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Portion Sizes

Trying to eat healthily can sometimes be seen as a chore... I get it. However, what's more of a chore is getting ourselves into bad habits that become hard to change later in life. I always think of the foods we've eaten in our family growing up and although we tend to have dessert regularly or sweet treats throughout the week, we also have learnt to realise the importance of eating healthier options too - this is something that I think is really important to teach children. They follow in our footsteps sometimes more than we realise; fussy adults can create fussy children, and although being a picky eater may not be a problem in all cases, it can sometimes lead to poor eatings habits or an unhealthy relationship with food.

I know that when it comes to tracking food (see my recent blog post here) it can seem more hassle than its worth for some people, however when wanting to get on top of our habits, lose some weight or build some muscle for example, food tracking can come in really handy. It is for this reason that it's also important to understand portion sizes. I've heard so many times "...but I eat a really healthy diet, I don't understand why I'm not losing weight!" - sure, you may eat a very healthy diet but if your portions are mismatched and you're eating more calories than your body needs, then of course you won't be able to lose weight.

I'm culprit of pouring a bowl of cereal that is sometimes nearly double that of the actual portion suggestion - this in turn becomes added calories. It's easy to do, and most of the time we probably don't think about what an actual portion may look like. I'm not saying that for now until eternity you have to weigh out every single piece of food that you want to eat, but instead just to spend a few days looking at portion sizes for the foods that you regularly eat to get a better idea of whether we are over-eating, or in some case under-eating! Below I've included some common cereals; on the left is the portion size I would naturally pour out for myself, whilst on the right is the actual portion size that we should consume in one sitting.

I've also included some photos below of other suggested portion sizes - obviously things such as pasta haven't yet been cooked, and the milk hasn't yet been added to the cereal, so that's another thing to consider when talking about portion size and counting calories. Each separate food counts as one portion; (more information can be found on the NHS website.)

Top left photo, clockwise; small handful of nuts, small handful of sultanas, 3 dried apricots; 7 cherry tomatoes, large handful of rocket, 1 medium onion, 2 florets of broccoli, 3 heaped tablespoons of carrots (approximately 2 carrots), 5cm of cucumber; one small glass of milk, 1 medium-large egg, 150ml of yoghurt, cheese chunk the size of a small matchbox; two handfuls of pasts, two potatoes the size of an egg, handful of rice, two small handfuls of couscous; 1 medium banana, 2 satsumas, handful of grapes, 1 medium-large apple; 30g popcorn, 1 small snack bar, 1 biscuit.

It's important to understand that the above photos aren't just one days worth of food - you wouldn't be able to have pasta, potatoes, rice and couscous in one sitting (nor would it taste great together!) Try putting together your usual meal plan, and measure out some of the above portions, or use the NHS website to search for options that I haven't included above. Be mindful that sometimes our plate sizes can affect our portion sizes. This sometimes is the reason that we end up eating more than we need to! When eating out, portions can often be quite huge! Having a starter, main and dessert in one sitting can sometimes total up almost all of our given calories for the day. As an occasional thing, I wouldn't say this is a bad thing, but when done on a regular basis we may end up eating excess calories without realising. Depending on your goal and activity levels, some excess calories aren't going to be a problem, but you should be mindful when doing so.

I hope that this post has provided some clarity around portion sizes; it is not necessary to weight out all foods at all times of the day, but instead take a week or two to measure out portion sizes to better understand what we are consuming on a daily basis. As mentioned we can sometimes over-eat, and other time under-eat; typically we might find ourselves over-eating crisps, or chocolate and under-eating fruit and vegetable portions therefore meaning that we do not consume the full amount of nutrients that we may need. Having a healthy relationship with food can help with both physical and mental health; it's important to teach good habits from a young age and to understand the benefits of a balanced lifestyle!

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