Earn an A+ in Portion Control

Comparing everyday objects to recommended serving sizes

Moderation and portion control, portion control and moderation.  We hear these interchangeable words on a non-stop basis when discussing healthy eating.  We know that we should only eat little bits of bad foods and more of good foods, and we should measure out what we eat. 

Nowadays, though, that’s easier said than done.  Why?  Well, maybe because entrées at restaurants are capable of feeding an entire community of island villagers or maybe because bagels are sized according to the dimensions of spare tires. 

Generally speaking, food portions aren’t even remotely close to single serving sizes anymore, making it difficult for us to grasp what a serving of chicken should really look like.  And the problem with measuring what we eat, especially when out and about, is that most of us don’t normally carry around measuring cups and spoons in our pockets.  So, how do we portion control—in real life?

Not to fear:  Danielle Omar, M.S., R.D., of Danielle Omar Nutrition in Fairfax has got us covered.  The registered dietitian acknowledges the super-sizedness of it all, and so she regularly serves up nutritional and portion control advice to clients. 

Omar recommends that clients use images of real life objects, like baseballs and light bulbs, as dimensional indicators for serving sizes of foods.  “Because most of us can visualize these household objects, it's a great way to keep portion sizes in check. It makes you think about how much you're piling on your plate,” she said.

Here are some of Omar’s suggested object-to-food comparisons:

  • Matchbook or two fingers = 1 serving of cheese
  • BlackBerry or iPhone = 1 serving of lean meat or fish
  • Computer mouse = 1 small baked potato
  • Baseball = size of an apple or orange
  • Ping pong ball = 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Tennis ball = small muffin
  • Light bulb = 1/2 cup of grains or pasta

What are some more examples, you ask?  The USDA further suggests comparing the dimensions of a baseball to the serving of 1 cup of yogurt, beans or ready-to-eat cereal.  Remember what computer disks looked like, back in the day?  That’s the width and length that a piece of bread should resemble.

Since dining out can be particularly tricky, Omar offers tips for sizing up general hunger cravings.  “Order foods that come in portion controlled sizes already,” she said.  “Soup is a good example of this.  Most soups are not more than one cup.” 

But not all dining-out situations may call for a cup of soup:  say you order a piece of marinated grilled chicken, and the waiter arrives with a plate bearing a piece of poultry the size of a small country.  Then what?  “Don’t eat it all,” Omar said, “I suggest eating the least calorie foods first like veggies and salad, and then move on to the more energy dense items.  Ask for a bag or just leave it on your plate.”

Additionally, Omar advises clients to refrain from ordering foods in “bulk,” particularly when rummaging through those carryout menus in your kitchen drawer.   What does that term mean?  Well, if you’re drooling for pizza, it means that you shouldn’t order the whole pie; instead, order one slice to satisfy your Friday night craving.  Fill up on healthier sides like a salad, so you’re not tempted to eat three or more slices. 

Portion controlling should never leave you hungry, either—if you find your stomach growling then look back to what you ate.  “I have a motto, ‘never starving, never stuffed,’” said Omar, “if you're still hungry, look at what's missing from your meal.  Was it low in fat or did you skip the carbs?”  According to Omar, nutritious meals and snacks should include a lean protein, a high-fiber carb and a healthy type of fat—a combination bound to curb hunger. 

So the next time you’re hovering over the salad bar, ask yourself if you’ve plated up enough leafy green veggies:  did you take the advice of the USDA and scoop up an amount similar to the size of a baseball?  Is the muffin you picked up the size of a tennis ball?  If so, then you’ve just earned yourself an A+ in portion control. 

The Expo is Coming!:  Join NBC Washington Jan. 15-16 at the 18th Annual NBC4 Health & Fitness Expo.  Get all of the details by clicking here.

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