A lot of people mistakenly believe that they must eat tiny portions to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. But while paying attention to how much we are eating is important, it is only one part of the equation.
Overeating is something to avoid, but healthy eating does not mean restricting ourselves to tiny meals.
“Obviously, if we eat too much, we can gain weight,” says accredited practising dietitian, Gemma Cosgriff. “But it is also possible to eat too little,” she explains. “Without the predictability of regular fuel, our bodies could begin to conserve energy. This may cause our metabolism to slow down, making it harder to lose weight.”
Cosgriff says the goal around achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is to create a slight deficit between the energy we are taking in from our food, and the energy we are burning.
However, the balance and types of foods that we are eating is what matters most.
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What should we be eating?
For optimal health, we should be eating from five different food groups. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) recommends that, in order to meet our nutritional requirements, we eat the recommended number of serves each day. This equates to:
- Vegetables and legumes - it is recommended that we eat at least five serves of vegetables and legumes/beans each day
- Fruit - it is recommended that we eat two serves of fruit each day
- Grains - it is recommended that we eat at least four to six serves of grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or fibre varieties each day
- Lean meats and poultry – it is recommended that you eat at between two to three serves of lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
- Dairy – it is recommended that you eat two to three serves of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat, each day
Of course, the number of serves required may depend upon your age, gender, whether you are pregnant or lactating, and how active you are.
Too much of a good thing
Even though focusing on healthy foods is desirable and always the preferred option, Cosgriff says it is possible to eat too many of the right foods.
“There are some vegetables that are higher in energy than others, such as potato, sweet potato and corn, so eating too many of these will make it harder to create that energy deficit. The same applies to fruit, even though it is rich in nutrients. Basically, too much of anything can mean that we miss out on other important nutrients, and we create an imbalance in our intake. Variety is indeed the spice of life and good health,” she says.
How much should we eat?
While the ADG recommends a certain number of serves, Cosgriff says portion sizes may differ according to hunger levels and individual requirements, hence the ranges presented in the ADG.
She says the best way to work out what portions work for you is to monitor your hunger levels (make sure you slow down your eating to allow your body time to give you the cue that you’re satisfied) and adjust your portions accordingly. She also advises monitoring weight and measurements to help avoid gaining weight.
What does a well-balanced meal look like?
When it comes to working out portion sizes, Cosgriff says the best start is to use visual cues. After all, a balanced plate means a balanced meal.
“When looking at your dinner plate, for example, half of it should be vegetables, a quarter of it a source of protein, and the remaining quarter a source of carbohydrate. Monitoring how you feel after eating will give you an idea of whether you need to adjust the amount of protein or carbs, but you should stick to half of your plate being filled with veggies,” she says.
Overeating is something to avoid, but that doesn’t mean eating tiny meals. Balancing your portions and using vegetables to form the foundation of each meal can help lower your risk of chronic health problems, keep you feeling satisfied, and help you maintain a healthy weight.