One of my faithful followers has asked that I write about portion sizes. This post has taken me a while to put together, because I really don’t control my portions in an overly strict way. I do not concern myself with calories; I do not like to feel hungry or deprived; and I do not believe in counting points or weighing my food.
I ignore suggestions to eat only half an apple as a snack, because that just seems crazy to me! I eat (small-ish) apples because they are so portable! So, when I am on-the-go, I refuse to only eat half and throw away the rest and if I am at home, I can tell you that I won’t be cutting an apple in half and wrapping up the rest for the next day. I just won’t do that and I don’t want to do that. I like the feeling of eating a crunchy apple almost as much as I like the taste of that apple, and so I want to eat an apple, a whole apple, the old fashioned way. 🙂 I also refuse recommendations to only eat egg whites as a way to increase protein and decrease fat intake. I could never throw away those nutrient-rich and delicious yolks! So I ignore suggestions to do that, as well.
That said, I do have some strategies that I use to keep things under control in my kitchen and on my plate. So to my lovely faithful follower, and to all of you who wonder about how I create a healthy plate for myself, this post is for you! 🙂
My Inner Teenager
You see, I am rebellious by nature, and so when someone tells me I can’t have something, I tend to want that thing even more, and I can begin to obsess over it. That’s why diets never made any sense to me, and neither did cutting out entire food groups. So, instead of focusing on portion size, I focus on eating real, whole foods and I eat until I am satisfied.
The thing is, part of my formula for maintaining a healthy weight over the last 13 years has been placing priority on planning my meals around the essential nutrients my body needs so that I can feel my best. In doing so, I haven’t had to concern myself as much with portion size. But I do have some general guidelines that I can share with you that will hopefully help:
1. I Create Balance.
I create balance by making sure I eat protein, healthy fat and carbohydrates at every meal and snack. What is the protein on my plate? Protein is the meat, the fish, the eggs, the Greek yogurt, the beans/legumes, and nuts.
What is the healthy fat on my plate? Healthy fats are things like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts (nuts are cool because they are a source of protein and healthy fat, making them a great snack choice with a fruit or veggie).
What are carbohydrates and what is the difference between simple and complex carbs? Carbohydrates are the vegetables and grains (complex carbs) or the fruits (simple carbs). I do limit the number of starchy carbs (potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, pasta) and simple carbs (fruit, sugar) I eat in a day, so that my main carbohydrate source comes from vegetables.
Experts tend to agree that our plates should be made up of half vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 starch with a little healthy fat mixed in. Using your hand as a “handy guide” also helps if you want a visual cue for portions.
2. Calories-Shmalories. 😉
I am totally against looking at a box of something to find the calories, or worse, buying a product because it claims to have “only 100 calories per serving”. No one ever eats just one serving, and I can guarantee these products are junk foods if we turned the box around and analyzed the ingredients. So, although I don’t count calories, I do make every calorie count! Here’s how:
- I drink water all day long as my drink of choice so that I am never taking in “empty” calories from drinks.
- I make sure that I am eating whole foods as often as possible.
- I avoid almost all processed foods, and I avoid junk foods for the most part. Processed and junk foods contain ingredients that affect the hormones “ghrelin” and “leptin”. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells us we are hungry and leptin signals us when we are full. When these hormones are disrupted by artificial sweeteners, chemicals, and high fructose corn syrup, we overeat and we never feel satiated. When we eat real, whole foods, our bodies tell us when we are hungry…and when we are full. It’s amazing!
- I eat water-dense foods to keep me hydrated and satiated. Foods such as: celery, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, baby carrots, cauliflower, peppers (green are highest in water content), strawberries, melon (all kinds, but watermelon is highest), peaches, apples.
- I eat fibre-filled foods (lots of veggies, some fruit and some grain) that keep me feeling full.
- I eat healthy fat for the flavour and to keep me satisfied (plus, our bodies NEED fat to stay healthy).
- I check in with my hunger: I make sure that I am not eating out of boredom or because I’m tired or lonely or depressed.
- I write it down: A great strategy for staying accountable to my health goals is to write down everything I eat and every time I exercise into a journal. I call it my “Food-Mood Journal”, and I track my mood after meals and after exercise. I also track my water intake and how many hours of sleep I got the night before. It is a great way to track progress, manage pitfalls and set myself up for success.
3. I Make Room For Treats!
I typically avoid junk food “treats” and instead make my own healthier versions of treat-foods (I have provided links to some of my favourites at the end of this post). 🙂 This way, I get to feel satisfied and rewarded with that yummy, sweet taste without feeling guilty or sick afterwards.
4. I Focus On What’s Important
I ignore the front of a package, barely acknowledge the nutrition info, and put all my attention on the ingredients list instead.
Anything in a package already has me suspicious, but my favourite packaged/canned goods are the whole food ones like quinoa, raw nuts, brown rice, lentils, chickpeas, canned salmon etc… that have only one ingredient. That said, there are times where a processed item makes its way into my kitchen, but not before I analyze the ingredients list by using my 3 Golden Rules:
Rule #1: More than 5 ingredients and I am usually out (the exception in my cupboard right now is my box of Mary’s crackers and my box of enerjive Heat crackers—both have several ingredients but all are good ones.
Rule #2: If it contains ingredients I do not recognize, it is out.
Rule #3: Sugar has to be absent from the list or at least the last ingredient (exception in my cupboard is my 72% dark chocolate).
