Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
When it comes to weight loss and healthy eating habits, it is easy to underestimate the importance of portion control, says Rachel Luckett, Extension specialist-nutrition leader for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. By practicing mindfulness at the dinner table, individuals can maximize the health benefits of their day-to-day diets without packing on any unwanted pounds.
“The term ‘portion control’ sounds a little intimidating, but in reality it only means understanding the concept of a serving size of food and how much energy it contains,” she said. “Being aware of the amount of energy – or calories – we consume is important for body weight management as weight is defined by total caloric intake. Consuming an ideal amount of energy helps people maintain an ideal weight.”
Luckett said it is important to know the difference between a serving size and a portion. While ‘serving size’ refers to the recommended amount of a particular food, a ‘portion’ is the amount of food an individual actually eats.
“People tend to eat too large or too small a portion of a particular food, and thus receive either too much or too little of its energy and nutritional content,” she said. “The key to achieving a healthy diet is knowing the calorie intake requirements necessary to maintain a healthy weight, and then exercising good discipline by making sure portions match the appropriate serving sizes.”
Before worrying about portions, individuals should first plan a healthy diet according to their age and weight, Luckett said. A healthy meal consists of the required servings of fruits, grains, vegetables, protein and dairy according the dietary requirement intakes of different people. Arkansans should make an appointment with a physician, nutritionist or registered dietitian nutritionist to learn more about their particular dietary needs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers an online tool called MyPlate that helps individuals create healthy eating plans according to their individual needs to improve overall health and weight, she said. Available at www.choosemyplate.gov, the tool includes a visual guide to selecting essential foods from the five food groups.
When individuals determine the right foods to eat, they can then start cooking healthier meals and determine the optimum serving sizes, Luckett said. Meal preparation for the day or week ahead makes it easier for people to exercise discipline and ensure they are eating the right portion size.
“Make access to healthy foods a priority by stocking your refrigerator with sealed containers such as Tupperware products or mason jars filled with the nutritious foods you recently cooked and dated,” she said. “When packing the meals you will eat during the week, remember that it helps to use measuring cups or food scales to make sure your portions are in line with the recommended serving sizes. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of food you put on your plate or pack for lunch and these simple measuring tools can help you be much more precise in your diet.”
Luckett said overeating occurs both at home and while dining out in a restaurant. In order to ensure healthy portion sizes while out to dinner, family members can either share individual meals or ask for a to-go box to keep from eating an over-sized portion of food.
“Whether eating out or at home, remember to ‘veg it up,’” she said. “This slogan is a helpful reminder that vegetables make up the food group with the lowest amount of calories. Eating the recommended servings of vegetables provides important nutrients without risking a significant over-consumption of calories.”
When preparing meals or snacks for children, parents should remember that a serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts label of a particular food might not be appropriate for their child’s nutritional needs. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, serving sizes listed on food products can differ from a child’s actual caloric needs. Parents can consult their child’s pediatrician to receive an estimate of how many calories their child should eat per day.
Parents should abandon the old rule that children cannot leave the dinner table without cleaning their plates, Luckett said. If children are served too much food, having to clean their plates can lead to significant overeating. Rather, parents should simply ensure their children are eating appropriate servings from each of the required food groups and within the range of calories deemed appropriate by a pediatrician or registered dietitian/nutritionist.
Though the concept of portion control may seem daunting at first, individuals should not be dismayed, she said. Practicing mindfulness with the serving spoon becomes easier over time and allows people to enjoy the benefits of successful body weight management.
“Long-term healthy eating is a journey shaped by many factors including the stages of life, personal preferences, access to food, culture, traditions and the health decisions we make over time,” she said. “When practiced consistently, portion control is the perfect complement to a balanced diet and one of the hallmarks of a healthy eating style.”
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.