What is portion control? Simply put, it’s the idea that predetermining a certain amount of food will keep you healthy, make food more digestible, and help you control your weight.
There are many generally accepted ways by which we are taught to control our portions. If you’ve ever been on a diet of any kind, you’ve likely learned several methods and even had the opportunity to purchase portion control plates, apps, and other tools meant to keep you on the right track.
Depending on where you live in the world, portion control may favor certain foods over others. Regardless of which foods your culture pushes most, these are the general tenants of portion control you’ve most likely been exposed to at one time or another:
- Use smaller dishes
- Utilize your plate as a portion control guide
- Use your hand as a serving guide
- Start every meal with a glass of water
There are several others, but these rules are so pervasive we can assume you’ve heard at least one or two of them, thus making this a good place to begin our discussion. So, what is portion control and what is it training our bodies and minds to do?
What is Portion Control Teaching Us?
The idea of portion control inherently encompasses two main ideas. First, there are some foods you should eat in higher volumes than others. Second, there is a correct weight for the food you eat.
Logically, this framework also suggests there are some foods you should eat in lower volumes, and there are incorrect weights of food, which you should avoid.
The problem with this mindset is it’s restrictive, and it can lead people to avoid some foods their bodies are asking for while eating an excess of food they don’t genuinely want. For example, some low carbohydrate diets restrict fruit, thus “allowing” for only tiny portions of this nutritious offering. Other diets tout large amounts of vegetables while cutting out fats altogether. In both cases, we have people who are avoiding foods they may need while eating foods in large amounts they may not want.
That being said, it’s true that eating whole foods provides our bodies with the fuel they need to function properly. Also true is that eating an excess of sugary candies and processed food and beverages can cause damage to our bodies. Even so, focusing on portion control alone leads to a scarcity mindset in some and a perfectionist mindset in others–both of which cut us off from being able to listen to our bodies’ natural signals.
What is Portion Size?
According to the current and popular paradigm of portion control in the diet industry, people eat more food when they serve themselves–or are given–more food, as opposed to eating what their bodies need. In one clinical trial, participants were unknowingly given soup to eat from self-refilling soup bowls. The results showed that the participants eating from these bowls ate more soup than those eating from standard soup bowls.
Researchers who study portion control in this way conclude that people who control their portions will ultimately control the amount of food they eat which will, in turn, help them lose weight. At its core, the driving idea here is that when people eat less food, they will naturally lose weight. However, this isn’t always the case.
Furthermore, portion control tools–such as plates, cups, etc.–are created with the assumption that some foods are to be eaten more than others. These tools, however, are predicated on food pyramids and other charts and graphs that are financed by industries benefiting from the money we spend on the foods we eat.
The theories behind portion sizes are not based solely on our bodies’ most basic nourishment needs. What we need to be healthy, lose weight quickly, and permanently change our relationship to food is much easier than all this. We don’t need a loud chorus of outside voices telling us what to eat and when. What we need is freedom.
Freedom From Portion Control Diets
Rather than using a tool outside of yourself to instruct you about what to eat and drink, you can rely on your body to tell you what it needs, when, and how much.
When you train yourself to listen to your body, you will quickly find that you already possess everything you need to purposefully and adequately fuel yourself. You can train yourself to eat healthy foods to satiation, which means you’ll know when you no longer need to take another bite without a plate or anyone else giving you that information. It also means you will be able to walk by a table of sugary sweets and instinctively not have the cravings you used to.
Training our bodies begins with listening. We can learn to eat when our bodies are hungry rather than eating because the clock tells us it’s time to eat.
For example, I had one client who learned to eat six times a day from an early age. She ate a meal around 8 am, followed by a snack an hour later. Then, she ate at noon and reached for a snack one hour later. Next, she had a meal at 5 pm and a snack before bed.
When she shared her routine with me, I asked her, “Were you hungry when you ate at 8 am, noon, and 5 pm?” She responded, “I don’t know.” Her response highlighted the disconnection she had already established from her body. She was eating because she relied on the clock to signal her, not her own body.
When we rely on clocks, generally accepted frameworks, and portion control diets, we learn that eating is a function of the will instead of a function of the body. We mustn’t eat because it’s time–we can, rather, eat when our body asks us to eat.
We mustn’t adhere to a predetermined portion when our body communicates hunger–we can, instead, serve ourselves according to our body’s needs. Then, we can stop when we sense our body has reached a point of satiety.
We find freedom from restrictive practices when we remember and accept that our bodies are naturally wired to sustain a healthy balance. Babies, for example, drink their mother’s milk until they have had enough. We do not withhold nutrients from a baby–telling it to stop eating–because we instinctively trust the ability of the baby’s body to speak clearly to the child. We are born with this instinct.
The only correct portion control is the amount your body needs to keep you feeling satisfied and fueled with the ability to maintain healthy homeostasis. Keep whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins on hand, and listen for your body to tell you what it needs and when.
Need help learning how to listen to your body and easily shed weight without restrictive diets? Let’s chat.
Leslie Chen helps people learn how to stop emotional eating forever without restrictive diets. Her Lean Instinct Formula™ teaches you how to wake up skinny without deprivation and feel liberated and calm in front of a table full of sweets. Book a 1:1 session.
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