Telling someone hungry to eat less is like telling someone who is upset to calm down. Get ready to run cause you’re gonna get slapped. For the most part, we know the things we should do to eat more healthfully, but portion control is the hardest. Along with “moderation”, “portion control” can elicit an “I know!” response. So, let’s stop measuring our food, and try these 5 new ways to manage our portions better:
(1) Take a bite of a cookie. Then, put it on the ground and walk away. This one is from my good RD friend and co-worker, Jo, who actually took a bite of a cookie, put it on the ground and walked away. Here’s why it works: you are not going to eat a dirty ass cookie off the ground. Remember when Miranda from SATC threw her homemade chocolate cake into the trash, then took another piece from the garbage and ate it? Don’t be Miranda. You don’t have to eat it all. Get rid of the “finish your plate” mentality.
Variations: throw it away after two bites or smash it and cover it with a napkin.
(2) Choose a high quality, rich treat. Quality > quantity. A friend of mine was trying to be good and chose froyo over ice cream. She ended up eating the entire carton of froyo and wasn’t satisfied. She exclaimed, “I should have a small amount of that chocolate ice cream instead!” Here’s why it works: you have a craving. Choosing something with intense flavor will satisfy that faster. The only catch is you have to eat it slowly and savor it (translation–take time to truly enjoy it). That’s not a bad catch at all.
Safe bets: small dark chocolate squares and jolly ranchers.
(3) Don’t buy it: out of sight, out of mind. Growing up, my parents were in charge of the grocery shopping so we ate only what was around. My favorite memories were our simple family dinners that always ended with my mom or dad cutting fresh fruit for us as an after-dinner dessert. We didn’t have ice cream around all the time so we didn’t eat it often. Here’s why it works: mindless eating is going to inevitably happen, so by removing the food from your pantry or fridge, you’ve eliminated the unhealthiest options.
Foods to keep around: fresh fruit, whole wheat crackers, crunchy veggies, cheese sticks, and sparkling water.
(4) Eat only when you’re “stomach” hungry. This is another great one from Jo. There is a difference between being eyes/head hungry versus stomach hungry. Cravings drive the former and can lead to excessive eating and drinking. Eat when you’re stomach hungry because your body is letting you know it needs sustenance and fuel. Here’s why it works: we don’t pay close attention to our hunger/fullness cues and instead let our eyes be bigger than our stomaches. By gauging our hunger accurately before, during, and after a meal, we build such strong mindfulness to what our bodies really need (not want).
Questions to ask yourself each time: “Am I really hungry or just craving something?” “Am I actually thirsty?” “How hungry am I?” and “Am I full?”
(5) Choose your vegetables first. Often we choose grains or proteins before we order veggies (if at all). Think back to when you ordered a burger or a slice of pizza or fancy steak dinner. Where the eff are your vegetables? Here’s why it works: ordering your veggies first already gives you a leg up on making sure you include some fresh produce in the meal. But if you make veggies half your plate and eat them first, you’ll be partially full before you move on to other foods. It’ll help you crowd out all of the other higher calorie items and prevent overeating. Don’t forget to ask for a to-go box!
Ways to do this: double up on the produce in your sandwich/burger, start with a green salad, and order steamed/roasted veggies as a generous side to your dinner.
So when it comes to portion control, we don’t have to be robots measuring out our food all the time. Often it has more to do with our mindfulness (or lack thereof) than anything else that dictates our food choices. Eating healthfully stems from thoughtfulness that does not involve calorie counting or measuring cups. Try these out and let me know what you think!
Thomas Ngo RD