Whether you’re looking to lose weight or just eat healthier, portion control is an important skill to have. Without watching how much you eat at meals and how much you snack in between, you run the risk of overeating which can lead to weight gain, physical discomfort and poor health outcomes.
Today’s Food Environment
However, we know that portion control is sometimes easier said than done. Today’s food environment pretty much stacks the cards against us! Restaurant dishes come loaded to the brim with double or triple the amount of food we need. At drive-thrus, it’s easy to “supersize” meals at very little cost. Even packaged foods from the grocery store can have more than one serving in them, making it easy to consume excess calories without even realizing you’re eating more than you should be.
Strategies for Portion Control
Here are some tips to help you manage your portion sizes, practice mindful eating and keep your health in check.
Eat from Smaller Dishes
Instead of using large dinner plates and soup bowls, try eating from smaller salad plates and cereal bowls. This essentially tricks your mind into thinking you’re eating more than you are. Since we tend to eat with our eyes and nose first, we like for our plates to look full. Eating from smaller dishes that are full of food seems more filling and satisfying than larger dishes with plenty of room to spare.
Don’t Eat from the Container
Bringing a bag of chips to the couch can lead to a binge session before you even realize you’re stuffed. For food that comes in big containers with multiple servings in them, portion your servings out before eating. For example, if you’re in the mood to snack on trail mix and you have a large bag of it in your pantry, pour one serving size into a small bowl or Ziploc bag to eat from instead.
Learn How to Estimate Serving Sizes
You can estimate a healthy portion size by comparing it to known objects. For example, half a cup is about the size of a scoop of ice cream. One cup is about the size of a tennis ball. To get better at this, start by using measuring cups and then putting that food into your hand first to get a feel for how much is really there.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking a glass of water 30 minutes before a meal can naturally help with portion control because it makes you less hungry. Drinking more water can also help you distinguish true hunger from what is really thirst. Sipping regularly throughout the day will help you manage your appetite and control cravings.
When we eat quickly, our brain doesn’t have enough time to register that we are full. It can take around 20 minutes for our brain to realize when it’s had enough to eat. Take advantage of this by eating more slowly so you have a better idea of when to stop. Eating slowly will also enable you to truly enjoy your meal and savor the taste.
Want more tips on portion control? Read “Navigating Portion Control: Finding Your Way to Understanding Hunger and Fullness Signals” from the Obesity Action Coalition, Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.