5. I Pack The Protein
I try to eat 25 grams of protein at each of my 3 main meals. Eating 25 grams of protein at each meal helps me to ward off sugar and carb cravings, build muscle, and maintain a healthy body weight.
So, what does 25 grams of protein look like? Again, I don’t really measure, but since experts recommend a serving of meat to be about 3 ounces (or the size of your palm), that’s a good reference point. Below, I share some of my common protein sources along with their grams of protein. Note the protein content in 4 ounces of chicken and fish. So, I tend to eat a little more of those (4 ounces-or, half a chicken breast) than red meats (3 ounces) to get my 25 grams. For red meat, I typically buy a 6 ounce filet and share it with my partner, often sliced onto a big salad.
Protein Source Grams Of Protein
4 ounces of Chicken 26 grams
4 ounces of Salmon 25 grams
4 ounces of Filet Mignon 31.7 grams
4 ounces of Pork Tenderloin 31.8 grams
3 Hardboiled Eggs 18 grams
1 cup Garbanzo Beans 10 grams
1 cup Lentils 17 grams
Black Beans 15 grams
Kidney Beans 13 grams
1 cup Cottage Cheese 28 grams (I would only eat half a cup, though, because of the high level of sodium. Or, I like the no-sodium pressed cottage cheese as a replacement for Feta.)
1 Cup Greek Yogurt 21 grams
Grains & Nuts
1 cup Quinoa 8 grams
1 cup Steel Cut Oats 20 grams
12 Almonds 3 grams
14 Walnut Halves 4 grams
6. I Eat Healthy, Satisfying Snacks
If you saw my post on the One Strategy That Keeps Me Sane, you’ll find a list of easy snacks that I enjoy regularly. As mentioned, each one contains some protein, some healthy fat (nuts are good because they contain both fat and protein) and some carbohydrates. 🙂
7. Restaurant Strategy 101
At restaurants, I share a meal or I ask for a take-out box and pack up half the meal before I even start eating. Restaurants are notorious for piling plates with food, so even when I make a healthy choice off the menu (steak, baked potato and vegetables or a salmon salad, for example) the amount they offer is easily enough for two meals. This saves me money, keeps me on track, and if I have leftovers, it saves me the time of making a meal tomorrow!
A Note on Restaurants: I don’t eat out too often, but when I do, I choose quality restaurants who serve quality dishes. I avoid fast-food restaurants altogether (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten at one in the last 13 years), and, in the same way that eating at these places becomes a habit for people, every day I stay out of them, I strengthen my habit of not eating at them. In a similar way that daily exercise has become my “new normal”, I had to create a “new normal” as far as fast-food restaurants went. I essentially “banned” them. And to be honest, I like it that way. There is almost nothing redeeming on a fast-food menu.
I am not suggesting that you can never eat at McDonald’s or Burger King again, but if you are like me and you crave things the more you taste them, then I suggest you consider this strategy. Oh, and guess what?! I eat burgers!!! I do! I love a good burger with yummy toppings. But not fast-food burgers. I make them at home or if I go out for one, I make sure it is a quality burger from a quality restaurant and I’ll usually choose a salad as the side dish, unless I have decided that I am having the fries because it’s a cheat day. 🙂
In A Nutshell
In general, my philosophy is simple: I crowd out the bad stuff by eating lots of the good stuff. I eat several times a day and stay one step ahead of my hunger (and eat when I am truly hungry). That way, I don’t have to worry as much about portion-control. I eat vegetables regularly throughout the day, without measuring. I eat a few servings of fruit. I make sure I see protein at every meal and snack. And I don’t obsess over this stuff.
I focus on eating whole foods. I put less focus on how much I’m eating (within reason) and I listen to my body. This way, I never feel deprived and I never feel guilty! To be honest, I just don’t feel very well (both physically and emotionally) after eating junk food, but if I make the choice to do it, then I go for it and enjoy every bite!! So if I want that piece of chocolate cake or that slice of pizza or those chips then I eat them and I enjoy them and I put them behind me. Remember, this whole journey is about self-love and self-respect, not about deprivation and sacrifice.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.
P.S. Please leave a comment below if you felt this was helpful. I would love to know your thoughts on how YOU manage portion sizes at home and in the real world. 🙂
Here are links to some of my favourite (healthier) treats!
I used to LOVE Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but since finding these two recipes, I wouldn’t even touch a packaged one again. These are both easy and taste amazing!
Peanut Butter Cup Bars – The Detoxinista (Note: I cut the maple syrup in half in each layer and they were still very sweet.)
Peanut Butter Cups – Kate from Frugal Living NW
I also love smooth and creamy treats, so here are some of my favourites:
Decadent Chocolate Pudding – Kathy Smart (Note, I have made this without banana and it still tastes great!) Even kids will gobble up this yummy pudding and never know there is a secret healthy ingredient tucked inside!
One-Ingredient Ice Cream – TheKitchn.com No ice cream maker required!
My FAVOURITE Milkshake – The Detoxinista I have posted this before, but it bears re-posting! It is my all-time favourite sweet treat that is delicious, satisfying, cold and creamy. Heaven!
Creamsicle Ice Cream – Natalie Monson Super Healthy Kids.com No Ice cream maker required! Note: I suggest only using organic coconut milk and not heavy cream as is a suggestion for people who aren’t dairy free. Why? Coconut milk contains Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), healthy fats that aren’t stored as fat in the body. 🙂