After my long runs, I often find myself dealing with a case of the “rungries” – a run-induced feeling of insatiable hunger that makes me want to devour everything in sight. When eating out with and talking to other runners, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in feeling this sensation. The trouble is that the rungries can often lead to portion distortion and overeating.
Over the years, one trick I’ve learned is to slow down my eating so I don’t go overboard. Even though I feel like eating ALL THE FOOD after a long run, I realize that eating a balanced meal with some protein and carbs is plenty to satisfy my hunger and help with my post-run recovery.
With super-size portions all around us – at home, restaurants, supermarkets, and entertainment venues (only $1 more for the large popcorn!) – it can be tough to practice good portion control. Here are some ways to avoid common portion-size pitfalls and keep your healthy eating habits on track.
1. Watch your portions when dining out.
When dining out, some people will clear their plate no matter how tremendous the portions. Take control of the amount of food that ends up on your plate by splitting an entrée with a friend. Or, order an appetizer portion instead of the entrée. Another strategy is to ask your wait person for a “to-go” box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it’s brought to the table, so you’ll reduce your risk of nibbling after you’re already full. You’ll save on calories and have another meal for the next day.
2. Portion control when eating in.
To minimize the temptation of second and third helpings when eating at home, serve food on individual plates, instead of putting serving dishes on the table. If it’s right in front of you, it’s tempting to scoop another serving onto your plate. Keeping the excess food out of reach may discourage overeating.
3. Pay attention to nutrition labels.
Many packaged foods and drinks look as if they’re a single serving, but they’re actually two or more. Yet the calories and other nutritional information on the label are for just one serving, so unless you read carefully, you may be consuming more fat and calories than you think. Always check the number of servings per container first.
4. Substitute veggies and beans.
If you’re trying to change your oversized portion habits, you may find yourself craving more food with your meal. Round out your plate with low-calories veggies such as celery, carrots, or peppers. They’ll help you feel fuller without adding too much to your total calories.
Beans, which are an excellent source of plant-based protein and dietary fiber, can also fill you up on fewer calorie. Having a bean-heavy meal, such an a vegetarian chili or a lentil salad, a few times a week can help in your weight loss or maintenance efforts.
5. Use a food diary to track what you eat.
To keep a food diary, write down all the food and beverages you consume in a day. Keeping track of your calories in a food tracker such as the USDA’s SuperTracker will help you be more aware of nutrition labels and how many calories you’re consuming. You’ll be much less likely to go overboard. Online food trackers or similar apps make it very easy and convenient to look up calorie amounts for the foods and beverages you’re consuming.
6. Be aware of large packages.
For some reason, the larger the package, the more people consume from it without realizing it. You may save money buying bulk foods at Costco or the other warehouse stores, but it’s not helping you cut back on calories. Once that enormous bag of potato chips is opened, it’s very tempting to continue snacking. Buy individual-sized snacks or divide up a large package into several smaller bags or containers as soon as you bring it home.
7. Portion control in front of the TV.
When eating or snacking in front of the TV, put the amount that you plan to eat into a bowl or container instead of eating straight from the package. It’s easy to overeat when your attention is focused on something else. Nighttime in particular is a time when people are vulnerable to going overboard.
8. Keep tempting foods out of sight.
People tend to consume more when they have easy access to food. The best strategy is to not have tempting foods in your house, but if you have to buy them, keep them out of the way. Store foods like cookies, chips, or ice cream, out of immediate eyesight, like on a high shelf or at the back of the freezer. Move healthier foods to the front at eye level. When buying in bulk, store the excess in a place that’s not convenient to get to, such as a high cabinet or at the back of the pantry.
9. It’s OK to eat between meals.
Many runners find themselves hungry in between meals, but wait until their next meal to eat. That’s often a recipe for overeating because they’re so hungry it’s difficult to control portion sizes. If hunger hits between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.