People today eat way more than they used to - and way more than they need to. This means that they're constantly taking in more calories than their bodies can burn. Unfortunately, lots of us don't realize that we're eating too much because we've become so used to seeing (and eating!) large portions. Its common knowledge that people who consistently overeats is likely to become overweight. But they also risk getting a number of medical problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, breathing and sleeping problems, and even depression. Later in life, people who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
One easy way to size up portions if you don't have any measurements is to use your hand as a guide:
- A clenched fist is about a cup — and a cup is the amount experts recommend for a portion of pasta, rice, cereal, vegetables, and fruit.
- A meat portion should be about as big as your palm.
- Limit the amount of added fats (like butter, mayo, or salad dressing) to the size of the top of your thumb.
Another great way to visualize appropriate portions is to use the concept of the "divided plate." Think of your plate as divided into four equal sections. Use one of the top quarters for protein. Use the other top quarter for starch, preferably a whole grain. Then fill the bottom half with veggies (or a combination of vegetables and fruit). None of the foods should overlap — or be piled high! Not only will dividing your plate like this help you keep portions under control, it can also help you to balance your meals.
Being aware of realistic portion sizes and using the "divided plate" concept can help you avoid overeating. But sometimes these visual cues can be hard — especially when foods are difficult to measure, like a sandwich. It can also be hard to estimate foods like chips and cookies that you might eat right out of the bag.
More tips for portion control:
- Eat your meals on a smaller plate so your meal looks larger. A sandwich on a dinner-size plate looks lost; on an appetizer plate it looks downright hefty.
- Avoid taking an entire bag of chips or a container of ice cream to the couch. You're far less likely to overdo it if you put your snack in a bowl, and sit at the table to eat it. Also, avoid eating in front of the TV.
- Try single-serving size foods (like those cute little 8-ounce cans of soda!) to help your body learn what an appropriate portion size is. These days all kinds of snacks and beverages are available in "100-calorie" portions. Of course, the key is to eat or drink just one!
- Eat three well-balanced meals (with vegetables, fruit, proteins, and starch) and one or two healthy snacks at regular times throughout the day. Skipping meals or waiting too long between them can make you more likely to overdo it at the next meal.
- Add more salads and fruit to your diet, especially at the start of a meal. This can help control hunger and give a sense of fullness while controlling calorie intake.
- Try not to rush through your meals. Eat slowly and chew well — giving yourself a chance to feel full before you take more. If you do want seconds, go for more salad or veggies.
- Be aware that most restaurant portions are three or four times the right serving size. Try sharing meals with friends, ordering an appetizer as a main dish, or packing up the extra to take home before you begin to eat.
- Don't be tempted to go for the giant value meal or the jumbo drink just because they're only a few cents more than the regular size.
- Most important, make it a habit to let your stomach rather than your eyes tell you when you're done with a meal. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is to listen to your body's natural signals about when it's hungry and when it's full. Sometimes these signals can be confused by constant overeating or constant dieting, which is why it pays to watch portion sizes and make smart food choices.