Portion Control: How Much Are You Actually Eating?

healthy avocado quinoa salad with chia seeds

Perhaps food has always been an issue for you. Maybe you’ve never had an eating disorder, but eating too much and lack of portion control have seemed to be a struggle since you were young.

Even if you’re a health food nut, you may have often reasoned that as long as you’re eating organic, healthy food, it’s okay to overindulge.

But the lesson remains the same: consuming excess calories leads to discomfort and weight gain. Learning to control your portions through the practice of an Ayurvedic lifestyle and other healthy weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers, can help move you toward a healthier weight and greater energy.

Increase in Caloric Intake

A 2004 New York Times article revealed a 30-year study on American eating habits between the years of 1970 and 2000. In 1971 a woman’s average calorie intake was 1,542 and a man’s average calorie intake was 2,450, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2000, that average had grown by 22 percent for women to 1,877 calories and 7 percent for men to 2,618. A majority of the increase in calories was due to greater consumption of carbohydrates, particularly sugars and processed foods.

Everywhere you go, portion sizes seem to have increased. As a consumer, you should be aware of the actual calories in the products you buy. For example, a Starbucks 20-ounce White Chocolate Mocha is 460 calories, and when you add a Starbucks Blueberry Scone, you add another 420 calories for a total of 880 calories for breakfast. But it’s not only in the café indulgences that you need to be mindful of portion control.

“Healthier” options can also add up. With only vegetarian options and no tortilla, the Chipotle Veggie Bowl with no dressing amounts to 865 calories. If you’re trying to keep to the USDA-recommended dietary requirements for women of 1800 calories per day, one veggie bowl will take up nearly half of your daily intake.

Awareness of how many calories you are consuming is one of the keys to reducing your portion sizes. The free app, My Fitness Pal, is a great way to plug in what you’re eating over the course of the day. Try it for one week, and see how close you are to your daily caloric recommendations.

Enjoy 2 Cupped Handfuls at Every Meal

Ayurveda recommends eating two cupped handfuls of food at every meal. If you bring your hands together side by side making a cup, scoop up dry beans or rice and put the amount into a bowl. Measure out how much you scooped with a measuring cup and that will indicate to you how much you should be eating to feel satisfied, but not full. Ideally, you want to fill up your stomach two-thirds, while leaving one-third for digestion.

Your stomach churns ingested food for digestion, and if there is no room, you will experience stomach upset and excessive burping or heartburn. If you feel heavy after eating, it might be because you’re completely filling your stomach.

Count Beverages

One of the easiest ways to lose sight of portions is by forgetting to count the calories in beverages. Sodas, energy drinks, smoothies, and even fruit juices are often just as many calories, if not more, than the meal you’re consuming. Pay attention not only to the calories, but the sugar grams. For example, Naked Mighty Mango juice is 290 calories for a 15-ounce bottle and has 57 grams of sugar and zero grams of dietary fiber. While the sugar from fructose might be healthier than the refined sugar in soda, sugar can still cause blood sugar levels to spike. You might be better off eating a whole mango, which has the fiber to slow down blood sugar levels.

Another downfall of drinking your calories is that you don’t realize how many you’re consuming because it’s easy to drink an entire glass in a minute or two. Your body feels differently when you drink 400 calories versus eating 400 calories.

Lastly, drinking alcohol, which usually also has high-caloric content, can impair your judgment as to how much you’re eating.

Figure Out Portion Sizes

Any packaged food or beverage has a portion size listed on the packaging. You might be surprised to find out how little the portion is for the given amount of calories. For example, many breakfast cereals are portioned to be half to three-fourths of a cup. Once you measure it out, you realize how small your cereal portion actually is.

Figuring out portion sizes is especially important with “trigger foods”—those foods that can be hard for you to limit. Learning your trigger foods is essential to proper weight control. Whether its popcorn, tortilla chips, or chocolate chip cookies, these foods can be mortal to weight maintenance. If you are prone to lose control with your trigger foods, find out the proper portion size, and put them into Ziploc sandwich bags so you can have easy access to a single portion. It will help you in times of weakness, so you won’t be tempted to finish off the whole thing.

Embrace Color at Every Meal

Cravings are often at the root of letting your portions get out of control. Many cravings are due to the fact that you’re not getting the proper amount of nutrients you need at a given meal. Filling up your plate with a heaping portion of mac and cheese and garlic bread is not going to satisfy you, no matter how much you eat. Your body needs more:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Phytonutrients
  • Antioxidants

Make sure you’re not overeating because you’re nutritionally deficient. A good way to do this is to fill your plate with different natural colors. For example, add a salad with:

  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive Oil

Slow Down and Use Body Awareness

It’s impossible to know your portions if you’re not aware. Awareness is bringing attention to your eating, which includes sitting down and being mindful. Take the time to enjoy every bite. Try not to be distracted while you’re eating. When you eat slowly, you allow your brain to register that food is being consumed. From time to time, check in with your stomach to see if it’s satisfied.

Finally, eat when you’re hungry, but not too hungry. Make sure you’re eating to satisfy the physical need of hunger and not an emotional need. Celebrate eating as a sacred act and a blessing to your body, mind, and soul.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program

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