Happy New Year! Have you set your new year resolutions, diets and exercise regimes? Well, here at You and Sugar, we don’t recommend fad diets that make you feel unsatisfied, restricted and unhappy. Instead, our experts suggest a balanced diet. In fact, studies have shown that people wanting to lose weight actually find it easier to follow a meal plan that contains sugar than a meal plan that does not. This goes to show that restricting yourself to certain foods doesn’t work, so instead, focus your energy on making sure your portions are the right size.

Many people may know about healthy and unhealthy diets and nutrition. But obesity can slowly creep up even if you are eating a healthy diet but ignoring your portion sizes. Portion control can be particularly difficult if you’re entertaining or eating out and, acceptable portion sizes are actually very different to what they were in the past. So, it’s completely understandable why there’s confusion over portion sizes and why they can lead to accidental overeating.

However, despite the confusion, it’s important to pay attention to your portion sizes. Not only does portion distortion affect your waistline, it also affects your bank balance and has a negative impact on the environment – by eating more than necessary we’re putting a strain on food production, transportation and packaging. But, we’re here to help. We’re going to explain how portion distortion can happen so you’re aware of it, and give you the keys to portion precision with our 15 top tips. This new year you only need to make one resolution: dispel portion distortion and practice portion perfection.

How portion distortion happens

There are lots of reasons why portion distortion happens. Mindless eating, not eating the right amounts from a variety of food groups or the fast food culture of ‘supersized meals’ are some causes. Other reasons are the change in portion sizes over recent years as well as our own psychology.

Changing portion sizes

The US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute illustrates how portions of commercial foods and beverages have changed over time. It is astounding how the energy content of particular foods and beverages have been increasing over time.

Portion psychology

Supermarket and restaurant pricing and food labels can entice us into buying and eating more than we need. Good prices encourage more sales so, in supermarkets and restaurants, consumers are likely to buy or eat more in order to get better value for money. Food labels have serving sizes but often these are much smaller than what someone would realistically serve themselves. Likewise, a container of food may look like one serving but the label may say that it contains more than one serving. Take a closer look at one of those neat pre-prepared meals where it says ‘90 calories per serving.’ Lunch at under 100 calories may seem like a healthy option, but upon closer inspection you may be surprised to learn that the fine print reveals ‘two servings.’ So in actual fact you would have unwittingly consumed 180 calories of food!

The keys to practicing portion perfection

  1. ‘Big up’ your portion with vegetables
    If you’re worried that you haven’t cooked enough food, don’t fill yourself up with unhealthy snacks, load up on vegetables instead. Add them to soups, casseroles or sandwiches to add volume with healthy goodness.
  2. Healthy pre-dinner snacks
    If you are hungry before dinner, then don’t feel guilty about having a pre-dinner snack. But just remember, dinner should then be smaller as you are unlikely to be as hungry.
  3. Opt for plates over helping yourself
    Serve food up in the kitchen or at a serving station then bring the individual plates to the table. If the food is out of sight it will be out of mind and you will be less tempted to serve another helping just for the sake of eating and not because you are still hungry.
  4. Know your body
    Get to know how long it takes you to feel full by eating slowly and paying attention to how your body feels. Before eating, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you could be satisfied with a drink of water or another distraction.
  5. Choose your tableware with care
    Trick yourself into thinking that your meal portion is bigger than it actually is by using tableware (plates, bowls, glasses and utensils) that are smaller than you would usually use. Smaller serving spoons may also do the trick! What about using a teaspoon to serve up your dessert? It will take longer to eat and make you feel like there is more in your bowl than there actually is!Serving up food on plates that are of contrasting colour to the meal can also make the portion size look bigger (that’s if you have a rainbow assortment of plates to go with all your different meals!)
  6. Portion up your leftovers
    It’s easy to put any leftovers in one big container but try to pack them away individually so that when you go to reheat the food you won’t eat too much.
  7. Study the label
    Food labels should tell you the serving size – make sure this is the same as your portion size and that you are not eating double or triple the recommended amount. You will probably be surprised by what you have been eating!
  8. Watch out for mini things
    When there are mini versions of food it’s easy to be tempted to eat more. Watch out for this temptation – ‘mini’ doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat the whole box!
  9. Be mindful
    Psychologist and author, Dr. Susan Albers, advocates mindful eating. This concerns the issue of not paying attention when we are having a meal. By practicing mindfulness we become more aware of exactly what and how much we are eating. It also allows us to fully appreciate and savour each bite.
  10. Eat with the opposite hand
    Stop yourself from going into autopilot by switching to the hand you don’t routinely use. This forces you to concentrate when eating and will reduce the tendency to overeat.
  11. Go small when distracted
    If you’re not concentrating on eating because you’re watching the TV, working on your computer or distracted in some other way, then make sure you decant the amount of food you want to eat into another container. Remember this should be a small snack and not a meal size portion! Then put the rest of the food away. It’s easy to get through a whole packet of something when your attention is on something else and the whole packet is in front of you.
  12. Portion out bulk food
    Buying in bulk may end up saving your pocket, but spend some time at home portioning it out so you’re not tempted or unaware that you’re eating more than you should.
  13. Be aware of supermarket tactics
    Milk and bread and other essentials are usually strategically positioned at the back of the shop and snacks are at the front. Have a look the next time you go grocery shopping. This is so you have to walk through the length or width of the shop (and retailers hope you will put more in your trolley!) before buying your daily essentials. Ensure you only buy what you came for by making a list. Also, avoid certain offers like buy one get one free – if you don’t need that much don’t buy it. If you buy in bulk to save money then spend some time portioning it up at home.
  14. Make use of doggie bags
    If you’re out for a meal, don’t feel pressured into eating it all because it’s there. Instead, ask for a doggie bag, take it home and make another meal out it. You’ll be saving yourself money as well as your waistline!
  15. Sharing is caring
    When eating out, particularly in places that are known for big portions, share a meal with a friend or even ask to have a starter as a main course. Most restaurants are happy to cater to your needs.

If, with some help from the tips above, you’re now a master of portion control but are struggling with ideas on what to eat, take a look at our healthy recipes.