Tag Archives: Portion Size

Eat Your Breakfast: No Excuses!

Breakfast is far too important — and delicious! — to skip. Yet around 25% of Americans regularly skip what most nutritionists call the most important meal of the day! Breakfast is vital for providing energy at the beginning of the day, boosting cognitive performance and jumpstarting the metabolism, but also plays a huge role in weight loss and control: a study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that people who regularly skip breakfast are 450% more likely to become obese than those who regularly eat breakfast. In addition, skipping breakfast may lead to unhealthy eating behaviors later in the day: studies have found that breakfast-skippers consume 40% more sweets, 55% more soda, 45% fewer vegetables, and 30% less fruit than breakfast-eaters.

So now matter what situation you’re in — you’re not hungry in the morning, you don’t have time — there’s a breakfast for you. No excuses!

I don’t have enough time.

If time is always an issue in the morning, make sure you have a stash of healthy bars to grab on your way out the door. Look for bars with at least 3 grams of protein and fiber, as well as healthy fats from nuts and seeds, which have been shown to reduce the glycemic index of a meal and stabilize blood sugar. Because most healthy bars clock in around 200 calories, it’s a good idea to supplement the bar with a fiber- and nutrient-rich serving of fruit or a protein-rich latte. Some good options are KIND bars, which have at least 5-7 grams of protein and fiber, Regeneration USA bars, and Zing bars. If you still want a homemade meal, take some time on Sunday to whip up freezable burritos (made with a whole wheat tortilla, eggs, beans, and salsa) or frittatas, and grab one on the way out the door.

I’m not hungry in the morning.

Many adults complain that they have no appetite in the morning; for some, even the thought of breakfast can bring on nausea. Since breakfast literally “breaks your nightly fast,” it’s important to get something into your system. Try a smoothie: since you’re drinking it — not eating it — it may be easier to hold down. Break away from the typical sugar-laden smoothies, though; add ingredients like Greek yogurt for protein, oatmeal for fiber, and ground flaxseed or chia seeds for omega-3 fatty acids. Try these smoothie recipes from Women’s Health Magazine (including “The Hunger Killer,” made with strawberries, mango, flax seed oil, and tofu) and Shape Magazine.

Also, try to start training your body to be hungry in the morning. If you eat dinner late (say, after 8 o’clock), move it up a few hours. If you like to treat yourself to a midnight snack, start scaling back that habit. It’s okay to go to bed a little bit hungry!

I work out in the morning.

Since you need fuel before a workout and muscle-repairing protein after one, it’s best to split breakfast into two parts. Since most of the energy from dinner the night before has already been used up, your blood sugar is likely low. Pick a mini breakfast with carbohydrates, which will top off glycogen (the fuel you use for exercise) stores, as well as some protein or fat, which will both enhance the lasting power of those carbs. Try whole wheat toast with almond or peanut butter, a banana with almond or peanut butter, a small bowl of oatmeal, or Greek yogurt with whole grain cereal. After your workout, pick another mini breakfast with a balance of carbohydrates and protein. Carbs will provide energy, and protein will help repair muscles. Make sure to eat within 30 minutes after your workout; the small window is when protein is maximally absorbed. Some post-workout mini breakfasts: two scrambled eggs on whole wheat toast; Greek yogurt with berries or whole wheat cereal; chocolate milk and whole wheat toast; or a peanut butter sandwich.

I need something to last me until lunch.

For lasting power through lunch, pick protein-rich eggs and high-fiber oatmeal. According to a study from Louisiana State University, the specific proteins found in eggs help keep us full more than other common breakfast foods. In the study, those who ate eggs instead of a breakfast of cereal (with equal amounts of protein) had lower levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and higher levels of PYY, a hormone that boosts satiety. Oatmeal, which is loaded with fiber, provides energy and keeps blood sugar levels stable. Add some nuts as the final punch to your hunger: the monounsaturated fats reduce feelings of hunger and also boast cardioprotective benefits.

I eat breakfast with my kids and don’t want to make two breakfasts.

Don’t settle for sugary kids’ cereal — for you or your children. Many brands pack more sugar than a cookie, says the Environmental Working Group. For a breakfast that takes just as little time to prepare, but is much more nutritious, whip up some wafflewiches: toast a whole grain waffle, smear it with almond butter and sliced apples, and fold. With far less sugar, more fiber and healthy fats, it’s a better breakfast whether you’re headed to elementary school or the corporate office.

I don’t like breakfast foods.

If you’re not a fan of typical breakfast foods — eggs, yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies — but you’re still hungry, just treat breakfast like you would a healthy lunch. It’s not convention to have a turkey sandwich or stir-fry for dinner, but if it works for you, go full speed ahead! Just keep it between 350 and 400 calories of high quality protein and belly-filling fiber, and throw in some nuts, seeds, or avocado for healthy fats.

