The Australian Dietary Guidelines tell us that it’s ok to include a few treat foods in our diet, as long as we don’t go overboard.
I spoke to Amanda Clarke, renowned dietitian and author of the portion control guides ‘Portion Perfection’ and ‘Portion Perfection for Bariatrics’, to find out her tips for achieving portion control, especially when it comes to treat foods.
1. In your experience as an Accredited Practising Dietitian, what are some of the key challenges people have with portion control and how does this affect their health?
The main problem I see is the influence of “common” portion sizes influencing our perception of “correct” portion size. We have a finite need for energy in our day to day life, so while there may be infinite possibilities around what we have to eat, there is a finite answer around how much is right to eat to make up for the energy burned. One major challenge is being able to leave food on the plate. A café can’t take responsibility for providing each person with the correct energy amount for their needs, so that’s where the individual needs to determine what is right. Getting to know about how much is likely to be right AND tuning in to signals of hunger and satisfaction can help individuals get the quantity right. Instead we may find ourselves eating mindlessly until the plate is empty – so the small, inactive woman at table 6 ends up eating the same amount as her tall solid male lunch date.
2. You have developed some invaluable resources to assist with portion control which we also make available to our clients. Can you tell us a bit about your Portion Perfection products and what inspired you to develop them?
My inspiration for developing the Portion Perfection tools came from my patients. Discussions surrounded only having had “a little bit of this and that” led me to using multiple tools to try and figure out whether their perception of a little bit was the same as mine. I started taking photos of my own meals to use as discussion points and found that many who had assured me they were serving small portions were surprised at what I had really been meaning – and then we started making progress.
I think portion control and the division of foods into everyday and occasional foods can really improve the health of individuals. Avoiding the sense of restriction and opening up the range of options avoids feelings of deprivation and self judgement. I’ve had many customers contact me after using Portion Perfection to thank me for including alcohol and chocolate into the guide because they’re usually not talked about by dietitians except to say they’re best avoided. Avoiding the discussion means that individual has no guidance on how to incorporate the food in a healthy way.
3. What are your top 3 tips for exercising portion control?
* Consider the plate model. Fill 1/4 of your plate with protein, 1/4 with carbohydrate and 1/2 with salad or vegetables plus a small amount of oil / dressing / sauce at main meals.
* Buy “occasional” foods in single serve packages wherever possible. E.g. If cake is really what you feel like, buy a small serve at a café and enjoy it, rather than buying a full cake and taking it home.
* Eat consciously – turn your mind to the experience of eating. Before anything goes in your mouth, consider the presentation of the food you’re about to eat, along with the quantity and how that matches your appetite, check the variety within the meal and smell the food. Then with each mouthful, notice the temperature, put a word to the texture and recognise the flavours. This way you will feel satisfied on a smaller quantity of food.
4. Finally, how can an Accredited Practising Dietitian assist people with portion control problems?
Dietitians know food – where to buy it, how to prepare it, what it can do for you and how much is right for you.
Amanda Clarke is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian with 25 years experience. She runs her own successful practice located on the Gold Coast called Great Ideas in Nutrition. She is also the creator of the internationally renowned diet plan ‘Portion Perfection’ designed for men, women and children, and a related tool for men and women who are owners of gastric bands or sleeves. In 2006, Amanda received the prestigious Dietitian’s Association of Australia’s President’s Award for Innovation.