Portion Size: The Key to Mindful Eating and Healthy Eating

How Much is Enough?

Knowing the standard portion size of a food might help us prepare enough when cooking for the family, but if we use portion sizing to dictate how much we ‘should’ eat, we may be asking for trouble.

…restrained eaters often end up overeating when the ‘rules’ conflict with what they need or want.That’s the tendency of ‘restrained eaters’ – dieters who depend on rules to tell them what, when and how much to eat instead of letting their bodies be their guide. The trouble with that tendency is that…

For example, it’s normal for the degree of hunger a person feels to fluctuate from meal to meal. One day we might feel satisfied with half a sandwich and a cup of soup; another day, due to extra physical activity or being premenstrual, we might find we need the whole sandwich to satisfy.

The diet mentality, however, doesn’t allow for fluctuation. So when we eat more than we’re ‘supposed’ to, we feel like we’ve failed. And the downward spiral of defeat and overeating often begins.

Let Your Body Be the Guide

The longer we’ve depended on diet rules to manage our eating, the more we are usually out of touch with our inner cues that guide eating. At Green Mountain, we encourage mindful eating to help us get back in touch, and to help ensure that we get accurate signals from our body about hunger and satiety.

For some of us, however, overeating has become a habit. The challenge for us then is to know how much is really enough. Often the meals we are served provide 2 to 3 standard portions. That muffin from the local coffee shop, extra value meal, or steak from your favorite restaurant are good examples. Do we need to eat it all?

For others among us, the diet mentality often takes over when we’re trying to eat ‘right.’ We find ourselves struggling with the mis-perception that we’re eating too much when in reality we probably aren’t eating enough. Understanding standard portion sizes may help us begin to overcome these challenges.

A Good Start – A Portion Size Guide

Often when we think of portion sizes, visions of measuring and weighing our foods come to mind. But that’s not practical. Instead, we encourage the Plate Model for Healthy Eating: Using regular-sized dinner plates, place enough Grains/Starchy Vegetables to take up about a quarter of the plate. Feature a Protein Food on another quarter of the plate. Then fill up the rest of the plate with Fruit &/or Vegetables.

Eating this way helps us meet the Food Guide Pyramid recommendations for healthy eating without counting numbers of servings or measuring anything. And remember — it’s not important that we be exact with these proportions. Some days we might eat a little more protein food, or grains/starchy vegetables might take up a little more on the plate. The Food Guide Pyramid is actually a guide of eating over time, not a prescription for daily eating. But if we find ourselves continually shortchanging one food group and adding to another, we might want to explore the reasons why.

What to do when the plate model doesn’t fit? Not every meal divides up so easily. Mixed dishes like casseroles, stews and pizzas obviously combine the foods groups into one. In these cases, we want to use our best visual estimate – that’s good enough.

Here are a few other visual images that may help:

  • One serving (3 ounces) of meat, fish, poultry = the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  • One serving (1 ½ ounces) cheese = 6 dice
  • One serving (1 ounce) nuts = a handful
  • One serving bread = 1 slice or ½ English muffin or small Lender’s-type bagel
  • One serving (1/2 cup) potatoes, hot cereal, cooked vegetables, chopped, canned or cooked fruit = a tennis ball
  • One serving fresh fruit = a tennis ball
  • Two servings (1 cup) cooked vegetables or fruit = the size of your fist
  • One serving (1 cup) raw leafy vegetables = the size of your fist
  • One serving (1 teaspoon) oil or butter = the size of the tip of your thumb

Finally, it’s worth re-emphasizing that paying attention to standard portion sizes can help us put together a meal or snack that gives us a good start in having enough. But because our hunger levels vary, it doesn’t always mean that we won’t need a second serving. It also doesn’t mean that we always need the whole portion to feel satisfied. That’s where trusting our bodies comes in – understanding its signals and then responding to them appropriately.

One of the advantages of a stay at Green Mountain at Fox Run is the chance to re-connect with how much food we really need to be satisfied. Our meals and snacks are designed to provide enough without giving you too much, and to build our participants’ abilities to feed themselves in the same way.

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