Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Portioning Meals & Snacks

When I first decided that I wanted to lose weight, I knew absolutely nothing about being healthy.  I fell for the trap that a lot of consumers fall for when they begin a diet plan.  I started buying foods labeled as “low fat” and “light” thinking that as long as I ate those items, in no matter what quantity, I would lose weight.  Needless to say I did not lose a pound, and I may actually have gained a few!  It turns out that a serving of “light” ice cream has around 110 calories, which is great, except for a serving is defined as only ½ cup.  I don’t know about you, but I can fit a lot more than ½ cup in my ice cream dishes.

After failing in my first attempt at weight loss, I decided I needed to start paying more attention to nutrition labels and serving sizes.  What I discovered was that the serving sizes listed on nutrition labels are much smaller than the serving sizes most people are actually eating.  For example, I thought that with only 120 calories listed on the nutrition label, my “light” granola was a good low calorie breakfast.  Upon further evaluation, I realized that I was pouring one cup of granola into my cereal bowl, and the serving size was listed as only 1/4 cup. At 480+ calories I might as well have been eating a couple of Snickers bars for breakfast.

This granola incident had me looking more closely at my eating habits, and what I found was that I was never really mindful of how much I was eating.  When allowed to dish up my own portions, I always took more than I thought I was taking or than I truly needed.  The sad reality was that I was treating life like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In order to become more mindful of the quantities of food I was eating, I bought a kitchen scale (Cuisinart KS-55 Weight Mate Digital Kitchen Scale). I used that, and a set of measuring cups, to start portioning out my meals.  I also used the same method to start making my own “100 calorie snack packs”. I did not truly count calories for the first year of my weight loss, I just read labels and kept my portion sizes reasonable.  I knew how many calories I should be consuming and I had a good idea as to how many I was actually consuming.  By measuring and portioning I could keep my consumption within a reasonable range.  

One of the areas I found this method to be exceptionally helpful was with snacking.  It is so easy to get out of the reasonable portion range when it comes to snacks.  Can you think of an activity more mindless than sticking your hand in a big bag of chips?  My solution for this was to fill sandwich bags with pre-portioned healthy snacks and put them in places (refrigerator, cupboards, backpack, purse, car) where they would be easily accessible if I needed an afternoon pick-me up.

Here are some ideas for making your own “snack packs”:

-baby carrots (~30 calories/14 carrots)
-air-popped popcorn (~30 calories/cup)
-unfrosted mini-wheats (~95 calories/15 biscuits)
-almonds (~100 calories/14 almonds)
-sugar snap peas (~35 calories/ 2/3 cup)

Feel free to choose any of your favorite snacks for your "snack packs", just remember to read the nutrition labels closely, and always portion accordingly!

For more information on portion control, please read my blog entry "Tricks for Controlling Portion Size".

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