Stephanie Bouquet, MS, RD, CSSD, CDCES
SB Nutrition Consulting
Picture yourself sitting down at your next meal… next to 3 adorable cartoon bears.
Yes, those cute little bears many of us grew up knowing from childhood storybooks.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears was one of my favorites. As an animal lover, I fantasized what fun it would be to share a cozy home with a family of bears. I innocently had no idea that I would be their best “meal” and not the best housemate for the family. I fondly remember the words that Goldilocks uttered about the breakfast porridge bowls. She exclaimed that Papa Bear’s bowl was “too hot” and Mama Bear’s bowl was “too cold”, but she felt Baby Bear’s bowl was “just right”.
I am sure her inference was geared towards the temperature of the porridge, but I do not discount that Baby Bear’s portion size was the best for dear Goldilocks’s small stomach.
We develop hunger and satiety (fullness) cues from birth. Interestingly, if you watch young children eat, they are in tune with these cues and will stop even if there is food left on the plate. As we age, additional influences (environmental, emotional, social) teach us to bypass or ignore these cues. This has led to growing portion sizes (and waistlines) in our society. In his book, Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink PhD, explains how weight gain can occur each year by consuming as little as 100 extra calories per day.
You might not think 100 calories is that excessive (a large cookie, a handful of crackers, extra tablespoon of peanut butter), but consuming it consistently day in and out can lead to a 10-pound weight gain in one year! Ouch! Wansink speaks of creating a 100-calorie deficit (He terms it the “mindless margin”) that trims all our food portions daily without feeling deprived and, better yet, avoids unwanted weight gain.
To trim portions, we first need to classify what is an “appropriate” portion size. Unless you are a dietitian, I doubt you pull out measuring cups each time you serve yourself a meal. Luckily, our own hands are always available and can serve as a great guide to portion sizes. For instance, when you make a fist, that is roughly about the same size of one cup of a food. When eating a protein food (like chicken, beef, or fish), flipping your hand over to expose the palm of the hand (no fingers or thumb) resembles a 4-ounce serving size. Give a thumbs up and the length of the thumb represents about 1 ounce (this is good to use to figure a serving of block cheese) while the thumb pad equals approximately 1 tablespoon.
How can these sizes be used to create a balanced meal? Try to shoot for 4 “fists” of food at each meal. Two of the fists (or half your plate) should be filled with non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Reserve the next fist for a type of starch (rice, pasta) or a starchy vegetable (peas, corn, or
potato). The final “fist” or palm of your hand should come from a protein source. Top off the meal with a thumb size amount of salad dressing or other added fat for flavor.
Once you know the recommended portions, the last step is to retrain the brain (and stomach) to mindfully determine fullness. Learning to slow down and assess stomach satiety using a numerical continuum ranging scale:
· 1 = so starved you’re weak or dizzy
· 2 = extremely hungry and feeling irritable; lots of stomach growling
· 3 = less famished; hungry enough for occasional stomach growling
· 4 = mildly hungry – often following a light snack
· 5 = satiated – feeling neither hungry nor fullness
· 6 = mildly full with no discomfort
· 7 = full enough for mild discomfort
· 8 = stuffed enough for more notable discomfort
· 9 = “Thanksgiving-stuffed”, possibly with extreme discomfort
· 10 = filled to the point of feeling sick
This tool is helpful tool to regulate intake. The goal for best health is to always stay in the middle (5 or 6) of the hunger scale. The only way to know where you’re at with your hunger is to reflect on what number you’re at throughout the day. It is easier to stay in the optimal number range by eating at regular intervals. With time and patience, you will be feeling “just right” about your food portions.
May this walk down memory lane of a popular childhood story with the 3 bears give you the key to achieving your “just right” weight – one meal at a time. Just picture having them as company at each meal (ha!).
Seriously, by knowing when your “mindless margin” is about to set in, you can take action to not just keep eating when you’re not hungry and slowly see the numbers go in the direction you want, even leading you to that dream weight. It can become a reality!