As a registered dietitian, I see many patients who want to lose weight. Some want to reduce their risk for heart disease or manage disease, and still others just want to look good. Whatever their reasons for wanting to shed pounds, maintaining a healthy body weight is a key part of living a healthy life.
Not only does maintaining a healthy weight reduce one’s chances of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, heart disease, sleep apnea and joint problems, achieving a healthy weight can help manage chronic conditions that they may already have. For instance, even a modest weight loss of 5-15% can improve blood sugar levels or lower blood pressure numbers enough to reduce the amount of or need for medication to manage conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
So, it should come as no surprise that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of adults reported trying to lose weight within the last 12 months. And, for many, that means portion control.
What is a Portion?
Well, a portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time. This is often confused with a serving, or serving size. On packaged foods, this is the reference amount on a nutrition facts label or a standard amount used in meal-planning information.
For example, on a box of crackers the serving size on the nutrition facts label may be 6 crackers, so all the information on the label (calories, sodium, fat, etc.) is based on if you ate 6 crackers. If you choose to eat 12 crackers at one time, that is the portion size, and equal to 2 servings of the crackers, based on the nutrition facts label.
How Does Portion Size Relate to Weight Loss?
First of all, you have to eat to live – until there’s some magic nutrition pill, that’s non-negotiable. And calories are the fuel that keeps your body running. How many calories your body needs each day is based on things such as weight, age, gender, metabolism, and activity level, and other factors. To get an idea of your daily nutritional needs, reference the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. In order to lose weight, you need to achieve a net deficit in caloric intake.
For example, say an overweight patient consumes around 2,500 calories per day. In order to lose one pound per week, they need a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories per week, or 500 calories per day. They can achieve that by increasing activity (burning calories) or reducing caloric intake. The bottom line is that combining regular exercise with reducing portion sizes and caloric intake can make weight loss easier.
For those who struggle with weight, it’s easier said than done. But consistency and patience are key. Weight loss won’t happen overnight, but consistency in maintaining positive lifestyle changes will lead to losing weight and keeping it off.
Other diet secrets:
- Eat breakfast every day. Individuals who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat later in the day.
- It’s not necessary to avoid starches and carbs, but there are healthier versions you can focus on choosing: Whole grains such as whole wheat bread, whole grain pastas, brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa.
- Portions at restaurants are large! Share a meal with your companion, or eat half and take the other half home.
- Take a walk after dinner or after meals whenever you can, instead of just sitting or watching television.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Have healthy lower-fat, lower-sugar snack options with you at home or at work, between meal snacks should be opportunities to eat another serving of fruit or a vegetable, not a high fat or sugary “junk food.”
- Don’t eat “distracted” in front of the television or computer, while playing video games, etc. We tend to eat more when we are distracted while eating.
- Eat off smaller plates; you may be satisfied with a smaller portion. If we fill up a larger plate with food, we often tend to clean our plate, and ignore any cue from our body that we are already full.
- Make half your plate colorful vegetables. This strategy ensures you get important nutrients and fiber, and helps you fill up and feel full with less calories.
- Don’t keep temptations (sweets, candy, chips, nuts – whatever yours may be) around the home that may sabotage your weight loss efforts.
- Keep a food diary for a week to see eating patterns and to get a handle on when, how much, and where you are actually eating.
- Emotions often play into our food choices. Keep track of snacking or eating you think is tied to stress or emotional eating and work on finding alternative ways to cope with stress besides eating.
- Fad diets and losing weight too rapidly aren’t sustainable weight loss solutions. Not only can they harm your health in the long run, they don’t promote the lifestyle changes that lead to lasting weight loss.
How Can a Dietitian Teach Me About Portion Control?
As my colleague pointed out, “a dietitian is a certified health expert who helps treat or manage conditions through specialized nutrition plans.”
When a patient is looking for help losing weight, we sit down and do a thorough dietary evaluation. This includes going through what they’d eat during a typical day, meals, portion sizes, and discretionary calories from sweets, desserts or alcohol. We also discuss frequency of eating out and what types of foods are eaten away from home, as well as meal timing and eating patterns to see if that may be impacting their weight loss efforts. And finally, we take a look at exercise frequency and the types of exercises that may help them achieve their desired weight.
Together, we craft a healthy eating plan that is customized to each patient and their individual health needs, goals, lifestyle, habits, and preferences.
At Washington Hospital’s Nutrition Counseling Services, not only do we teach portion control, we provide the education and resources to make healthy, long-term lifestyle changes. With the guidance and support of our team, you can learn how to take control of your health and weight by controlling portion size.