10 Portion Control Pointers

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10 Portion Control Pointers

Written by Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian

With portions ballooning to extreme sizes, it's sometimes tough to stick to what we know are proper serving sizes. Eating contests, "value" meals and bags that contain "30% more free" all contribute to our environment of excess. You've chosen to fight back and take control of your portions. Great! It's a key step to weight management and will make you feel powerful in your food choices. Use some of these methods to help control the crazy portions so you can reach your goals.


When you're at home, whip out your measuring cups and spoons and start sizing up your portions before you eat them. This isn't something youíll need to do forever, but it's a great place to start. Do you really know what a 1/2 cup of rice looks like once itís poured onto a plate? Try measuring out your sizes for a few weeks until you get a good grasp on how much to serve yourself to get that proper size.

Downsize Your Dishware

Our eyes can be bigger than our stomachs! Even when deliberately trying to serve equal amounts of ice cream in two different sized bowls, participants in studies served more in the larger bowl with the larger spoon. Test yourself! Take out two different cups, one that is short and wide and one that is tall and narrow. Fill a pitcher with water, and attempt to pour 1 cup (8 oz) in each of them. Once youíve filled both cups, measure the liquid in a measuring cup to see how close you are. More times than not, you will have poured more water into the short, wide glass. To combat the tricks our eyes play on our stomachs, switch to smaller plates (approximately 9 inches), cups (tall and narrow ones are better) and bowls. Save your oversized soup bowls for broth-based soup, salad and fruit only. Use smaller ramekins for ice cream, nuts, and creamy soups. Break out your large dinner plates for special occasions only.

Restaurant Resourcefulness

When you're ordering at a restaurant, there are many challenges to eating the portion size you intend to. Not only does the atmosphere encourage eating, but the average portions served can typically feed two or three people. Take control of the portions and either share your meal with a friend, or ask your server to box up half of your meal before bringing it to the table. Even if you have to convince the server that you're serious, it's worth it to keep the temptation of the second serving in the bag and off your table. Save it for lunch or dinner the next day!

Ditch the Bag

Place the food for your meals and snacks on a dish instead of eating directly from the container or bag, especially when doing something distracting like watching TV. Even if you intend to only have "a little," it's easy to get off track and without realizing you've eaten half the box! For every food item you buy in bulk servings (bags of chips, cereal, nuts, yogurt tubs and more), portion it into smaller baggies or containers as soon as you get home from the store. This will also help you resist the urge to snack directly from the container without being aware of how much you're eating.

Be Conscious around Company

Surrounding yourself with people who tend to overeat makes YOU more likely to overeat, too. Researcher Brian Wansink (author of "Mindless Eating") found that we mirror (to a point) the amount that our company consumes. We consciously and/or unconsciously follow the "consumption norm" of those we dine with by emulating how much they eat in order to achieve acceptance. Dr. Wansinkís studies reflected this behavior, and itís important to be aware and attempt to make a conscious decision about how much you eat when eating among others. Other studies have shown that obesity does spread among friends and families, and the consumption norm could be one reason why.

Leave the Leftovers

Pack up leftovers before heading to the dinner table to make sticking to your first serving a cinch. Studies show that we eat more food when more food is easily accessible. Placing the extra servings of breakfast, lunch or dinner in the fridge or freezer before you sit down to eat is a good way to keep those second helpings out of sight and out of mind.


Comparing food portions to common objects that you know the size of is genius when it comes to portion control, especially if you don't have your measuring tools handy. Itís not as cumbersome as measuring or weighing your foods, but still provides a good estimate about how much food you're eating. Here are some common comparisons to keep in mind:

1 cup = baseball
1/2 cup = standard light bulb
2 Tbsp = golf ball
1 Tbsp = poker chip
3 oz meat = deck of cards
3 oz fish = checkbook
1.5 oz cheese = 3 dice

Perfect the 'Plate Method'

This visual strategy for portion control is a great way to slim down your protein and starch portions, and bulk up your servings of vegetables. Fill half of a 9- or 10-inch plate with non-starchy veggies or salad. Next, visually divide your plate in half again (to achieve 2 quarters of the plate) and place your meat or protein source in one spot, and your carbohydrate or starchy vegetable in the other. This method helps you control calories and increase your vegetable intake.

