By Rose McAvoy
Standard disclaimer: I am not a health professional. Nothing on this site is ever intended to replace the advice of a doctor, nutritionist, or other certified and licensed professional. Our Lady of Second Helpings strongly suggests seeking the guidance of a professional before beginning a new health plan.
I love answering questions! A few weeks ago I got a lovely note from a new reader eager to make healthy eating a priority in the new year. I could tell from the tone of her writing that she is really motivated and I am confident that she is off to a great start. In her note she asked a question that touches on one of my favorite topics. I wrote what I hope was a helpful reply and after thinking on the subject a bit more I want to share some of those thoughts with you.
Could you please tell me the serving size for oatmeal? I read where you had experiments with it but I did not get what you finally decided was the right portion…
*portions of the original message have been removed for the sake of brevity and to protect the authors privacy.
Can you guess what it is about this question that tickles my fancy? I’ll tell you. When it comes to portion size – there is no single answer.
I can tell you that the standard serving size for plain oatmeal is 1/2 cup of dry (uncooked) oats. However when it comes to the amount any person “should” consume, well, that, as they say, is a horse of an entirely different color.
To illustrate my point let’s look at a non-edible item – fabric. If you walk into a fabric store (in the U.S.) it is safe to assume all the bolts (fabric) will be priced by the yard, but, stores do not require customers to make their purchases in full yards. If you are making a pair of kaki shorts for a child you may only need 3/4 of a yard of material. On the other hand, a bustled and tufted Elizabethan gown could require a dozen or more. Additionally the child who will be wearing those shorts this summer will need a new larger pair next year which may require a full yard to make the exact same style. Just as different sewing projects have different yardages so too different meals will have differing portion sizes.
Does that make sense? Hopefully.
But I know what you are thinking – “Seriously, how much do I eat?”
To determine the volume of food appropriate for your height, activity level, and weight goal, you will need to do a little math, or at least, plug some numbers into a calculator. The USDA MyPlate website led me to their online nutrition and weight management program. For a program run by bureaucrats it looks pretty user friendly. You can begin using Super Tracker (OK, the name is a little goofy) by creating a profile. Once you have plugged in a few personal details (no registry required) the site will generate a calorie per day number.
(There are numerous on-line daily calorie calculators. I chose to make an example of the USDA site because it appears easy to use and is freely accessible to anyone with a computer. In my case I joined Weight Watchers whose program assigns a point value to all foods. Similar to the calorie calculators Weight Watchers uses an algorithm to determine each members daily point allotment.)
Once you have your personalized number think of it as a budget that is yours to allocate as you wish. Only you can say which times of day you are more hungry and when you like to eat lighter. The USDA site and countless others can provide sample daily menus but it is up to you do choose the volume of food you eat and when you eat it. Often you will see menus that suggest eating breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and a final snack. Personally I might skip a morning snack in favor of two in the afternoon or only have one snack in a day and eat larger meals. I also like to call that after-dinner snack dessert.
Please, think about your daily budget as an estimate. As you get used to the normal rhythm of you body it will tell you when it needs more or less to eat. A published serving size is simply a way to gauge what your individual portion should be – more, less, or none at all.
This is your journey, the way you travel is up to you but don’t hesitate to ask questions, it would be my pleasure to give you a enthusiastically vague response.