What we choose to eat and drink has a big impact on our weight and waistline. But how much we eat and drink can have an even bigger effect.

Diabetes Victoria’s dietitian, Tim McMaster, knows that this can help to achieve a healthy weight and lifestyle. Here, he shares his best tips on how to manage portion sizes.

 Avoiding portion distortion

‘Portion distortion’ or ‘portion creep’ are two terms which we discuss quite often when we talk about our nation’s weight and waist gain. Portion distortion or portion creep refers to how we perceive the sizes of our food portions, compared to what they were like in the past. What we think of as ‘normal’ size today may very well have been thought of as a large serving in the past.

One big factor in this portion effect is the size of our plate. Next time you grab a dinner plate, use a ruler or measuring tape to see how wide your plate is. If it is wider then 25cm (10 inches), then your plate is probably too wide.

A wider plate means you can fit more food on your plate then what you actually need to eat. Compared to your grandma’s dinner set, most dinner plates and bowls today are made far too large. Choosing a smaller plate and/or bowl makes it easier to avoid serving up (and then eating) too much food.

The same issue with over-sized portions happens when we eat out. We are commonly offered the same product in a range of sizes, thinking we are getting better value for money with a larger size.

Take an unnamed fast food ‘restaurant’. When they first opened up their doors, they offered just one size of fries. Today, that same size is offered as the ‘small’ serving size providing (900 kilojoules (kJ)). Plus its menu offers two more sizes: medium (1250kJ) and large (1600kJ) which is nearly twice the amount of the original ‘small’.

What are the perfect plate portions?

Get the balance right when plating up meals at home with these simple rules:

  • Fill half of your plate with vegetables (think variety and colour).
  • Fill another ¼ of your plate with good-quality low GI carbohydrates: such as sweet potato, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, pearl couscous, quinoa or wholegrain bread.
  • Fill the last ¼ of your plate with lean protein, like lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs or legumes.

Include some of the healthy fats in your meals, such as adding nuts into stir fry’s and salads, avocado into salads or on toast, or using extra virgin olive oil in cooking and as a salad dressing.

How to improve your portion sizes?

  • Downsize your plates and bowls at home: If your plate is more than 25cm wide, then it is too big. Too big of a plate, means too much food served and eaten.
  • Be portion savvy: Do not buy bigger servings of foods in the supermarket (unless it’s fruit and vegetables). If you cannot resist the price, then divide the contents up into smaller portions. For example, portion nuts into a small plastic container or a small zip lock bag and take to work as a healthy and easy snack.
  • Say no to upsizing: When getting takeaway, resist the temptation to buy the larger meal options. When dining out, choose an entrée sized meal instead of the main size. Most restaurants will do this for you if you ask. Limit yourself to just 2 courses, instead of 3.
  • Eat mindfully: Focus on what you are eating and enjoy all those amazing flavours and textures.
    • Slow down and chew each mouthful at least 20 times, put down your knife and fork and sip on a glass of water in between mouthfuls.
    • Start up a conversation with family and friends and do not eat whilst being distracted, such as in front of the TV or on your phone/laptop.
    • Serve yourself a smaller portion and instead of going back for seconds immediately, wait at least 10-15 minutes. You might surprise yourself and not actually be hungry by then. It can take up to 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain to say that you’re actually full and don’t need that second helping.

Make sure you choose to an accredited practising dietitian as your go-to for nutritional information.

Written by Tim McMaster, accredited practising dietitian (APD)
This blog first appeared on the Diabetes Victoria website

Take the health check