Stay on Schedule

Eating regularly throughout the day will help keep your portions at each meal in check. When you're ravenous by mealtime, it's easy to overindulge and disregard proper portion sizes. If youíre not already, get into the habit of planning your meals throughout the day, including small snacks between meals to keep your hunger under control. Then, you'll feel satisfied with a normal portion during your meals and prevent overeating.

Slim Down to a Single Serving

Recognizing the difference between portion sizes and serving size is important, too. A serving size is listed on a food label, while a portion size is what you serve yourself (or what a restaurant serves you). These are important to decipher because the numbers for calories, fat, sodium, carbs, fiber, etc. on the nutrition facts label describe a specified serving size, which can vary widely from the portion you serve yourself. This is a good reason why itís a great idea to play with your measuring cups at home until you become a pro at serving up correct serving sizes.

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Member Comments on this Slideshow

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11/27/2013 11:47:40 PM

Never thought about fixing a plate and packing the leftovers up before I eat...great idea!


10/26/2013 3:37:27 PM

DCC_85's SparkPage
All great points.


10/16/2013 7:13:33 PM

LINDAG1964's SparkPage
Hmmm Good to know


9/30/2013 2:39:26 PM

MADLILA's SparkPage
It's so easy to slide to larger portions. This a great , quick refresher., worth watching every so often to help stay on track.


9/30/2013 11:38:50 AM

G-NINE's SparkPage
It is always nice to be reminded of proper portions. I think I can get a little lazy, but reading this, woke me back up.

Great content!


9/23/2013 10:22:02 PM

I'd only blogged a few days ago about having a problem with portion control and I came across this slideshow - have now saved it to favourites so I can memorise these great tips!


9/11/2013 10:53:48 PM

Great article. It's good to know I'm doing something right. Good motivation to continue educating myself about what goes into my mouth.


8/30/2013 8:30:17 PM

FRAPELA's SparkPage
A lot of really good tips!!


8/30/2013 6:07:29 PM

MCASKEY6's SparkPage
I use my measuring cups as serving spoons. It makes it much easier when I can scoop and measure at the same time.


8/30/2013 2:35:06 PM

No carb is NO GOOD. Your body needs carbs to digest food and utilitze nutrients. Your body has gone into the survival mode and that;s the reason for the weight gain. Believe me, I have been there (Atkins diet) and what a disaster. You may do better with a paleo-type regimen, which generally gives you the right kinds of carbs, but I have to stay away from the honey/molasses/agave that they often use and replace it with Stevia (and be careful which Stevia product you buy and make sure that Stevia is the primary ingredient.) I work with an osteopathic doctor (more natural remedies and preventive medical practices) vs allopathic (the ones that always write prescriptions). There are many paleo blogs that you can use to educate yourself. Please be careful - you are going down a dangerous path.


8/30/2013 4:09:25 AM

I have been on no Carb diet for 3 weeks now and to my painful surprise I have gained 3 kg instead of loosing 3 KG, . I do drink 2 glasses of wine daily. I walk daily for 50 minutes and go the gym 3 times a week. what am I doing wrong. since this is what I used to do before to loose weight and now its not working!!!! I am 43 years old.


7/31/2013 10:55:36 AM

HEATH1267's SparkPage
Some really good tips in this article. Easy too b


7/11/2013 6:04:04 PM

The biggest tip on here that I find useful is the eating frequenly throughout the day. I literally eat "something" every hour. Bananas, cucumbers, small apples... I am never "hungry," my metabolism stays humming and it is easier to control my later in the evening binging that I am so likely to do. It is important to know how big a portion really is, but if your body is hungry it wont matter how big your portion "Should" be.


7/10/2013 11:01:39 PM

GREEN1950's SparkPage
Great article. This is something I battle with a lot.


7/3/2013 8:30:22 AM

I've been using ramekins for everything...instant portion control. And we have some smaller plates that I now use instead of a dinner plate. I measure or weigh everything. I eat six small meals everyday instead of three bigger ones so all of my portions are half the normal portion size.

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