’m done.”
Practical ways to control your portions
Here are a few habits that can serve you well in the long run:
1. Choose smaller serving containers.
From soup to nuts, any dish served from a large container could encourage you to eat more of it. According to the University of Cambridge3, people consume more food and drink when offered larger-sized portions, packages, or tableware than smaller-sized versions. So, to manage your portions, try serving from a smaller bowl or saucepan.
2. Opt for smaller utensils.
You’ll serve yourself more if you use a large serving spoon than you will from a smaller one, so be aware of how much you’re putting on your plate. “Just a couple of scoops” of anything can add up really fast when the scoop is the size of a shovel.
3. Consider the size of your plates.
When you use a smaller plate, it looks as if it holds more food – which means your eyes are telling you that this plate of food will be more filling. So, if you’re trying to cut calories by cutting portion sizes, trim the size of your plate, too.
4. Consider the height and width of your drinking glasses.
If you’re trying to curb your intake of liquid calories, consider the size and shape of the glass you use. Tall skinny glasses appear to hold much more than short, wide ones – which fools your eyes into thinking that your stomach will be getting more.
5. Plate up in the kitchen instead of at the table.
Serving food family style makes it easy for everyone to help themselves, which is why it’s not such a good idea if you’re trying to control portions. With serving dishes on the table, it’s too easy to have “just another spoonful.” Instead, portion out your meal in the kitchen. The only serving dishes you should keep on the table are those holding lower-calorie vegetables that are eaten raw, steamed or stir fried.
6. Consider the plate color.
I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy new plates, but keep in mind that the color of your plate can affect your ability to visualize how much you’re eating. When there’s a large contrast between the color of the food and the color of the plate – picture a dark square of chocolate cake on a bright white plate – it’s easier to visualize the portion, which makes it easier to control how much you are eating.
7. Eat lower-calorie foods first.
When you’re really hungry and you’re serving yourself a plate of food, you’re likely to serve yourself more of the highest-calorie foods that are available, and you’re also likely to dig into them first once you sit down to eat, meaning you’re going fill up on those high-calorie foods first!
If this sounds like you, try digging into your vegetables first – that way, you’ll start to fill up with the lowest-calorie items first, which leaves less room for the heavier stuff.
8. Use your plate as a guide.
Your plate could also serve as guide on how to divide up the components of your meal. The recommendations below are rough estimates, since each person has unique dietary needs, but they can be a useful guide – especially when you’re eating out.
• Vegetables or salad: about ½ of your plate
• Protein: about ¼ of your plate
• Complex carbohydrates (such as brown rice, buckwheat and starchy vegetables): about ¼ of your plate