Record keeping is a way to increase your awareness of what you are putting in your mouth. Record what, how much and when you eat for three to seven days. Be honest and measure amounts. Compare what you eat to the serving sizes in Canada's Food Guide to figure out whether you are eating too much. Several food trackers are available on line, including the popular Eating and Activity Tracker (www.eatracker.ca) by Dietitians of Canada. You might also try My Food Guide Servings Tracker on Health Canada's website.
What is the difference? A serving size is a unit of measure based on nutrition needs. A portion size is simply the amount you choose to eat at a sitting.
Canada's Food Guide is the tool to use when you want to know whether or not you are eating the right kinds of foods, and in the right amount. The serving sizes of Canada's Food Guide were developed from scientifically based evidence, called the Dietary Reference Intakes (the DRI's). These nutrient needs are then translated into the foods and serving sizes of the Food Guide. For instance, a six-year-old child requires 600 mg of calcium each day for growth, development and to reduce the risk of chronic disease. One serving of milk and milk products contains approximately 300 mg calcium. To get enough, kids need two servings a day.
Following the Food Guide will help you have a nutritionally adequate diet, and may or may not fill you up. Your goal is to stick closely to the listed serving sizes, especially for grains, fats, nuts, meats, and higher-fat milk products like cheese. Stick to about three servings of fruit a day, and be generous with your helpings of vegetables.
Look at the serving size on a food label, and the number of servings contained in the package. How many servings are in the portions you have been eating? How many servings are you going to eat? The nutrition facts are always based on a single serving. Health Canada requires that the serving size must be a realistic amount. It is shown in a form that people can easily understand, such as cups, chips or pieces. Does your expectation of what you would eat as a portion match the serving size on the package? Most people cannot stop after a one-ounce serving of baked potato chips, which have 120 calories – about 12 chips. A serving size of juice is 125 mL (half a cup). If you drink an entire 500 mL container, you will have four servings of fruit and get 240 calories.
You are not doomed to a life of measuring and weighing food. You just need to get a sense of the right serving size for the foods you eat most often. Use a standard ice cream scoop to serve starchy foods if you need to cut back on those. Train your eye to identify portion sizes, with your hand to guide you.
Remember the plate method – draw a nine-inch circle on a piece of paper or a paper plate. Next, draw a line down the centre. One half of the plate should be for vegetables, one quarter for a starchy food (potatoes, rice, noodles), and one quarter for protein (meat, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, or beans). Stay 'within the lines' of this plate when you serve yourself, and you will automatically control your portions and eat less.
Use smaller plates and bowls and you will automatically eat less. Find cookbooks that give the number of servings and the calorie count for the dishes you cook. Serve food on the plate and keep serving dishes off the table to reduce the chance of having second and third helpings. Freeze extra portions for a busy day instead of cleaning off the serving dish. Beware of eating snack foods in front of the TV. Either stop the habit entirely or measure out serving-size portions of food.
You may be eating perfectly moderate amounts at meals, but your snacks may be way too generous. A snack should have about 200 calories, while a meal runs around 500 to 600 calories. A meal will keep you satisfied for about four hours. A nutritious snack should satisfy for about two hours. Healthy snacks include fruit and 12 almonds, a medium latte, half a cup of edamame, raw vegetables and hummus, or yogurt and fruit.
It is time to realize what huge portions of food contain – loads of fat, sugar and salt. Instead of eating extra food at a restaurant, focus on the people around you. If you are rummaging around the kitchen looking for something to eat, have an apple. Figure out alternatives to your favourite higher-calorie foods. Try biscotti instead of a rich dessert, yogurt instead of ice cream, or a small piece of dark chocolate instead of a whole bar. Snack on edamame instead of peanuts. It might seem that 100 calorie snack packs of cookies, chips and chocolate bars are the answer. However, studies show that we do not stop after one pack, instead thinking, "Oh, it's only 100 calories." You are still eating mostly fat, sugar and salt. Have an apple instead.
For a few days, try sticking closely to the serving sizes suggested by the Food Guide. Pare down portions that exceed recommended servings. Stop eating when you are full. You may find that you love the feeling of feeling satisfied, not stuffed, after a meal.
If you find you are actively gaining weight, you are probably eating too much. Take back some control. Think "I will weigh less tomorrow if I do not eat all of this."
Finally, don't give up! Even little changes here and there can start moving your scale in the right direction.