Portion Control

April 19, 2021

Aren’t you so sick of hearing this overused, water-downed weight loss catchphrase? “Portion control”…yeah, me too. When I say to someone “everything in moderation”, I know they aren’t listening. We as nutrition professionals overuse these terms to the point of them losing their meaning. So let’s change that. 

When I was younger, I didn’t eat much in the way of snacks or junk food. Candy and junk food was not really kept in our house. But at Friday night Shabbat dinner we always had dessert. Usually more than one dessert to choose from because my Dad doesn’t eat chocolate (I know, it’s offensive). So the rule was you can either have a portion of one dessert or ½ portions of both desserts. Better known as “a little bit of both”. To this day, we still mock ourselves asking our Mom “can I please have a little bit of both?” 

I love food, and I love eating, and sometimes when I am eating or cooking I may not take notice of how much I am eating or how much of an ingredient I am adding. This lack of taking notice can become problematic. The reason nutritionists have their clients recall what they ate either through a 24-hour recall or a food journal, is not only a strategy for obtaining information on a client’s dietary habits but it also is giving the client a tool to use on their own. To become a conscious eater.

If you take the time to pay attention to what and how much you are eating, you may realize that you are eating more than you need or you may realize that there is room to add more. Sometimes having a little bit of different foods you like is more rewarding than a heavy portion of one dish. 

Eating the amount you need, as opposed to more or less, is doing a kindness to your body. Too much can make you feel bloated and can also lead to weight gain, if it becomes a habit. When we take the time to portion out our meals and snacks, we can maintain our weight and control our caloric intake. Sometimes our “eyes are bigger than our stomachs” and although we want to believe we know by instinct how much we are eating, it is often that we are eating more than we need or more than we realize. By taking the time to measure out your ingredients you will notice your weight staying consistent, less yo-yoing, and a general sense of wellness. 

I recently bought a food scale, a much overdue purchase. I admit that it is a slippery slope to become overly obsessed with how much you are eating and weighing all your portions. But you can try first portioning out how much you may want of something, and then weighing, as opposed to weighing it first. This way you are leading by intuition while still being conscious of portion sizes. The goal is to enjoy your food without going overboard

And that’s just the half of it. Portion control comes with even greater benefits…

By controlling your intake, you may notice your grocery bill go down, and most importantly, you can buy what you need and reduce waste. By knowing how much you eat, and becoming conscious of your eating habits, walking into a grocery store to buy food for the week becomes an easier task and leads to more exact purchases and less estimations. Less food and money go to waste. And if enough people knew how much they needed, grocery stores could stock more appropriately and not throw out tons of perishable goods. If grocery stores know what to stock and farmers know what to grow, and how much to supply, food can be more efficiently grown and priced fairly, reducing food insecurity. But the benefits of reducing food waste go further than helping people and saving money, we can also conserve resources and do good for our environment and ecosystem. 

What’s the big picture? 

Maybe as someone who is lucky enough to have the privilege of never having to worry about where your next meal is coming from, you don’t take the time to think about how much you are buying or whether your food waste does have a larger impact on the planet and other people. It’s difficult to imagine that as a single consumer you can have a greater impact on our food systems. You may think, “what does it matter if I do not eat meat or if I compost, because if I’m the only one – nothing is going to change”. But if your actions can influence just one other person, make one other person change their habits or become aware, you made a difference, giving you more power to make a change than you think. Therefore by choosing to learn about your own eating habits by portioning, the domino effect of that small act, could lead to a more efficient and sustainable global food system. 

I want to share an Op-Ed from Civil Eats discussing the impact of Big Food on the issue of food insecurity. This article illustrates how consolidation of these companies into monopolies has enabled companies to control high prices and create unaffordable food products. However, one great takeaway of this article is that we as consumers and society can change this, we have the power to choose where, what and how much food we buy. Taking steps towards an equitable and sustainable food system is something attainable. Our society benefits when we make healthier choices for ourselves because those choices are deeply intertwined with the health of other people and the planet.