If there’s one annual tradition I do not cherish, it’s feeling the January pinch – of my jeans that is. But a new thing for me this year is that I’m not responding to this with a fad diet. No cutting carbs or eating only 500 calories 2 days a week. I, like many, have tried a host of different diets over the years and the only one I have found which actually does me any good is this: changing my food practises, not my diet. And the same principle goes for food waste. Changing our food practices is the only way to make a difference in both food waste and weight loss and both start with an important first step:
I want to be clear here, I don’t mean unhealthy, restrictive eating or limiting yourself to 1,200 calories a day but making them all chocolate. It is so important if you are going to diet you do it healthily and that’s what I mean here: healthy portion control, eating the right types of foods in the amounts your body needs, rather than how much you want.
This sounds so simple but it is honestly something most of us struggle with without ever even realising. I distinctly remember watching an episode of Secret Eaters years ago where some poor woman was devastated because all she was eating was salad and yet she couldn’t lose weight. It turns out she was having ‘a portion’ of mayo with each salad which amounted to half a jar of mayo a day – this amassed to over 2,000 calories in mayonnaise alone, a fact she was knock-over-with-a-feather levels of shocked about. Add to that the fact cooking too much leads to food waste and costs you money; learning how to portion correctly is one of the best tips I can give you to reduce the pinch of your jeans, your wallet and the amount of food waste you generate.
So why do we find portion control so difficult?
1. We’ve lost sight of healthy portions
When we have a jacket potato we accept 1 as a healthy portion (maybe 2 if they’re small potatoes). And yet for some reason when we’re cooking mashed or roast potatoes is suddenly seems to make total sense to cook enough for 3 potatoes per person! No wonder we either end up stuffed or throwing food in the bin. But this is often the case in many types of foods. We’re no longer sure of what a healthy portion is so we cook and eat and waste too much. Which brings me on to point number 2…
2. We don’t know how to translate portion sizes
You’re staring at the side of a pasta pack and it says two hundred and something calories per 180g of pasta. Is that cooked or uncooked? Is that the recommended portion for a balanced diet or just general information? And when you’re plating up, how do you know how much that weight looks like on the plate? And this can be the case with other food products which are difficult to measure, rice for example. The best advice I can give you for this to weigh the first portion you serve and then eyeball the others so they look similar for other adults. And be prepared for a shock on how small recommended portions of certain foods are, we are generally way, way overeating. To make up for the loss stuff yourself with extra vegetables.
For child-size portions I would advise checking out this helpful guide: https://www.verywellfamily.com/food-portion-sizes-2633927
3. We show love through food
You may remember a similar discussion I had in a post a year ago. Research from Cornell Food lab suggested that in developed countries a proportion of food waste in family homes comes from a place of love. According to the findings maternal figures in households associated preparing large amounts and varieties of food at meal and snack times with displaying their love and taking care of their dependents. I can completely relate to this, but this is part of changing our mind-sets towards food. Food is love. Food is what keeps our bodies healthy and strong. But overfeeding and over-preparing does the exact opposite. It puts at jeopardy the health of the ones we love and the health of the planet. In the case of children, the health of the planet we will pass on to them. So instead of showing love through cooking and serving too much or unhealthy food, try focusing on correct portion sizes and nutritious foods including plenty of fruits and veg.
A final piece of advice when it comes to portion control: when you restrict your intakes you restrict the opportunities you have to get a good variety and level of all the various vitamins and minerals. That is why it’s so important you diet healthy: swap all your beige foods for vegetable soups, stews and curries. Healthy and, with the correct portion size, still good for weight loss. But also consider the use of multivitamins in alongside this to ensure you aren’t missing out on anything your body really needs. Multivitamins are pretty unnecessary provided you are eating a healthy and balanced diet and getting lots of variety in your food types but can provide a boost if you’re restricting your caloric intake.
That being said, let me finish with this:
You do not need to diet.
You do need a healthy diet.
Something which has really struck home with me since starting my Masters in Nutrition is that I am not fat. You are not fat. Our bodies create fat (or more accurately: adipose tissue) to store excess nutrients and excessive levels of it can be dangerous to our health. This is why portion control is necessary and this is the mind set we need to try and get ourselves in to. Correct portions and diet for health.