Portion ControlFirst in a series, published August 28, 2012; reformatted 9.17.2015
Portion control is a huge part of weight control and maintenance. I am a firm believer in the energy balance, it's all about the calories ingested versus calories expended.
What is a portion?People do not understand what proper portions are, nor do they understand that a proper portion is NOT standard. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and all ages. The required amount of calorie intake, in other words, PORTION, varies with all those factors.
As of this writing, I am a (almost) 50 year old, five foot (60 inches or 1.52 m) tall, post-menopausal woman. There is NO WAY that I should eat the same number of calories as my still growing five foot eight inch (58 inches or 1.72 m), unless I am engaging in significant physical exercise. And as I am not engaged in any significant physical activity, I do not eat as much as my son. Seemingly a self-obvious point, but it is stunning to me how many people do not realize this.
Restaurant portionsSome of this disconnect is likely related to eating out. At home, where we eat 20 out of 21 meals each week, I can easily adjust my caloric intake to my individual needs. My larger husband and growing teen son can eat greater amounts of food, while my ballerina daughter eats about what I do.
But if we go to a restaurant, and we all order the same dish, the waiter will bring us identical plates. Of course he does, do anything other than that would be poor business practice at best and a lawsuit at worst.
So when eating out, everyone receives the same plate of food. Does that mean that everyone should eat the entire plate of food? No it does not, but that's what most people do. I have watched people eat until they felt like bursting to get the "full value" of the meal— especially if while on vacation because taking any leftovers makes less sense than when you can bring them home and put them into your refrigerator.
And then there are the people who "don't do leftovers" or "only eat new food." They never want any food to take home, because they won't reheat it. Combine this attitude with the "I can't waste any money" mind set and you have the perfect formula for overeating.
I think that you can train your body to expect more calories than it needs. If you eat more than you need (filling your stomach to the discomfort level) for awhile, your stomach and your body will adjust to that level of intake. If you then reduce that intake, your body will react to that lower intake. You will not "feel full" and your brain will send signals that you need to eat more. The good news is that this effect happens in reverse— albeit not very pleasantly. Obviously these effects are hormonally based, but I deliberately try to keep my thoughts about weight loss as simple as possible. It's food, not a chemistry experiment.
Why Value Meals are part of the problem.This portion of the BBC's The Men Who Made Us Fat rang truest to me, and ironically was liked least in the low carb/paleo community because the focus was portion and therefore calories. Calories do matter. Awareness of portion is simply a way to "count without counting."
The cues in a restaurant are that the plate set in front of you is a portion. And perhaps for a human of a certain size it is, but I can guarantee that it's too large for a human woman of my size and age. I understand how hard it is to disregard the cues-- as well as the voice inside your head telling you that you already paid for it, go ahead and eat. The idea that you need to finish what's on your plate to get your value is part of the reason so many people are fat.
And telling people that they are eating too much if they are eating just what's on their plate will not make you popular. But it's the truth. Portions suitable for football lineman approximate a day's worth of food for me.