How important is portion control?
At the Atlantic, Marion Nestle, a professor of Nutrition and some other stuff at New York University, has a post entitled “The Importance of Portion Control.”
How to deal with the portion size problem? Use small plates and cups in the dining hall. When eating out, order appetizers, not entrees. Order the small size, or share large portions with friends.
If you consume way too much energy, and your body metabolizes it, that will create a number of health problems. From that perspective, it makes sense to consciously control how much food you eat. From an evolutionary perspective, however, that’s crazy talk. Animals in a natural environment don’t get fat, even when food is plentiful. (They do if they have a reason to, such as when storing energy for hibernation.) Wild humans are not obese even in times of relative plenty. They have a natural homeostasis mechanism that regulates appetite to prevent getting too fat or too thin, because those extremes would affect their ability to survive.
People living on industrial Western diets frequently have broken appetite control mechanisms. When that is the case, it may make sense to consciously limit portions, because the normal system is not doing it for you. When you and everyone you know cannot imagine eating anything other than an industrial Western diet, you may naturally come to believe that there is no natural appetite control mechanism and deliberate limitation of food portions (along with exercise) is crucial for health and maintenance of a healthy weight.
My person experience on a Western diet was typical. Through my 30′s and 40′s I gained weight slowly and steadily. When I switched to paleo I did so without ever limiting portions. In fact, my subjective experience was that I ate like a pig. I did occasionally skip a meal (two in a row a couple of times), and there was certainly some sort of calorie deficit going on, but there was no point at which I limited or counted calories, points, blocks, grams, or any other measurement of food. I just tried to eat very little sugar or starchy food and ate plenty of real food.
Since then, I have continued to eat paleo, gradually adding more starchy tubers (and occasional white rice) into my diet. I have never limited or counted portions. All that time, I have stayed within two pounds, plus or minus, of 150 lbs. My portion sizes are sometimes small, sometimes large, depending on how much I feel like eating.
Does my experience prove that portion control isn’t needed if you eat paleo? If you are lucky like me, then sure. My natural appetite control kicked in when I began to eat real food and avoid industrial food. If you’re not so lucky, your system has been broken by years of crap food and real food might not fix that. You might have to control portions even of real food in order to get yourself to a healthy weight. Once there, you might be able to slowly reset your set point by staying on a real food diet and keeping portions under control. Eventually, the system might begin to work the way it’s supposed to. Or maybe not.