Combatting Portion Distortion

The amount of food we eat and drink plays an important role in our daily energy balance as well as our overall health. Not only has the quality of our diet changed over the years with more processed foods higher in salt, sugar, saturated fat and chemical additives sneaking in, but so too has the quantity.

Our humble dinner plate has gradually been increasing in size over the past two decades, and little by little we are mindlessly sneaking in extra mouthfuls at each meal and snack and drink.

Trying to overcome all your bad eating habits at once is very difficult and will most likely result in failure. In fact many ‘diets’ people follow in an attempt to get ‘healthy’ and lose weight usually provide short-term results but are difficult to sustain with most people regaining weight within one to five years, often with negative psychological consequences. However, choosing nutritious and mindful portion sizes of key food groups can be an effective tool in fighting ‘portion distortion’ and improving your overall health.

Here are our top tips to overcoming portion distortion

1. Reduce the size of your plates and bowls

Research has consistently shown that we tend to overeat when using bigger plates and bowls compared to smaller ones. This is because we have a tendency to keep filling up our plates until they look ‘full’ and therefore overestimate how much we need.

2. Eat mindfully

Mindful eating is the opposite of mindless eating and has been shown to reduce overeating and binge eating. Mindful eating techniques include eating small amounts of food every three hours, checking in with your hunger levels prior to eating, being present and away from distractions whilst eating, eating slowly and paying attention to the meal in front of you, and stopping eating before you are full.

3. Be portion savvy

Our perception of an ideal serving size of food tends to become skewed over time and when we get used to seeing a certain amount of food on our plate, we feel we need to eat it all to be satisfied. Using a measuring cup or spoon to serve rice and pasta or portions of cooked meat may be a good idea to recalibrate your portion sizes. Crowding or filling at least 50% of your plate with vegetables of salad is also a fantastic idea.

4. Take your time

Eating fast or on the run often leads to overeating as we lose touch of our hunger and fullness signals. Allow yourself at least 20-30 minutes to eat a meal away from distractions such as the TV or driving the car. Research shows that eating quickly is associated with weight and total daily energy (calorie) intake.

5. Practice healthy plate portions

Before you dish up your plate, try and visualize what a balanced plate looks like (see below). Aim to make at least half of your main meal wither vegetables or salad, followed by a learn serve of protein, a serve of slow burning carbohydrates and a hint of fat. This will help with nutrient balance and portion controlled. Together these food groups will leave you feeling satisfied.

6. Check in with your hunger levels

It may take between 10-30 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it has had enough food. Sit and wait before you decide to dig in for seconds. Sharing a meal whilst socialising with friends or family is a great way to slow down the eating process and help us recognize our satiety signals.

Main meals are all about maximizing nutrition with the right balance of foods whilst staying within our energy(calorie) budget. Work on getting the balance right by aiming for these proportions:

Veggies & Salad (1 cup salad or ½ cup veggies = 1 serve)

Aim for at least 5 serves of non-starchy vegetables and/or salad per day. This group should make up approximately 50% or more of your meal. Plant foods are nutrient dense- meaning they’re packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre (filling power) and contain very few calories. Choose a variety of textures and colours and aim to retain their nutrient content by consuming them raw, steamed or lightly stir-fried.

Lean Protein (100g meat/chicken/ fish/tofu, 2 eggs, 1 cup legumes = 1 serve)

Adults should aim for around 2½- 3 serves of lean protein per day to help with satiety and fullness. A serving of any meat, chicken or fish should be about 120g (raw) and around the width and thickness of your palm . Quality proteins to include in your diet include lean chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, pork, kangaroo and fish. For vegetarians a serve would equate to 100g of tofu, two eggs or a cup of lentils and pulses.

Carbohydrates (1-2 slices bread, ½ to 1 cup cooked = 1 serve)

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not fattening but they do provide the brain with a steady supply of fuel, help keep us full between meals, provide fibre for optimal gut health and provide muscles with energy during exercise. It is however important to eat them in amounts suited to your energy requiremen. Generally, ½ -1 cup of cooked, starchy carbohydrates, grains or legumes is all you need to fill your quarter-plate portion.

Try wholegrain and low to medium GI varieties which are minimally processed and therefore retain their nutrient content. These include brown, basmati or doongara rice, quinoa, cous cous, sweet potato, corn, millet, wheat, amaranth, whole rolled oats, barley, buckwheat and wholegrain breads, pastas and cereals.

About the author

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Nicole Saliba Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Sports Dietitian
Nicole is a passionate sports nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian recognised by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Her vision is to help as many people learn to prioritise themselves, feel their best, enjoy delicious and nourishing food and live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.

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