The previous rules for eating have addressed the QUALITY of the food you eat, which is of primary importance, but now let’s take a look at QUANTITY. I would hope at this point that everyone knows that small meals regularly throughout the day are the key to sustained weight loss and maintenance.  Study after study has proven that the metabolism is happiest when the digestive system gets nourishment every three to four hours.  Notice I said nourishment, not food.  There is a lot of “food” out there that is toxic and of no nutritional value.  It will be immediately stored as fat.  (See previous articles in this series)womenlookingatpalm

Hold out your hand in front of you, palm up… now say hello to your new best diet buddy. It beats counting calories and weighing food on a scale. Why? Because it’s yours, that’s why.

See your palm? That’s how much meat stacked an inch high you get to have for one meal. Now spread out your fingers, your whole hand represents a great estimate for the size of your salad. Add as many veggies on top as you can.  Oh yeah, add another palm full of veggies for good measure.

Portion control doesn’t have to involve calories. If you are a numbers person, by all means count away. For most folks it’s a pain and confusing, and no one has time for that. Have you ever measured your food or used a scale to weigh it? Unless you are a fitness competitor, there is no reason to get that analytical. Food is your friend. Eat it, don’t measure it. Eyeball the appropriate size based on your hand, save the rest for leftovers. It works!

This is going to take some adjustment for some of you. Its OK to gasp in horror at how much smaller your hand is than your meal. Trust me, it takes a little getting used to. Picture your 10 oz. steak. Now look at the palm of your hand. Ouch. Therein lies the key to the obesity epidemic in our country.

The bottom line is that your body can only handle processing so much food at one time.  It is individual for all of us, which is why the hand is so…well…handy!

Other considerations to take when determining portion size for you:

foodscale1. Don’t use the calories burned during a workout to justify how much food you then get to consume.  The body doesn’t work like that and it is a game you will never win.  If you are looking to lose weight, replenish with good quality protein and carbohydrate within 45 minutes of a workout.  Use your hand as your guide.  That’s it.  You are replenished and anything extra later on that day will not be used for recovery.  (Warning: high endurance or intense strength athletes need more.)

2. There is such thing as too much of a good thing.  I can keep up with a 200+ pound guy eating sushi, a relatively healthy choice, right? Yep, until appetizer and six different types of rolls were demolished.  Just because it is healthy, doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want.

3. Check labels and stay within portion sizes. It is easy to get carried away with a bag of chips designed for 3 people. We have all done it. Read what the actual portion size is, remove it from the box or bag, put it back where you found it and eat what is on your plate. Still hungry? Of course, because it probably contained no protein and very little fiber, choose wisely and eat one serving at a time.

4. Slow down and give your body a chance to keep up.  Sometimes our eyes are much bigger than our stomach and we are conditioned to think in a certain way about quantities.  Stick to the serving suggestions and eat slow enough to let the body have a chance to signal fullness to the brain.  Once you change your perception of how much is “normal,” the stomach follows.

5. Use smaller plates, bowls, cups, and spoons.  We are very visual and if the plate looks empty, we will immediately feel deprived. If the plate looks full, we perceive abundance. The coffee cup is the perfect example.  Some of the coffee cups in my house hold 2.5 cups of coffee. Be aware of what you are using to eat with and off of.

True weight loss and maintenance is math and science. It is also an art. Finding what works for you takes trial and error, and lots of practice. No one is perfect all the time, but following the rules guarantees long-term success. Get to know your body, and its response to food choices and quantities. Your meal plans and serving sizes shouldn’t look like anyone else’s, because at the end of the day, you are one very special person. Cheers!

Jerny Rieves, cscs, pes, ces, health education - health educator - Scottsdale