Home It's All Mental Portion Control: Gaming The System

Portion Control: Gaming The System

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When it comes to some things, it’s hard to not operate on auto-pilot. One of those things is… portion control.

Portion control is an important part of converting to clean eating, because if you’ve lived a processed food diet, chances are your perceptions of appropriate portion sizes are skewed.We create a system for ourselves that translates into simplifying everyday processes. We’re humans. We like easy… and that’s okay, but we have to know when “easy” isn’t doing us any favors. “Ease” and “portion control” don’t go together very well.

You have to think about it in terms of how one idea leads to another. You might be used to “requiring more food” to be full. You might automatically put a certain amount of food on your plate because you know it requires approximately this much to fill you up. Because you know you put enough food on the plate to fill you up, you might not even think about being full while you eat. You eat to clean your plate… only to groan loudly after it’s all clean and say “Wow, I’m really stuffed.”

Don’t do that.

The reality is, the “stuffed” feeling is not ideal. We got that from commercials (of course they want us to eat up ALL of their product… because that means we have to go back and buy more) and marketing that glamorizes that belly-filled feeling. It’s smart… just not smart for us. We have to be way more clever than that.

When you are first converting to clean eating, every decision you make involving food has to be conscious. You have to be aware. So everything from the piece of peppermint you had after breakfast to the taste-testing you did while cooking dinner, they all have to conscious. You have to know that food is going into your mouth. You also have to know how much you’re giving yourself.

Having said that… let’s talk about the best way to game the system: Your plate.

I’m willing to bet it’s huge. You know how I know this? Because mine are huge. Massive, even. My plates were a gift to me from a dear friend, and though they’re a gorgeous set – complete with tea cups, saucers, bowls and ginormous plates – they’re killin’ me.

When we make our plates, we literally work to fill the plate. Show me someone who is comfortable with making their plate and having only half of it filled, and I’ll show you someone who either (a) is using plates that they didn’t buy or (b) is extremely conscious of their portion sizes (even though they may not admit that part to you.) It’s just a fact of life.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a point where you no longer have to worry about portion sizes because this, like the old habits, does start to solidify itself as a new habit. But you still have to go through the growing pains. For now, that includes the basics.

One of the best ways to address this is by starting with the very things you use every day in your kitchen… and that’s your silverware, your glasses, your plates and your bowls.

Remember this quote:

Once [a processed food] meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out. It essentially deflates inside of your system, making it easier to consume more calories because you’re “not full yet.” Couple all of this with the fact that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re “full,” and you start to see why a food that breaks down this quickly is a recipe for disaster – a breaded chicken breast on wheat bread breaks down much more slowly than a chicken patty sandwich on white bread, takes longer to chew (buying you time until that 20 minute mark… see why that 30 bites was important?), takes longer to digest (thus leaving you feeling fulfilled longer), and keeps you from overindulging.

Excerpted from: Avoiding That Starving Feeling | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

If it takes 20 minutes to feel filled, then why not use things to slow down the process?

Do you use gigantic spoons whenever you get ready to eat? If so, you’re only speeding up the eating process. Take your time – that includes using a smaller spoon, taking smaller bites and chewing and enjoying the flavor. (Of course, this means getting food that actually has flavor worth savoring, not something that merely has “sweet” or “creamy” going for it. I don’t know about you, but I swallowed those cereals down fast… partly because they had no flavor. Just a lot of “sweet” that fueled my sugar addiction.)

Do you have huge glasses? Are you drinking tons of milk or juices? Those glasses are easily two to three servings a piece. Seriously. I know that, for a long time, I used to use one of those thermal “big gulp” cups that I got from a gas station (this is its own problem, I’m aware) and fill it up with coke. That’d be my dinner drink. Large scale fail. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I do have a 50oz container sitting on ym desk as I type, but it’s full of water. Be conscious of what you’re drinking and how much you’re drinking of it at all times. Save the big cups for water, and set aside your smaller cups for meal time… unless, that is, you’re drinking water.

What about your bowls? I always think of that clip from Friday when Craig goes to make the bowl of cereal, and he grabs the world’s largest bowl and pours in half the box of cereal? Yeah… don’t do that.

(Did I just reference Friday on my blog? Help me.)

Cereal is a big culprit when it comes to overeating. It just never seems to be enough. If you’re eating something and it feels like it can never fill you up without several servings, then it’s not working for you. Stop eating it. Using a moderate sized bowl to eat whole foods will help you learn to pay attention to your body’s signals as well as avoid over eating.

Plates are the most ginormous culprit in making it easy to overeat, because they’re literally the size of hubcaps, now. I mean, the last time I ordered a dish at The Cheesecake Factory, I specifically remember the plate being as wide as I am! I don’t think that’s much different from my plates at home, and that’s the sad part! The reality is, we could get away with a decent ten inch-sized plate, but we don’t. That “feels weird.” But if you’re someone who has a hard time with seeing a half-empty plate, then going smaller may be the better move.

