Americans are eating more than ever. A 2004 New York Times article published a 30-year study on American eating habits from 1970 to 2000. In 1971 a woman’s average calorie intake was 1,542 and a man’s average calorie intake was 2,450, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By 2000, that average had grown by 22 percent for women to 1,877 calories and 7 percent for men to 2,618. A majority of the increase in calories was due to greater consumption of carbohydrates, particularly sugars and processed foods. We live in a time where food is easier to get and consume any time of year and 24/7.
Less is More
Yet research shows that eating less is actually better for our health and our longevity. According to a small clinical trial published in March of 2018, people who reduced their caloric intake by just 15 percent over two years experienced a significant decrease in their metabolism. These folks also saw improvements in bio-markers associated with slower aging and longer life span, said lead researcher Leanne Redman, associate professor of clinical sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research in Baton Rouge, La.
Specifically, they developed a lower core body temperature, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and significant drops in hormones that moderate metabolism. “We know these things are lower in people who live longer lives,” Redman said. Additionally, the group lost about 20 pounds on average, mostly in the first year, even though half entered the study at normal weight and the rest were only modestly overweight, according to Redman.
These research results correlate with 5,000 years of Ayurvedic wisdom. In Ayurveda, we are taught that we should only eat to 75% full, never 100%. Digestion works best when we fill our stomachs with 1/3 food, 1/3 water and 1/3 air. Like a washing machine or a dryer, if you overfill the stomach, it won’t properly churn and digest the food.
Food that is improperly digested doesn’t break down enough for the nutrients to be assimilated into the body. As a result, there is a tendency to crave more food in an effort to satisfy the body’s needs, but more food only makes the situation worse. On the flip side, the right amount of food supports proper digestion and energy levels, as well as satisfying the body’s nutritional needs (if quality is good).
Calculating the Right Portion for You
There are a couple of ways to determine how much is too much. One way is to cup both hands together, fill them with an uncooked grain, and pour the grain into a measuring cup. That represents the maximum amount of food you should eat at any one meal. For more easy measurement tools like this, download this awesome chart by Color You Healthy. You can also pay close attention to your body while eating; when you experience your first burp, your body is telling you that you are done.HO-SmartSizePortions
For steady weight loss and maintenance, I like to follow the Cooler Plan #2 of Tosca Reno’s “The Eat-Clean Diet.” Loosely, the daily plan recommends:
– 6 portions complex carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables
– 2-4 portions complex carbohydrates from whole grains and starchy carbohydrates
– 5-6 portions of lean protein
– 2-3 liters of fresh water with no sodium
– Clean sweeteners in moderation
– Healthy fats in moderation
– Avoid juice, commercial salad dressings or sauces, and fried, refined and processed foods.
In addition, Ayurveda provides guidelines that vary by dosha. For example, Vatas tend to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Pittas eat three moderate-sized meals each day. Kaphas can get by on two or even one meal daily. No meal should ever be more than what fits in two cupped hands.
While there are all kinds of tricks, like using smaller plates so you don’t feel so deprived, it’s best to keep it simple. For most people, this means using your hand signals to gauge portion size and eating enough vegetables and protein throughout the day. Don’t over-think it; just start small and see how you feel.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at info@positivelyayurvedic.