Your food portions will change from meal to meal and from day to day.
Not only is it important that you understand how to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, but also why your portion sizes change from meal to meal so that you can use these little insights about yourself more confidently than you can Best nourishing your unique body.
There are so many different factors that can affect how much you eat and if you are not aware of these factors, you can end up eating servings that do not meet your body’s needs.
Have more awareness Why It feels like you need a larger or smaller serving to find the right amount of food that you need.
Read on to see what to look for when choosing your portion sizes so that you can strengthen your ability to use your hunger and fullness as a guide.
Why your food portions can change
Keep this in mind as you check in with your hunger and determine what your food servings should be.
1. What you have already eaten (or have not eaten)
A common factor likely to affect your food servings is what you have or haven’t eaten and how nutritious the food you consumed was.
For example, if you are intentionally or unintentionally malnourished throughout the day, it can leave your body feeling very hungry, which can lead to larger servings. Often times, these larger servings can lead to overeating because you’re just so starved.
If we undereat for a long period of time and then eat a really large amount of food because of the exceptional hunger, it can lead to blood sugar spikes. This can make us feel less satisfied and satiated overall and continue the cycle.
On the other hand, let’s say you’ve had a substantial dinner and now you want to enjoy dessert. This portion of dessert is of course often a little smaller due to your sufficient intake at dinner. Eating a very small dinner before dessert can often result in a larger serving of dessert since our hunger inducers were never entirely satisfied.
It is also important to consider how nutritious the foods you have chosen for you are and how you have balanced them throughout your meals. When you’ve had a well-balanced Foundational Five meal, you’ll feel happier between meals. However, if your meal isn’t balanced, you’ll likely get hungry shortly afterwards.
2. Activity levels
Our activity level can also affect our food servings.
On days when you are more active, you will likely find that you need a larger serving of food to support the level of activity you are participating in. To keep this in mind, look out for carbohydrates and healthy fats that will provide your body with the sustainable energy it needs, along with some protein that will help rebuild your muscle tissue.
If you notice that you are more active than usual, keep that in mind so you can make sure you adjust your servings to suit your needs.
However, when you’re usually very active and resting or taking a break, your body doesn’t need as much food. So you should pay attention to how your hunger changes on your less active days.
3. Environmental triggers
A common factor that can inadvertently affect your serving size is environmental triggers. This is all around you that makes you want to eat something or eat a certain amount.
Some environmental triggers can be very supportive, such as: E.g. a more nutritious selection of food at eye level in the refrigerator instead of tucking them into the drawers below. This can remind you to choose larger servings of veggies and veggies as these are the focus.
However, some environmental triggers may not support the kind of eating habits that you are trying to experience for yourself. For example, one of the members of our Mindful Nutrition Method ™ program noticed that she often ate chips or cookies in the afternoons. After some exploration, she found that this was because she always passed the office kitchen to go to meetings or refill her tea, and she just grabbed a snack because it was outside and available.
By identifying when your surroundings may be affecting you, you can determine if and when it is affecting your portion sizes.
4. Stress level
Stress can affect your food servings in two different ways.
- Smaller portions
When stress initially occurs, your appetite will likely decrease because your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is putting your body into fight or flight mode to respond to the stressful situation. Your brain tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and sends blood to your muscles and heart so you can take action and temporarily put your hunger on hold (1). When the stressful situation is over, your SNS will return to its baseline.
Unless you know that stress is suppressing your hunger, you may find that you are undereating. While we use our hunger signals to guide our food choices, it is important to recognize when those signals may not be working (i.e., due to stress) and still eat well.
- Bigger portions
The second way stress can affect your servings is when you suffer from chronic stress. When stress is not managed or alleviated, the SNS remains triggered and responds to that stress.
When this happens, your body releases cortisol, which is why it is often referred to as a stress hormone. Unlike adrenaline, which can satisfy your hunger, cortisol can increase your appetite (2). If your stress response remains “on”, your cortisol levels may remain elevated.
When you suffer from this chronic stress, not only are you more likely to experience physical hunger, but you are also more likely to experience greater comfort or cravings for carbohydrates or sugary foods.
Sugar can release dopamine – the feel-good chemical that activates the brain’s pleasure centers (3).
This stressful eating can cause you to reach for larger servings of these foods.
5. Distracted or rushed eating
Distracted or rushed eating is just that – eating while distracted or rushing through a meal. This usually looks like eating in front of the TV, at your desk, scrolling social media, or anything else that is stopping you from sitting and enjoying your food.
When you are distracted or rushed it is much harder to use your hunger and fullness signals as a guide to eating. This can result in either eating more or less than your body needs because you are not paying attention to your body’s signals and are not attuned to them.
6. Lack of sleep can affect your food portions
Research has shown that poor quality sleep leads to increased cravings for processed or sugary foods, overeating throughout the day, and not eating as many fruits and vegetables.
Try to eat meals filled with protein and fat when you are tired so that you have more energy throughout the day!
7. Your cycle
Almost 30 percent of pre-menopausal women are iron deficient (4). If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or have heavy menstrual flow, you are at higher risk of iron deficiency. In addition, menstruation alone lowers the amount of iron in your body (5).
Because of this, you may feel more tired during menstruation, which signals your body that it needs energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s fast-acting form of energy. So, you may find yourself craving high-carb foods or feeling like you need a larger serving to get this source of energy.
Make sure you eat plenty of iron-rich foods, especially during your menstrual cycle, to support your body’s needs and energy levels.
8. How hydrated you are
Water is responsible for every process in the body, including your metabolism. By drinking enough water each day, you will help your digestion keep moving, while supporting an efficient metabolism, and much more (1) (2).
When you are dehydrated, you can be hungry when you are really thirsty. Stay hydrated to pinpoint your hunger levels.
If you are hungry, drink 1 glass of water, wait 10-15 minutes and check your hunger. If you’re still hungry, you may be genuinely hungry, and if your hunger subsides, you can try drinking a little more water to see if you are just thirsty.
How to strengthen your ability to find the right parts
Finding the right servings takes patience and practice. It requires the ability to tune into your body and figure out what physical hunger and abundance feels like to you, and then have the proper knowledge to use that information in a supportive way. This is what we support our members through the Mindful Nutrition Method ™ program.
You can register for our free workshop here where we will share an exercise that will help you better adjust to your unique hunger and abundance cues and guide you through our Mindful Nutrition Method ™.
- Pharmacology of appetite suppression: implication for the treatment of obesity. Halford JC. Curr Drug Targets. 2001;2: 353-370.
- Stress, Cortisol, and Other Appetite-Related Hormones: Prospectively Predicting 6 Month Changes in Cravings and Weight. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017; 25 (4): 713- 720. doi: 10.1002 / oby.21790
- Rada P, Avena NM, Hoebel BG. Daily sugaring repeatedly releases dopamine in the Accumbens cup. Neuroscience. 2005; 134 (3): 737- 744. doi: 10.1016 / j.neuroscience.2005.04.043
- Camaschella, C. (2015). Iron deficiency anemia. N Engl J Med, 2015 (372), 1832-1843.
- R. Blanco-Rojo, L. Toxqui, AM López-Parra, C. Baeza-Richer, AM Pérez-Granados, E. Arroyo-Pardo & MP Vaquero (2014). Influence of Diet, Menstruation, and Genetic Factors on Iron Status: A Cross-Sectional Study of Spanish Women of Childbearing Age. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 15 (3), 4077-4087.