I want to lose weight.

First, say goodbye to the much-believed but mythical mantra that skipping breakfast will help you lose weight. Members who belong to the National Weight Control Registry, who have successfully kept off 30 or more pounds for over a year, regularly eat breakfast. And because breakfast-eaters are satiated early on in the day, they tend to consume fewer calories throughout the rest of the day. Pick eggs: since they keep you satiated for longer, you’re less likely to binge or snack on high-calorie treats. According to a study published in the Journal of Obesity, participants who ate eggs lost 65% more weight than those who consumed the same number of calories from bagels. Add a slice of whole wheat toast for sticking power, and sip on green tea; compounds in the brew have been shown to rev metabolism.

I love breakfast and my appetite is in full force in the morning!

As long as you stick to a reasonably sized breakfast, you’re in the clear. Even if you love breakfast foods, it’s important to keep portion sizes in check: a study published in Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate large breakfasts — around 600 calories — did not reduce their calorie consumption for the rest of day, leading them to eat around 400 calories more overall than those who ate a small breakfast. Choose a breakfast with around 350-400 calories (or split it into two smaller 200-calorie portions), and make sure it contains protein and fiber.


How To Eat Less: Cut your food into bite-sized portions

Next time you’re at a party with tempting food, steer yourself towards foods that are pre-portioned and already cut up into small, bite-sized pieces.

Research from Arizona State University suggests that humans perceive the amount of food they have in terms of numbers— like 8 pieces of chocolate — as opposed to size, like a chocolate bar. So even if the calories presented in each choice are the same, humans perceive the amount to be greater if the food is portioned into smaller pieces, and thus are more satiated with small pieces rather than one big piece.

In the study, 301 college students were given either a whole, uncut bagel, or a bagel cut into quarters; both portions weighed 82 grams and provided the same amount of calories. Subjects were allowed to eat as much or as little of the bagel as they wanted; twenty minutes later, they ate as much as they wanted of a test meal.

Researchers found that subjects who received the uncut bagel consumed more calories from both the bagel and the lunch than those who received the quartered bagel. According to Devina Wadhera, lead author, “cutting up energy-dense meal foods into smaller pieces may be beneficial to dieters who wish to make their meal more satiating while also maintaining portion control.”

Other animals — rats, specifically — behave the same way. In a similar study, hungry rats were trained to associate one arm of a maze with 30 10-mg food pellets, and another with 1 300-mg pellet. When given free reign to choose which arm they ran to, the rats preferred, and ran faster towards, the arm with the 30 10-mg food pellets.

While the research is still preliminary and experts haven’t commented on the evolutionary significance of these findings, the tendency to perceive food in this way may simply be due to an optical illusion whereby the brain tricks the stomach into believing that it’s getting more food. Says Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “Sometimes being ‘full’ is a mind game. It’s not always just what’s in your stomach.” Perhaps: according to a study from Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, we perceive portions to be bigger if they’re served on smaller plates or on plates with more color contrast between plate and food. Or, the phenomenon may simply be due to the fact that eating more more pieces of smaller food slows us down, allowing a person to stop eating before he is too full.

So, besides cutting up your bagel into fourths, how can you take advantage of this research? Here are some small ways it might add up:

  • Cut your fruit into slices – bananas, apples, kiwi, mango, watermelon – or, in the case of oranges and other citrus fruits, portion them before eating. Berries are already bite-sized, so there’s no need to break them down smaller.
  • Make sure the food you’re cutting into small pieces is all visible: it’s just as important that you consciously see the amount of food you’re getting as it is to eat the food piece by piece. Single-serve potato chips, for instance, are already broken into bite-sized pieces, but if you can’t see your entire portion (because they’re obscured by the bag), your brain might not perceive the actual amount of food you’re eating. The pile of food you’re about to eat serves as a visual cue as to how much food you’re consuming.
  • Instead of taking bites of from a chocolate bar, break off several small pieces. Most bars already come with divisions; instead of eating a row, eat each square independently.
  • Instead of cutting your sandwich in half, cut it into fourths. When it’s just cut into halves, you may feel like you have to finish the second half; with quarters, you can put away the fourth quarter for later. It might seem small, but you could be shaving 200 calories off your lunch!
  • At parties, steer yourself towards already pre-portioned foods, like shrimp cocktail, caprese skewers, sliders, and edamame. Stay away from casseroles and entree-sized meals, like burgers or huge pizza slices. With the smaller appetizers, you’ll also be able to sample more foods.

On another note, you may be able to use the reverse corollary — that if humans perceive full-sized foods to contain fewer calories and are less satiated with them, they will consume more of that food — to your advantage. Keep your vegetables in their full-sized form (a whole carrot vs. carrot sticks; a whole bell pepper vs. bell pepper strips) and you might end up eating more of them!