Portion Sizes Matter More Than Calories

portions-vs-caloriesIf you know me, you’ve joined one of my programs or you’ve worked with me one-on-one, you know I never recommend counting calories when you want to lose or maintain weight.

In fact, most women of my generation and the ones before in France, Spain, most of Europe I guess, have always maintained their healthy weight while having no clue how many calories each food contains. They simply watched their portions.

And today I want to share with you why portion sizes matter much more than calories.

First, let’s clarify something. If you are counting calories in your diet and you’re losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, plus you’re happy about your health and energy, then by all means, keep doing what you are doing.

I would be crazy to recommend you change something that works for you. But do read this email, because it takes a different angle that might also serve you.

So, portion sizes matter because of one thing:

Your stomach

Clench your fist and look at it. Yes, do it.

This is the size of your stomach when there’s no food in it.

Rather small, right?

Now obviously, you already deducted a property of the stomach: it can stretch!

It can stretch to accommodate a salad bowl and an apple, but it can also stretch to accommodate a Thanksgiving dinner…

Do it.

Imagine a big plate of food, dessert and appetizer, and try to squeeze this into your fist. See how your stomach becomes bigger?

And once your stomach gets used to being stretched to a certain size, it gets used to it and expects it at every meal.

Now the issue is this one: if you eat more than what your body needs, your stomach will accommodate, it will expect this amount of food at every meal, and so you’ll eat more and more food.

And…yes, you’ll gain weight!

Bottom line: if you don’t want to gain weight, don’t play the yoyo with the size of your stomach.

Note: I’m making the assumption all along that we are eating healthy whole foods, not processed foods, greasy fries, donuts, ice cream and low-fat “health” foods. Otherwise the body will keep asking for food because he lacks nutrients, but this has nothing to do with stomach size or portions (there are 2 different signaling processes for the brain).

How much to eat

A rough guideline that has proven to work over and over through centuries (I got it from ancient Indian and Chinese medicine books, but also in Western traditional books) is to eat two fist sizes at each meal.

That means concentrated food with low water content. Not 2 fists of lettuce, of course! It’s like, two fist of lentils or starchy vegetables or chicken or rice, with good fats…you get the idea. Then, you can add any amount of greens, salad, non-starchy vegetables and fruit.

I could repeat that until I’m all blue in the face (but that would probably not be a pretty sight): making sure portion sizes are appropriate for you is the #1 action to take when you want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

I have seen this over and over with SO many people, including…myself. If I put more than the two fist size portion on my plate, over and over, I ultimately gain weight. When I go back to two fist size portions, I lose the weight.

And on the contrary, eating like a bird will make your stomach shrink but you won’t get enough of the nutrients that your body needs.

That’s why the two fist size rule is a good guideline.

Another way to say it is: “eat until you’re 80% full”. That’s a rule from Japan and it also works pretty well.

So, next time you’re thinking about calories, remember that portion sizes matter more.
(again we’re talking about healthy whole foods here).

This is #4 of these nutrition and weight loss series. Here are the other articles:
#1 – When Coffee Makes You Gain Weight (or Have High Blood Pressure)
#2 – Your scale is lying to you
#3 – Busy Woman Syndrome

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