Knowing what to eat is one thing, but knowing how much to eat is a whole other game. Integrative nutritionist Jennie Miremadi‘s own recovery from a once-disordered relationship with food makes her an incredible advocate for those of us hoping to manage balanced—and sustainable—diets. These insights on portion control help us to become more balanced, intuitive eaters…
I have not always had an easy relationship with food as I do now. For many years—before I became a nutritionist—I jumped from one restrictive diet to another and at certain times even measured and weighed each portion of food that I ate. This not only made me obsessed with food, but it was also completely unsustainable in the long term and impossible to follow when I was eating out or otherwise not in control of cooking my own food.
I wish I would have known at the time that the secret to portion control is actually really easy and doesn’t require measuring or weighing food. If you too have struggled with portion control, today I’m going to help you crack that code so you struggle no more! Ready to get started? Let’s begin…
On Macronutrient Balance
The first secret to portion control is macronutrient balance, which empowers you to create a meal with an optimal balance of different nutrients to fill you up and keep you satiated. The key is to eat real, whole foods with protein, healthy fats and fiber-rich carbs at each of your meals. This nutrient-combo stabilizes your blood sugar so you have sustained energy, avoid cravings and feel satiated. Note that this guideline works well for many people, but everybody is different. So, if you find that this is too little or too much food for your body, adjust accordingly.
If you’re wondering how much of each macronutrient to include at each of your meals, here’s a cheat sheet I use with my clients that are following an anti-inflammatory diet. All you have to do is eyeball the portions (no measuring required) and then intuitively listen to your body:
FIBER-RICH CARBS | First, you want to include fiber-rich carbs with your meals. Here are the types of fiber-rich carbs that I’m talking about:
+ non-starchy vegetables: asparagus, fennel, bell peppers, cauliflower, leafy greens, broccoli
+ starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, beets, butternut squash
+ gluten-free grains and seed-like grains: buckwheat, quinoa, millet, wild rice
+ legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans
Aim to fill at least 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and ¼ of your plate (or about a tennis ball-sized portion) with either starchy vegetables, gluten-free grains or legumes, or a combination of all three. If you’re skipping higher carb plant-based foods right now, then increase the quantity of non-starchy veggies on your plate to three-quarters.
PROTEIN | Next, it’s time to add in protein. Good protein sources includes organic turkey, chicken, eggs, wild Alaskan salmon (and other wild fatty fish), grass-fed beef and wild game. If you’re vegan and can tolerate soy, choose fermented sources such as natto and tempeh, and make sure they’re non-GMO. Aim to eat a portion of protein that’s about the size of the palm of your hand or that takes up about ¼ of your plate.
FAT | Finally, be sure to incorporate healthy fat in your meal. Some good sources of healthy fat includes nuts, seeds, avocados, ghee, coconut oil, nut butter, seed butter, extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil. Include about two servings at each meal.
A serving of oil or ghee is about the size of your pointer fingertip to the first joint of your pointer finger. A serving of nut or seed butter is the size of your thumb. A serving of nuts and seeds is a small handful. And a serving of avocado is ¼ of one.
On Portion Control + Listening to Your Body
The second secret to portion control is listening to your body’s natural hunger cues (i.e., growling stomach) so that no matter what food you put in your body, you eat the portion that’s right for you. For example, if you occasionally indulge in non-macronutrient-balanced meals like pizza or pasta (which, BTW, is okay and part of having a balanced life), you still need a portion control game plan.
Get Mindful. Make sure you enjoy every bite of your meal without guilt or shame, and eat only the amount your body is physically hungry for. As you eat, keep checking in with your stomach. When your stomach is physically full, stop eating, even if you haven’t finished the food on your plate. Your physical hunger signals are your body’s innate mechanism for portion control and the best gauge of how much food your body needs. You just have to eat mindfully and listen.
Wait It Out. If you finish a plate of food but still feel hungry, wait at least 20 minutes before going back for more. Why? Because it takes your body that long to realize it’s full. If you give your body the time it needs to register that it’s had enough, you may not actually want any more food.
Order Less. Often restaurants serve much larger portions than a person would typically eat at home. If you’re dining out, think about ordering something off the starter menu. Or, if you want a main course, divide your plate in half. Plan to eat half and take the other half home with you, remembering that you can always eat more food if you end up being physically hungry for it.
Brush Your Teeth. If your stomach is full but you want more food, brush your teeth. When you rid the taste of food in your mouth, it’s easier to let the physical hunger signals in your belly trump your desire to eat more food.