the secret to portion control

Revealed: The Secret to Portion Control 

The secret to portion control is not what you think. As a non-diet dietitian, I’m not here to tell you how many chips to eat in one serving or what time you should eat your last meal of the day. Although I can offer suggestions in these areas, my ultimate goal is to help guide you back to your internal cues around hunger, fullness, and satisfaction – key components of body awareness! 

Internal Vs. External Cues Driving Eating Behavior

Like any relationship, we want our relationship with food to contain an element of trust. Unfortunately, dieting breaks that trust by having us rely on external factors to drive food choices. 

Examples of external factors driving eating behaviors:

  • Not eating after 6 pm even though you are hungry
  • Waiting to eat lunch at noon, even though you were hungry at 11 am, because it’s a more “acceptable” time for lunch. 
  • Restricting carbohydrates because you heard it helped a friend lose weight 

Part of intuitive eating is returning to internal cues driving food choices. These include feeling hunger and fullness cues, awareness of emotions, and honoring taste preferences. 

Examples of internal factors driving eating behaviors: 

  • Eating a snack at 3 pm because you notice a slight headache and dinner won’t be until later 
  • Eating lunch at 11:32 am because you were hungry
  • Making hot soup on a cold, rainy day because it sounds comforting 
  • Finishing your plate because it’s the amount of food it took to feel full and satisfied
  • Eating half your plate because it’s the amount of food it took to feel full and satisfied

Eating in accordance with internal factors versus external ones promotes greater satisfaction at meal and snack times.

Reconnect With the Intuitive Eater Inside You 

Perhaps years of dieting conditioned you to think that your internal cues could not be trusted. It’s time to re-write this belief and reconnect with the intuitive eater that is already within you. We are all born intuitive eaters!

Think about a baby. When a baby is hungry, it will cry until fed. When a baby is no longer hungry, it will turn his or her head in a signal to stop feeding. We are all born aware of physical sensations that monitor hunger and fullness. However, somewhere along the way, external conditioning made it difficult to connect with these cues. 

Even innocent comments like “finish your plate before you can be excused” can obscure one’s body autonomy. Does anyone else feel like they grew up as a part of the clean plate club? Acknowledging the external conditioning that we’ve been exposed to is one of the first steps towards making a change. Awareness brings light to what has been hidden in the dark. 

The Secret to Portion Control

Now that you’re more aware of internal versus external factors driving eating behaviors, here are some tips to pay attention to this in your own life and feel greater satisfaction from food. 

1. Monitor hunger and fullness cues.

This resource helps you identify patterns between hunger, time of day, and food choices. It also helps you determine the range at which eating feels comfortable and pleasant. There is no right or wrong–it’s all about discovering what’s best for you!

Hunger Fullness Discovery Scale

  • Tune into physical sensations of hunger and fullness before and after you eat. 
  • Rate sensations on the scale of 0-10. 
  • Make notes of additional ways you feel hunger and fullness presenting itself to you. 
  • Remember, there’s no right or wrong, approach this from a place of curiosity and discovery! 
  • The purpose is to explore what comfortable fullness and hunger feel like to you.

2. Practice mindful eating.

Are you a mindful or distracted eater? Characteristics of distracted eating include eating while watching TV, scrolling through social media, or any type of multi-tasking with eating. The problem with distracted eating is that our attention is pulled elsewhere, and it’s difficult to interpret our fullness cues. 

One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition illustrated the influence of distracted eating on satisfaction. When comparing two groups of eaters, distracted versus non-distracted eaters, the distracted eaters were more likely to: 

  • Eat faster 
  • Feel less full
  • Eat more snacks 
  • Unable to recall what they ate

To practice mindful eating, take a few deep breaths before eating to set the intention of slowing down. Pay attention to the first bite, a middle bite, and the last bite of food. Notice the taste, texture, and temperature of the food. Savor each bite! 

3. Add nutrient-dense food choices.

Are you filling up on “air” food? Sometimes, when my clients report feeling hungry all the time, we discover that it’s due to a lack of nutrient-dense food choices. They try to push off hunger with “air” foods like popcorn, low-calorie, snacks, or even coffee in place of food. Although they are eating continuously, they don’t actually feel satisfied with these foods. Add protein, quality fats, whole grains, and fiber to feel fuller and more satisfied with food. 

I’d love to hear from you! What’s your key takeaway from this article? If you’re looking for individualized support with making peace with food and feeling confident in your skin, schedule a 30-Minute Everglow Discovery Call with me where we can determine how the non-diet approach can assist you.

If you liked this article, you might also like reading:

  1. Honor Your Hunger 
  2. Feel Your Fullness

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