According to Harvard University, the average American has been eating 300 more calories per day between the years of 1985 and 2000. To put this in perspective, 300 calories is two large slices of bread or a 24 ounce bottle of soda. That is all it takes to gain two to three pounds a month if you don’t increase your activity at all. This is also why you cannot “outrun your fork.” In what some experts have dubbed an “obesogenic” food environment, distorted portion sizes are one of the main contributors to our society’s collective weight gain. How do you take control of portion sizes when your food environment is completely out of control?
Limit Eating Out
Taking control of your portion sizes starts by revoking that control from others—especially restaurants. Let’s face it, restaurants aren’t in the business of keeping you healthy. They are in the business of keeping you coming back for more. According to a Washington Post article published in 2013, some restaurant meals have as many calories as you need per day (or more)! By no means do you need to stop going out to eat altogether; however, you will need to be much smarter about what you order and plan ahead of time. I like going out to eat as much as anyone else, but I have go-to restaurants and meals I order to make sure I don’t break the calorie bank for the day. I love carne asada street tacos. On the odd occasion I go out for tacos, I’ll make sure to order 2 carne asada tacos with a salad instead of rice and beans on the side. That way I’m reducing my portions and eating to the Healthy Eating Plate guidelines I detailed in my last blog post.
Measure Out Your Portions
The most accurate way to measure your portions is to weigh your food in grams and use either the packaging or the Calorie King to determine calories per portion. You can also use visual cues to estimate portion sizes, but what it makes up for in convenience it lacks in accuracy. The only visual cue method I use is the Mayo Clinic Diet’s Portion Control Guideline because I find it more accurate than other visual portion control methods. Keep in mind that portions are what you put on your plate and “servings” are what packaging recommends. Depending on your caloric needs, you may need more than one serving or less than a serving for a portion. I like to indulge in Lily’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and a serving size is two cups for 140 calories. I am striving to get my intake of sweets below 75 calories a day, so I would eat a half-serving of one peanut butter cup at 70 calories.
Avoid High Energy Dense Processed Foods
The old adage of “just eat less to lose weight” will probably not work if you eat a diet rich in high energy dense processed foods. If you go out, buy a bag of chips and measure out one serving, you will see that that there is no way that amount will satisfy you. Shelf-stable cookies, chips, and other ultra-processed “snack” foods override your body’s natural satiety cues and encourage you to overeat. It will be very difficult to control your portions if you eat ultra-processed foods on a daily basis. These foods should be eliminated or greatly reduced in your everyday diet to protect yourself from overeating. I enjoy Salt and Vinegar Kettle Chips, but I only indulge when I can buy a small bag and share it with my husband on a long car ride. Chips are not a staple in my diet, but rather an occasional treat I enjoy in a controlled manner.
There is nothing wrong with snacking, but snacking can turn into mindless grazing if you’re not careful. Eating straight out of the package while watching TV is a recipe for disaster. Planning your snacks ahead of time and measuring your portions will help keep you on track. Feel free to use pre-portioned foods such as plain nonfat Greek yogurt cups or 100 calorie packs of nuts to control your portions. I usually plan one or two snacks into my day depending on how active I am. Don’t feel pressured to eat multiple snacks in a day to keep your metabolism going! I’m going to get more into that subject on the next blog post.
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Remember, always be kind to yourself and keep moving forward!