For me, right now, this is a big deal because my goals require me to really focus more on what my meals consist of, and shrinking my portion sizes. Since I know that I’ve become accustomed to how I’ve been living my life in regards to food, its time to start paring down a little more and making my meals even more meaningful. I may write about that another day. The reality is… new plates and bowls are high on the list.

Lots of grocery stores sell individual plates and bowls, so even if I don’t want to buy an entire kit, I can still slowly build up a collection for me, at first. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The reality is… no matter how much we calorie count, people don’t eat for calorie values. We eat for volume. (Though I know there are lots of people who weigh each portion they eat, I have never been that person and can’t speak on that.) Not only do we eat for volume, but we gauge how effective a certain amont will be by how it appears on the plate. “If it can fill up the plate, then surely, it’ll fill me up.” In a lot of instances, we’ve made that decision before we’ve even stuck our forks into our plates.

See why you can’t auto-pilot this? Auto-pilot might convince you that you need a second plate before you’ve even started on the first!

I say all of this to say, consider using smaller serving dishes, smaller spoons, smaller bowls, smaller glasses and smaller plates… and your tendency to overeat will slowly decrease. I promise. 🙂

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ChellBellz November 12, 2010 - 11:46 AM

Ha, i realized how big my stuff was when i brought my mom these nice plates from Crate and Barrel. Those plates had to be like a foot in diameter. lol. I end up using her smaller saucers for dinner now.

Trina November 12, 2010 - 11:59 AM

I love the small plates and bowls. I head to flea markets to find some of the rice bowls for eating and the small square plates as well. I had to get rid of these huge plates that I bought for Thanksgiving for one year. They were insane. Changing my portions gave me a chance to buy new china! But it’s cool because once you have and use the smaller stuff, everything else especially if you are eating out just seems gigantic.

Curlstar November 12, 2010 - 1:20 PM

Use the “hubcaps” for decoration (or play them off as chargers). I used the smaller plates from my set – until my kid husband dropped all but 1 of them. Guess what’s on my Christmas list? 🙂

Sandra November 12, 2010 - 2:58 PM

As someone who struggles with portions I so appreciated this.
I too struggled with portions because I was taught your plate needed to be big and full and you had to eat it all before you left the table. Throughout my weight loss, I opted to give away my beautiful dishes for small plates, bowls and saucers. This has helped me tremendously 🙂

Thanks Erika 🙂

Nikita November 12, 2010 - 3:06 PM

I purchased pretty salad plates to eat off of a few months ago. It is so much easier to keep my meals reasonably sized due to that change.

Chris November 12, 2010 - 4:18 PM

You did just reference Friday in your blog but it was appropriate. I know that I have this problem. Recently I have stopped drinking soda and juice and gotten back to drinking more water. Portion control is an issue. It is part of the reason I like using Fitday. It has a tracker for practically everything. It helps to keep track of it. That way I know where my carbs, sugars, and everything else are. And while I don’t try to balance everything everyday I try to vary my menu so that over the course of a week I am getting those vitamins and minerals.

Eva November 12, 2010 - 5:03 PM

You’re right about that. I started to measure cereal in a cup and then pour that cereal into a small bowl and you know what? Since I eat cereal without milk, I pour most of it back into the box, why? Because I’m full, I’m eating a cup of cereal and I’m full before I finish, why? Because I have a small bowl and it looks like I’m eating a lot, so my brain says, “you’ve had enough.” At this rate it’ll take me three months to finish the cereal.

BTW, I haven’t drank soda since the 80’s. Now I only drink water and if I want a “fizz” I drink seltzer water.

monica November 12, 2010 - 6:45 PM

great post! reducing my serving sizes is definitely one of the hardest things for me. its crazy to think how you just get used to big plates heaping with 2-3 servings of a certain food….its such a tough lesson to learn and stick to.

and speaking of cereal, i literally had to stop buying it. no matter how much i eat of it, it never ever ever fills me up. from the healthy brand to the sugary sweet varieties a box doesn’t stand a chance around me therefore i no longer will even try. like u said, that’s a problem.

Chanel November 14, 2010 - 9:21 PM

Thank you!

Erika November 14, 2010 - 9:34 PM

Any time. 🙂

It’s hard to talk about portion sizes of individual dishes, because not all dishes are the same. If you apply the principles of clean eating (and limited sugar), the biggest issue is the size of your intake. Beyond that? Pfft, dig right in. 🙂

CJM November 15, 2010 - 10:57 AM

The thrift store is a great place to find dinner plates from yesteryear – you know, when the largest plate maxed out at 9″. I like these since I have this thing about certain foods not touching each other (yes I know its all going the same place). This way I get some white space between my food and my portions stay around the right size.

Marion@affectionforfitness June 11, 2011 - 4:19 PM

This is a great post! I really agree with the spoon size. I’ve moved down to a sundae spoon that is actually smaller than a teaspoon (but, of course, I’m not eating a sundae with it!). Baby spoons are even better. I can play around with my yogurt for a really long time with a baby spoon.

