Train Your Brain to Avoid ‘Portion Distortion’

The portion sizes we get at restaurants have changed dramatically since the 1970s, but our human metabolism has not.

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In the 1960s and 1970s, plates and cups were smaller, coffee was generally served in teacups rather than huge mugs, and restaurant portions were miniscule compared to some of the meals served today.

The portion sizes changed but our human metabolism did not.

Think about it. A small order of French fries back in the 1970s was about 2.4 ounces. Today, a typical serving of fries has 6.7 ounces and almost three times the calories. Ditto that for meat servings, never-ending pasta bowls, huge drink cups, and servings of cake as big as your head. Well, not really as big as your head but you get the idea.

When I was losing weight, I used four techniques to retrain my brain to avoid looking at a food and assuming it was the right sized portion.

1. Know the Facts

This seems so incredibly simple, but it worked perfectly. When I was 300 pounds, I ate whatever amount felt right. If a restaurant server brought me a large plate piled high with nachos, I ate all the food on the plate. If a friend gave me a big piece of fried chicken or a juicy burger, I ate it.

What I did differently to retrain my brain was become familiar with the correction portion sizes of the foods I most often ate. This did not take very long so don’t worry you might have to memorize a list of 200 food items.

Every time I picked up a boxed food to eat or made something from a recipe, I determined what the recommended serving size was. Here is a chart from WebMD that will help you visualize the correct portions of foods you commonly eat.

I was surprised at how tiny 1/2 cup of oatmeal looked and said that 1 tablespoon of chocolate chips was a portion. I usually ate two or three times that amount.

2. Serve Yourself One Portion of Highest Calorie Foods

I did not live on salads while I was losing weight. I ate a varied diet that included high calorie foods like the occasional cupcake or peanut butter.  Instead of eating cupcake after cupcake like I did when I was overweight, I limited my serving to a single cupcake and did not choose the largest one on the plate.

Instead, I filled up my plate with the lower calorie options during dinner or social occasion. I ate more salad than pasta and more vegetables than meat. I left the table feeling satisfied and proud of myself for not eating too much.

3. Slow Down

As a self-admitted speed eater, I had to work hard at slowing down.  It was worth practicing though because when I slowed down, I learned to enjoy the textures, flavors, and mouthfeel of the foods I was eating.

Controlling your portion sizes becomes easier when you take the time to appreciate the foods you are eating. Instead of being focused on finishing, you can focus on the delicious meal and the conversation flowing around you. Plus, research published in the March 2014 issue of the “Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics” supports the fact that eating more slowly helps you consume fewer calories.

4. Use Measuring Devices

If you are used to seeing cake pieces as big as your head, it can be difficult to know for sure what a proper portion size is. I dusted off my food scale and pulled out my trusty measuring cups and spoons when I finally got serious about losing weight.

It might not be exciting or sexy to use a measuring cup to measure cereal, but it does work. Once I had measured and weighed for a couple of weeks, I had a good idea of what a true portion looked like.

I had broken the portion distortion dilemma and knew what a portion of most of my favorite foods really was. I used this knowledge to control my calories and lose a ton of weight.

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