How Much Should I Eat?
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3 Steps to determining your portion sizes

CTV Morning News, Andrea Holwegner on CTV news

As seen on CTV Morning News

One of the most frequently asked questions in our nutrition counselling practice is “how much should I eat?” or “am I eating too much?” While the topic of portion sizes and dealing with portion distortion is a big one to debate, below I have explored 3 common myths and providing a 3-step process to determining your own personal plan for how much to eat.


Fact & Myth 1


Myth: The food label serving size is the recommended amount to eat

Fact: A food label serving size is not the same as your recommended portion sizeAndrea Holwegner, Calgary Dietitian, on CTV Morning Live speaking about portion sizes


Just because a food label suggests a serving size, that does not mean you need or will eat that quantity for your recommended portion size. At times, you may have more (or less) than the serving size listed on the label. For example, few people only have 1/2 cup of ice cream at one time or 1 cup of breakfast cereal (from my experience the portion sizes people serve is double this). Be aware of the many marketing gimmicks that the food industry plays to attempt to showcase a serving size that is often much smaller than what people will actually eat as a portion size on their plate.  


Fact & Myth 2


Myth: The portion sizes in a device or chart is accurate

Fact:  How much you need to eat is highly variable


While software, food tracking apps and recommended serving size charts can make a guess at what your body requires, you are not a robot. How much you need to eat is highly variable and will change based on your personal genetics, family history, age, muscle mass, physical activity level, stress level and sleep patterns. Your overall nutrition pattern over the last day, week and month will vary greatly depending on if you have been underfed, overeating and based on emotional triggers and learned behavior and habits we have developed over time. If you choose to use an app or chart to determine what to eat be sure you work with an experienced Registered Dietitian that can help you make sure the plan you are following is sustainable, evidence based and provides enough good nutrition, flexibility and variety.


Fact & Myth 3


Myth: I need to eat less on days I am not active

Fact: Your hunger will vary and may not be tied to activity


Many programs and apps irresponsibly provide a reward that you are allowed to eat more on days that you exercise and a punishment of less food if you have not exercised. This fundamentally goes against normal intuitive eating patterns. In fact, you may find your appetite is lowest on active days and your body will cure you to eat more to recover on days off. You are worthy of eating regardless of your physical activity patterns. Learning to identify the different kinds of hunger, trust your body and respond appropriately to your needs is key for success.


3 Steps to Determining Your Portion Sizes


What is the best way to figure out how much to eat?


Since our appetite, hunger and reasons we choose to eat change constantly, it can be difficult to figure out just how much you should be eating. In an attempt to keep this topic area super simple, consider this 3-part method:


Step 1: Use your eyes


Instead of calorie counting, consider learning to gauge food portions in a different, more intuitive way. No smart phones or calculators, carrying around measuring cups or weighing food on food scales. All you need is your eyes and hands to get started.  


  • how to measure portions by plate or by handGrains or starches  1/4 plate
  • Vegetable and/or fruit  1/2 plate
  • Source of protein  1/4 plate



Step 2: Use your hands


Use your hands as an extra guide to help you determine how much of each of the 3 components to have at mealtime:



  • Use 1 or 2 cupped hands to help determine the size of your grains/starches at a meal.  




  • Use 1 or 2 fists to help determine the size of your vegetables at a meal.




  • Use your palm size help determine the size of your protein



Step 3: Use Your Intuition

Portioned plate

You are not a robot and your hunger and fullness will change daily like the weather. If you are full it is OK to leave food on your plate. If you are still hungry give yourself permission to have a little more. Remember it can take time for your brain and your body to connect and determine fullness. Slow down and listen to what your body is saying. When you do, your body doesn’t let you down. No judgement. Honor your hunger.  


Need some help with meal prep ideas, trusting your intuitive hunger cues and nutrition counselling to help you with weight management or a health issue? Visit www.healthstandnutrition.com or contact Andrea Holwegner for a free consultation at 403-262-3466 to find out more about the Calgary dietitian nutrition counselling services available at her practice: Calgary Nutrition Counselling. The Health Stand Nutrition dietitian team specializes in meal planning, weight management, eating disorders, digestive health issues, heart health and high cholesterol, diabetes, sports nutrition and more. Our Calgary Nutritionist services are offered in our centrally located office or online through phone or video conferencing.


Learn more about Andrea’s one-of a kind online nutrition course for individuals and companies to help time-strapped people achieve better health, energy and their personal best weight (while still eating foods they love): The Pursuit of HealthinessTM

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"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
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Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
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Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
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I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
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