When you’re filling a plate of food, remember that portion sizes play a direct role in how much food a person eats. Researchers think that Americans could be consuming up to 29 percent less energy from food per day if they stayed committed to eating reduced portion sizes. We’re all more likely to eat the food we’re given, no matter how healthy we’d like to be. Maybe it goes back to the days of our ancestors, who might not have known when their next meal would be. They ate as much as they could, but they burned a lot more calories than most of us do now. For them, how much food went in their bellies depended on how much effort they put into obtaining it.
These days, there are plenty of other reasons to finish our plates and swallow the last few sips of our drinks. It’s polite. It’s common sense-why waste food if you don’t have to? Our food is usually pretty darn good, too, and honestly, stress eating is much better than stress starving, isn’t it? There’s no judgment from my end. I overeat far more than I’d like to. But I’ve also learned some tricks to making sure this occurs less often. Let’s talk about how to decrease portion sizes, consume fewer calories (only if you should be) and how these two go hand in hand.
Don’t guess on food.
At fast-food restaurants especially, most people underestimate the calorie content of their meals. Twenty-five percent of all subjects in one study were off by 500 calories per meal. Honestly, it’s just hard to guess how much you’re actually eating when it comes to food, and it’s easy to eat more than you need. The more you eat those extra calories, the more you get used to eating more and the more likely you are to do so again. Fast-food companies and grocery stores don’t make it any easier for us. They’ve been slowly but steadily increasing portion sizes for years.
If you’re serious about losing weight, the most important change isn’t exercise. It’s knowing how many calories your body needs per day to lose or maintain weight. A change in eating habits should be step one, and the best first step is preparing your own food as much as possible. Don’t assume you know how many calories are in your fast-food meal. Know exactly what is going into your body. If anything, assume you’re eating more than you think you are each time you’re dining out.
Embrace the silliness.
When you’re at home, measure out and individually bag as much food as possible. Need a midday snack? Bag one serving of unsalted nuts in a sandwich bag, write down the calories, and take that to work with you. Also, you’ll have to trick yourself into thinking you’re eating more than you really are. Use smaller plates and glasses. Fill up your plate with more fruits or vegetables. Measure your food in weight. Read all the nutritional labels. Be precise before adding any food to your meal. Don’t go back for a second serving. Once you’ve finished, that’s it. No more food allowed until your next scheduled meal.
I know some of this may sound ridiculous, but how many diets or fads have we all tried and failed? How many workout routines haven’t worked for us? How much money have we spent on workout equipment that sits around collecting dust? Playing tricks on our own minds really isn’t that much sillier than doing any of those things, is it? We all want to feel full, have enough energy and not get fatter each year. This is another way to accomplish that. Fads come and go, but decreasing portion sizes and eating less? That’s always going to work if you stick to it.
Trick yourself into eating less.
Try drinking a full glass of water 30 minutes before a meal to feel full faster once you eat. Eat slowly and stop when you’re about 80 percent full. We’ve all heard to ditch sodas for more glasses of water, but the majority of people still aren’t drinking enough water. Dehydration throws our bodies out of whack, and although your brain may be telling you “eat more, eat more, you’re still hungry,” all you might really need is a glass of water. So if you’re still hungry after a meal, drink 8 ounces of water before you grab more food. If 20-30 minutes after this you’re still hungry, chances are you do actually need more food.
There is strength in numbers.
Make eating better a family or friend affair. If you like to go out for fast food every Saturday but always end up eating the worst thing on the menu, consider a change in restaurant or stop going out altogether. Couples who make health changes together are much more likely to stick to these changes if they both stay committed. It’s hard working out or eating healthy alone.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.