I hear this a lot from clients, so much so, I wanted to write this blog.
Some of the main reasons I hear for larger portions are –
- Their partner is serving up meals for them – the same size.
- ‘There is just a little bit left in the pan, it’s not worth keeping’
- The plate size is too big, seemingly needing to be filled
- We have all got used to bigger portions. ‘Supersizing’ in the junk / fast / catering industry has led us all to eat more than we used to. 20 years ago, the average portion size of chips was 2.4oz, now it is 6.9oz. Similarly, muffins have grown from 1.5oz to 4 oz. 
- Eating without concentrating or chewing – not able to feel fullness signals.
- Eating junk or processed food that doesn’t need chewing – a few bites and it has slipped down.
- Comparing ourselves to others – at work perhaps, or on social media.
Perhaps you have a reason of your own?
I do wonder though how helpful it is to give out guidelines on portion size. We are all different, it would be amazing if we could all intuitively go with our hunger and stop when full. But we often don’t. Because of circumstances on the day, or because we have lost touch with our bodies and override those natural signals.
Disconnection from our bodies is at the heart of disordered eating. When we restrict our food, or overeat compulsively, we override our appetites. The will of the mind is stronger than the body.
Appetite can be a scary thing to women who have dieted a lot. Diets teach us that we need to ‘tame’ our appetites, as if wild animals. Its rubbish really, being hungry is one of the most fundamental human needs.
Did you know that our bodies have an amazing ability to change or correct our metabolism, day by day? Hunger would naturally ebb and flow, if we let it. A few days of eating more can naturally be offset by eating less later in the week, if we just listened and trusted. This is particularly relevant for women still in their monthly cycles.
Portions and proportions
I wonder if it is more relevant to talk about how to proportion up your plate or bowl, than to talk about overall portion size.
For example, if having chicken, rice, and salad with an oil-based dressing for tea, what proportion of your plate does each of these take up? This meal should be well balanced in terms of main food groups, the macros protein fat and carbohydrate, but only if the proportions are right. For general healthy eating, I take guidance from this BANT chart.
You can see ½ the plate is veg / salad, ¼ is protein and ¼ is dense carbohydrate, with a place for oils on the side. This seems simple and well balanced, without too much attention given to overall amounts of food.
I still need more guidance!
There are some very general ideas about what a sensible portion size might be. I say these hesitantly because food isn’t often just made up of 1 type of macro. And these are AVERAGES and there will always be days when we could eat more or less.
Dense protein portion – e.g., Chicken, egg, fish – the palm of your hand
Carbohydrate portion – e.g., Pasta, rice, any potato – about the size of your clenched fist
Animal fat portion – e.g., Cheese, – roughly the top half of your thumb
Is that helpful to you?
What I often find with clients is that it is the carbohydrate element that is out of proportion or too large. Would you agree?
Some final thoughts to help
- If your partner dishes up too much for you – please ask him not to! He probably doesn’t give any thought to you needing to eat less than him, he perhaps thinks he is being helpful. Perhaps he shows his love through food? BUT it can be delicately pointed out that there are other ways to do this, and what really would be helpful is for you eat according to your appetite
- Use the right size plate for your needs. Even if different to your partner’s plate.
- It is the norm to have smaller breakfasts and lunches, a bigger evening meal. Perhaps unavoidable due to lifestyle. If you had a choice though, would you change that? Many women I suspect actually they need their energy from food more evenly staggered through the day – it makes sense. Mid pm tiredness? Wouldn’t it be interesting to use the same size, plate 3 times a day?
- If you do eat more than the rough guidelines above, please don’t immediately beat yourself up about it. These are not food rules.
- However if you are consistently, mindlessly, overeating – think about WHY – is it because you got too hungry and ate too quick? Or maybe you ate in front of the TV and didn’t notice?
- Childhood patterns around food may well be playing a part in your current eating habits
- Leftovers are always worth keeping. If you find you have a tiny amount left over consistently though, then deliberately make more. That’s tomorrow’s lunch sorted!
- Anything you can do to help you get in touch with the signals from your body, would be helpful – e.g. yoga, breathing exercises, catnapping when needed, a massage.
- Before and after eating, jot down or use an App to record your hunger and fullness out of 10 (with 5 being neutral, 1 being ravenous, 10 being stuffed). You can do this for snacks, overeating, or meals. Try to notice patterns as time goes on.
- Even ‘healthy’ foods can be overeaten – skimping on denser food and overcompensating with ‘healthy’ foods isn’t balanced in the long run
- So much pressure on women still to be small – and so eat less. So, anything less than a small portion seems a lot. This is not the case, we need to eat what we need to eat. Are you trying to eat less because you feel you ‘should’ or because you are genuinely full and so overeating? It is helpful to get honest with yourself about this.