What you can do to keep ‘portion creep’ at bay

mealportionsI call it portion creep.

I resolve to measure out and weigh my food religiously, and I start out strong. I’ll place one cup of rice or pasta (level — no mounding) on my salad plate. I’ll weight out 3-4 ounces of meat. Then, I’ll fill the rest of the plate with vegetables. (HINT: Starting with the vegetables is actually a better idea).

But pretty soon, I start to cut corners.

I begin to eyeball my portions. A scoop the size of my fist or a tennis ball is about a cup, and a deck of cards or the palm of my hand is approximately 3 ounces of meat.

Eventually, I really slide. I start kidding myself that a scoop of rice the size of a large grapefruit is about right. And so it’s back to measuring and weighing.

Portion and serving are two words often used interchangeably, but they’re very different. A portion is the amount of a particular food you choose to eat. A serving is the recommended amount of that food you should eat.

Always read the serving size of packaged foods on the nutrition facts label — and check out the number of servings per container. You might be in for a surprise. Your normal portion might be twice or three times the recommended serving size.

For example, the common serving size for ice cream is 1/2 cup.  How many of us actually eat only 1/2 cup of ice cream? Or how about our drinks? How many servings are in that can of tea or that cup of coffee?  I know that what I consider a normal portion is definitely larger than the recommended serving size for many of my favorite foods.

And let’s be honest: Portion sizes have gotten larger over the years.  Restaurant portions have gotten larger. And soda, popcorn, candy bars  and other snack foods come in large, huge and gigantic sizes now, which means we’re eating more.  Even our plates, bowls and glasses have gotten bigger.

So what can you do? There are some small steps you can take to be more aware of how much you’re eating — and how much you should be eating.

Read up on how portions have grown over 20 years. Take this Portion Distortion Quiz from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, and head over to the FDA to get a handle on how to read nutrition facts labels.

nutsCheck the serving size and the number of servings in every package, especially snack foods. For your favorite snack, write out the serving size on a piece of paper and tape it on the package. The reminder will help you remember what you should be eating.

• Be aware when you’re eating out: Restaurant portion sizes are big, and jammed with calories. It’s a good idea to research healthy options before you head out the door, and plan on splitting your entree with a friend. Or, take home half of what you order for an easy lunch the next day.

• Use salad plates — rather than dinner plates — for your meals at home. The smaller dish will have your brain thinking you’re eating just as much.

• Everybody likes the bargains at big-box stores. But huge packages can trick us into eating huge portions. Try re-packaging bulk foods into reasonable portions.

• Use serving spoons that also measure your portion. There are lots on the market.

Try weighing and measuring your food. If you don’t do this for every meal, then resolve to do it at least once a week. It will help you gain a better understanding of an appropriate serving size looks like.

shawndraShawndra Holmberg is an employee trainer at HMSA, and writes about small things we can all do to live a healthier lifestyle. Shawndra believes weight loss is a journey not a destination. Like any journey, weight loss has switchbacks, reduced speed zones, blind curves ahead, and a few fast lanes (yes, even on the Big Island). She also believes that a successful journey begins with small steps. Connect with Shawndra on Facebook or check out her blog.

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