Determining healthy portion sizes has become a lot more difficult. Not only are we bombarded with huge portions in restaurants, but we’re also bombarded with unhealthy (and mostly fictional) body images in advertising that encourage women to restrict the amount of food they eat. How do you develop a healthy relationship with food in a culture like that?
With restriction often comes a longing to just stuff your face every so often. That’s not a healthy way to live. Not only is it bad psychologically to tell yourself ‘you’re not allowed’ all the time, but being super restrictive and then binge eating teaches your body to hold on to those extra calories whenever it can get them.
You basically put yourself in starvation mode, slowing your metabolism down and then storing extra food as fat to carry you through the next period of starvation.
Most guidelines on healthy portion sizes suggest a specific number of standard servings per day. I think it’s better to think about the ratios instead, since a 6’4 football player likely eats more than a 5’2 office worker. Rather than going for 6 servings of grains, aim to make whole grains a proportion of what you eat that day.
Fruits and vegetables are made up largely of water and carbohydrates, some with a good proportion of protein (by calories) and some with fat. They’re also the richest source of micronutrients. With all that going for them, they should make up the biggest part of your diet – about half of the volume of your daily food. Vegetables have less sugar, so getting more of them than fruit is a good idea.
Whole grains, cooked with water, should make up the next biggest part of your diet. Beans and legumes, also cooked with water, are better for some than others so their proportion in your diet may be different from someone else. Healthy portion sizes would be about half a cup of beans and up to a cup of grains (those are cooked measures) for one meal.
Concentrated healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, avocados and olives, should be limited to one small serving at a time. Two tablespoons of nuts, seeds or olives is plenty in one sitting, as is half of an avocado. Whole foods like these are the best source of healthy fats, and if you use oils, keep them minimal. One serving of oil is 1 tablespoon, but you can easily saute vegetables for two people with just a teaspoon.
Animal foods, which are concentrated proteins and/or fats, should also make up a small portion of your diet if you eat them. They don’t need to be eaten every day, and should be eaten in small servings. One serving is three ounces, or about the size of your palm. Those 72 ounce steak challenges are so far beyond healthy portion sizes I can’t even think of what to say…
A really basic rule of thumb to use for healthy portion sizes is to look at your plate and imagine all of the food in your stomach. Does it fit? Will it satisfy you until your next meal, or will it stuff you and sit around down there for the rest of the day?
If you’re really struggling to figure out how much and what to eat, check out the Online Meal Plan Program, which I set up to help you figure out healthy portion sizes.