If you get a smaller plate or smaller bowl, you’ll be much happier with it full than with a big plate with sparsely placed food. It just looks too empty and gives the empty feeling and mentality. The littler bowl completely full says “full,” to you. It’s important to think the word, “full.”

🙂 Marion

Khris P. August 23, 2011 - 11:53 AM

Great post. The problem is that because things are sold to us with multiple portions, we think that a serving/portion is an entire package. As you stated, we tend to eat this way as well, so we’re eating more calories than we’re supposed to. Below is a helpful link to an article that describes what an actual portion size looks like.

Tope November 6, 2011 - 5:09 AM

thanks i will try this

Kelekona November 7, 2011 - 6:33 PM

10 inches is strange? My large plates are 10 inches, Garden Festival if you’re interested in the year they were made. The matching cups are darling in the way they can’t be picked up without spilling if there is a full 8oz in them.

Just in the interest of stacking, we’re usually using the cheap blue willow plates. They could be piled with just as much food as a 1o-inch plate, but I just measured their active area as seven inches diameter. (The border makes a great gripping surface for food that transmitted its heat into the plate.)

Our two-cup bowls are pretty modern, but they are shaped in such a way that one cup of food doesn’t look forlorn. (I’d mention their make, but I suspect that it was a short-lived production.) I eat out of a custard dish if I want a very small portion.

To the subject of spoon size, I used to eat with chopsticks and it did slow me down for a while. These days, I can shovel faster with two sticks than I can with any fork or spoon, so I usually use the sticks as cooking tongs.

Bridgette March 5, 2012 - 4:49 PM

Great article! Is there a such thing as “portion control” plates and bowls. This way it will be a no brainer in regards to servings…

Bridgette March 5, 2012 - 5:02 PM

Nevermind….I found one….here’s the link.

Belinda March 5, 2012 - 8:05 PM

Word to the wise…look out for square plates. I have a set, and while they are technically the same width as round plates, they optically appear much larger. We have to use the “salad” plates as dinner plates so we don’t feel like we’re living in a funhouse.

I like to using horderve plates for everything from sandwiches to cut fruit—cute sets of 4 can be inexpensively purchased at a certain discount store (hint: it rhymes with smarshall’s).

Victoria March 5, 2012 - 11:40 PM

I just started measuring out my food and really looking at the portions I was giving myself beforehand. Surprise, surprise. I was overdoing it. I could go through a box of cereal in a couple of days. Now that I’m measuring, it’s lasting me over a week.

DianaLyn May 4, 2012 - 11:35 AM

I now keep a measuring cup in my ceral box. I used to fill up my bowl so it was probably 2 – 3 serving sizes now I scoop out the actual 2/3 of a cup serving size and measure out the 1/4 cup milk so I know exactly what I’m getting.

Annette May 4, 2012 - 7:30 PM

I also realized how big the plates. I stopped using the set I got and bought separate pieces. After the Doctor said the size of my meal should be about palm size.

I got a desert bowl as my cereal and soup bowl since it is much smaller. Also use the desert plate for my meal, that way I am not tempted to full it up and feel guilty leaving food behind.

This helps when you eat 6 meals a day, it just makes it much simpler to do portion control. I am satisfied but not stuffed.

Jasna May 5, 2012 - 8:38 AM

It is oversized pots and pans that are a problem to me. I keep adding more food because it seems like there is not enough, only to realise I prepared too much once it’s served.

milaxx May 13, 2012 - 7:13 PM

Two things I have recently started doing to help me with portion control;
I bought some single serve ramekins. I live alone and cooking for one is challenging, especially when you come from a big family that is used to what I call big food. Now when I do my weekly food prep, I’ll make dishes like a crustless quiche inside those ramekins and freeze them.

The second thing I’ve started back is preparing bentos. I have several bento boxes because I used to take them to work. Again the small size helps with portion control.

milaxx May 13, 2012 - 7:14 PM

Forgot to mention I got the ramekins on sale at the dollar store.

Jai January 21, 2013 - 5:04 AM

I am soooo glad you wrote this blog. Everyday my 7 year old asks me why do I always have to eat with the kiddie forks and plates lol. After I tell her it helps mommy to eat less she tells me I’m crazy. (she weights all of 30 lbs with the frame of a model, just beautiful, yes I;m hating on my baby lol) Now I can prove to her that I am not crazy and there is a method to the madness

deenie April 30, 2013 - 1:00 PM

I understand what an appropriate portion is but I eat a lot, strange but true, to “calm down” when I feel anxious and to be able to fall asleep. How to combat that?

Erika Nicole Kendall May 1, 2013 - 9:54 AM

Start here. And then, go here.

Amy March 23, 2014 - 12:37 AM

I bought a vintage set of Buffalo Ware dishes on eBay. Vintage dishes are great, for the very reason that they are sized for how you should eat. A dinner plate from my vintage set is the size of a “salad plate” now; the “small tray” that came with my set is the size of a dinner plate today. Vintage dishes are cheap in thrift stores – a lot of times, you can find a whole set. And there are lots of really pretty patterns out there!

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