Own your serving size

Here’s an idea I’m fooling around with for my next newspaper column:

It’s time for Americans to declare their independence from serving sizes.

That doesn’t mean ignoring food labels, nor am I agitating for a massive pigout.

My sister Traci never eats more than three M&Ms at a time. She doesn't even know what an actual serving size is, but she tries to never let herself have more than nine or 12 total.

My sister Traci never eats more than three M&Ms at a time. She doesn’t even know what an actual serving size is, but she tries to never let herself have more than nine or 12 total.

But instead of waiting for the government to save us from ourselves — with rules demanding increasing transparency from marketing gimmicks that pack multiple servings into a single vending-machine snack bag — it’s time to step up and own your serving size.

Take ice cream, for instance. Every carton in the land comes with an FDA label dictating a half-cup serving.

I happen to know, from a great deal of research, that I need twice that much – a full cup – to feel satisfied.

But because I’ve added up the calories in my own personal serving and make room for it in my daily calorie total, there’s no self-deception involved – and no guilt, either.

Here are three tips to help seize control of serving sizes:

1. Start with more to get to less. A double serving size feels decadent, but in many cases it’s actually a calorie savings compared with the amount of food you’d normally eat. Start with that, and then when you feel confident and in control, gradually cut back.

2. Don’t mistake freedom for ignorance: You might feel like you’re defying the serving-size police every time you pour a seemingly random amount of cereal into your bowl, but just about every mug, bowl or ladle comes out to a specific measurement, if you take the time to check.

Once I discovered our bowls hold two cups of cereal, I switched to eating mine out of a dainty glass punch cup. If I fill it to the rim, that’s half a cup. Sometimes that’s enough; sometimes it’s not. But even if I refill my punch cup two more times, I’m still eating less than a cereal bowl. (In  my fat days I often wound up eating two bowls of Raisin Bran. That’s 4 cups – or a startling 760 calories — even before adding the milk!)

3. Label liberation: Instead of allowing food labels to make you miserable, use the information to  make choices that help you feel more in control. If you’re pining for a jelly donut but feel obligated to order the multigrain bagel, you might be relieved to know that at Dunkin Donuts, at least, the donut would save you 80 calories (270 vs. 350). Knowing the numbers can help you get through a weak moment without feeling like you lost control.

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