Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Portion Control

If you're at all trying to affect your weight (lose, gain, maintain), if you're counting calories, or if you care about the way your eating affects athletic performance, you need to watch your portions. If you live in America, this especially applies to you. Basically, the farther West you go, the more you have to worry about how much food you're being served. The "supersize" mentality is particularly strong in California and Texas, I've noticed. There's nothing like driving down I-40 and reading billboards about getting a free dinner if you can stomach a 72 oz. steak. At most steakhouses, there's nothing remarkable about ordering a 12-24 oz. steak. We eat our food off plates the size of lamp shades. The spoons we eat with resemble serving spoons; one bite, and you should be done.

So with the swelling sizes of American portions (even our plates and flatware), keep the following in mind:

When eating out:
  • A reasonable portion of meat is 3 oz. That's what constitutes one serving. That's about the size of a matchbook. So if you're going out for steak, order the smallest one you can. Usually that will be 6 - 8 oz, which is probably as much protein as you need for the whole day. If you really want to be good, split the entree with someone else.
  • Look at your right hand. A medium potato is the size of your computer mouse. It has about 160 calories (plus butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and whatever else you like on it). The potato you get at a steakhouse is probably about twice that (plus you need more goodies to put inside it, so more calories there, too). In general, I would recommend staying away from baked potatoes at a restaurant; I suggest steamed vegetables or wild rice, if they're available. But I admit I do like to eat a baked potato every now and then. Just try to ask for a smaller one.
  • Salad is awesome; eat as much of it as you want. But limit the amount of dressing you use. 2 tbsp is a reasonable amount of dressing, and has about the same amount of volume as a ping pong ball. Salad dressing makes salad taste better, but it also has a high fat content, so use as little as you can while still enjoying it.
  • Bread has lots of calories! Don't eat a ton of it (unless you're chintzy and want to fill up on it)! A serving of grain is equivalent to a slice of bread or a dinner roll, and you should be eating 6-10 servings a day of grains. So keep that in mind when you're reaching for that basket in the middle of the table.
  • Take it easy on the chips, too, if you're at a Mexican restaurant. Those have tons of simple carbs and lots of oil.
At home:
  • Eat off of smaller plates. If you go to a department store and look at the plateware, you'll see dinner plates that look like platters. Don't eat off those. In fact, use those to serve food. Seriously, plates and and bowls really are bigger than they were 20 or so years ago. Buy salad plates if you have to, just make sure they're not huge. Same goes for bowls.
  • Know how much volume you're serving utensils hold. For example, my ladle holds about a cup; my serving spoons hold about a quarter of a cup. Just measure it once and from then on you'll know how much you're eating.
  • Measure out your milk and cereal (and anything similar). After a couple weeks, you'll be able to do it by sight. Whatever you do, never ever fill up your cereal bowl all the way to the top. That's like two and a half to three cups of cereal.
  • When snacking, don't keep a bag of chips or cookies next to you. Figure out how much a serving is, put it in a little bowl or a plastic baggie, and put the rest away. Feel free to keep a bag or carrots or grapes right next to you, though; eat all you want of those!
  • At meals, take just one small serving of everything. For example, start with a piece of chicken about the size of a deck of cards, one spoonful of mashed potatoes, and one spoonful of corn. After you finish that, give yourself five minutes to sit and become aware of your body. Is it still hungry? If you start with too much food, you're more likely to eat it all.
  • When eating ice cream, try eating it out of a coffee cup instead of a bowl. You'll eat less of it that way.
If you have any questions about suitable portions, or further suggestions, please comment!

1 comment:

  1. Lots of really good advice. We are coming to the States in July for a conference in Miami and have been told to be really mindful of the portion sizes that are served up for meals.