This is one issue that confuses many people. We are often told that we are eating too much but who decides what is ‘too much’ and how?
We are constantly being told to eat more fruit and vegetables and less fats, salt and sugar but the question for many of us is what is a healthy ‘portion size’.
It is all too easy to eat more than you should: many people often underestimate the amount of calories consumed and overestimate the amount of calories burned off. It can come as quite a shock when you realise just how much exercise you need to do to burn off a chocolate bar or a piece of cake!
If you lead an active lifestyle then listen to your body, in particular your appetite. Athletes and sportspeople have higher energy requirements than non-active people which often leads to an increased appetite. It is not uncommon for people who are new to exercise to find that their appetite increases in proportion with the amount of exercise that they do.
They find that they are hungrier more often and consume larger portions of food than before. This is fine as long you continue to exercise but if you suddenly decrease your exercise levels or stop altogether then weight will go on.
People who do engage in sports and physical activity often think that they can eat as much as they like as they will ‘burn it off’ but this is not always the case. It still comes down to energy balance: if you consume more calories than you expend then you will gain weight. Conversely, if you burn off more calories than you consume then you will lose weight.
This applies however much exercise you do.
If you wish to know more about this then visit our Sports Nutrition section.
Portion sizes vary between individuals. Men tend to have larger appetites than women; younger people often eat more than older people and active people eat more than non-active people.
If you have a manual occupation or are physically active at work then you will require larger portions than someone who sits at a desk all day.
Much of this depends on your weight. If you are a healthy weight or have a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25 then you can be guided by your appetite.
Basically, if you feel hungry then eat something; if you don’t then don’t bother. If you are a healthy weight then you are probably aware of how much food you need and when you have had enough.
There will be times when you eat more than usual, at special occasions such as weddings but these are usually one-off events and are unlikely to cause any problems.
The one exception to this is Christmas when so many of us overindulge in food and alcohol. We eat larger portions than normal, drink more than we should and snack on chocolates, mince pies and other high fat foods. If this is combined with a period of inactivity, for example, the post-Xmas dinner slump in front of the television then it will result in weight gain.
Hence the sudden increase in gym memberships at health and fitness centres in the UK. This usually happens at the start of January as part of people’s New Year’s resolutions. These typically include a diet and exercise regime which means smaller portions of food accompanied by a stringent exercise regime.
The amount of food we eat can determine our weight and BMI. Portion control can be the key to maintaining a healthy weight but what constitutes an ‘ideal portion?’