We hear it all the time, from the diet ads on television to the lectures from our doctors and dietitians. What matters is not only what you eat, but also how much you eat. But how can you control your portions? Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with food? How can you make sure you are full, but not stuffed? Can you keep your blood sugars under control? The answer to all these questions is yes!
Here are some practical steps to taking control of your portions, starting now! As the holidays continue (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day), you want to start your positive and effective changes as soon as possible to form healthy habits that will keep weight gain and poor blood sugar control at bay.
· Talk to your doctor about possible medications that can help. Two years into my diagnosis, I learned that some medical professionals believe that people with type 1 diabetes lack not only insulin, but also a hormone called amylin, which helps control hunger. Taking a supplemental hormone like Symlin can help.
· Baking and consuming desserts can be enjoyed with proper preparation. Nothing relieved my stress (and my cravings) during college final exams more than whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. By using smaller bakeware, my carbs and calories are more controlled. For example, instead of baking brownies in a traditional pan, which makes it easy to cut larger-than-allowed pieces, I bake my brownies in muffin tins. Mini-loaf pans are wonderful for banana bread and other homemade breads.
· Store leftover food in individual portions in your refrigerator or freezer. Label each container with the name of the food, the total carbohydrate count, and the date the food was made. By being organized and recording information, you are less likely to inaccurately count carbohydrates. Individual containers promote portion control. Additionally, leftovers are convenient and most likely healthier than ordering a pizza.
· Use containers and plates that fit the food. If you use containers that are too large for your portion, you will feel deprived when you see the seemingly small amount of food in the large container. I tend to eat my dinner on salad plates because traditional dinner plates hold more food than my meal plan allows. Some stores sell divider plates that feature three slots. The first slot takes up half the plate, and I fill this with vegetables. The second and third slots are each one-fourth the size of the plate. I fill one with lean protein and the other with my carbohydrates, like whole wheat bread, baked potato, or fruit.
· Store your favorite (occasional) foods out of sight. Foods that I can enjoy occasionally, like cookies, are stored in the freezer in my garage. This way, every time I open the freezer inside my kitchen, I do not see the food I am tempted by. Furthermore, having to make the effort to put on my shoes and step through two doors to retrieve the occasional food gives me a few extra seconds to think about what I am about to eat and decide whether it’s the best choice given my current blood sugar and what I have already had to eat that day. My dietitian recently shared at a diabetes conference that storing occasional foods in one’s basement might be helpful. Occasional foods, though out of sight, aren’t always out of mind, but at least they are out of the way!
· Store healthy (frequent) foods in sight. I put bananas in a bowl on my counter, grapes and cherry tomatoes at the very front of the refrigerator shelves, and whole wheat cereals at eye level in my pantry. Take some time to reorganize your kitchen, including your refrigerator and pantry, and be sure to toss any foods that aren’t in your meal plan or cause you to continually stumble.
· Make a list and stick to it at the grocery store. I buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time, and I make sure to buy many of my groceries in the produce department. I limit myself to buying only what is on my grocery list (which is created from my weekly meal plan, which I plot before going to the store). I also make sure that I grocery shop after a meal, not before, so that I’m less likely to feel hungry and purchase foods that are not healthy for me. This helps with future food control.
· Stay hydrated. My choice beverages are water and unsweetened decaffinated tea. They keep me full and well hydrated throughout the day. Soda and caffeinated coffees and teas will dehydrate you and falsely make you believe you are hungry. You will then eat when really, all you need is hydration.
· Portion your own foods. Purchasing 100-calorie packs or pre-cut vegetables can be a financial strain because usually they contain less food for a higher cost. To save money, purchase items like healthy crackers or produce in bulk, and then take one night each week to portion out these foods into containers and bags. Not only are the bags and containers convenient and less expensive than pre-portioned foods, but you also teach yourself what a proper portion size should be.
· Get everyone to join in. Good nutrition and portion control is important for everyone, not just people with diabetes. If you have other people in your household, talk to them about how important their role is in keeping you healthy. You can create a sense of teamwork by preparing and cleaning up after meals together, cooking healthy foods that everyone enjoys, and grocery shopping as a family.
· Serve and dine smartly. Ever notice how you always consume too many chips at the Mexican restaurant or one breadstick too many at the Italian eatery? When food is in front of you, you are more likely to eat it (even just a nibble “here and there”), which results in poor blood sugar control and weight gain. When at a restaurant, ask the waiter not to bring the unhealthy extras to your table. When cooking at home, serve your family meals from the stove, not from the table, where everyone is more likely to lose control of portion sizes.
· Most importantly, learn what accurate portions are. Schedule an appointment with your dietitian, and learn to read nutrition labels. Doing so can have a tremendous, positive impact on your diabetes and your waistline! Utilize online or printed carbohydrate counting literature when you are preparing meals at home or enjoying a meal out. These resources often outline both portion sizes and nutritional information.