Whatever your diet strategy, you’ve got to master proper portions to lose weight and keep it off. Eat too much and you’ll gain weight. It’s a simple fact, but it can be a difficult one to swallow.
After all, given America’s current portion-control problem, knowing how much you need to eat – and then actually capping your intake there – is a challenge. Research from New York University shows that virtually every food in supermarkets exceeds standard serving sizes. Some “single-serving” foods surveyed were seven times larger than they should be, per standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. (Of course, the big serving-size offenders were cookies.) Don’t even get us started on restaurants.
“If we sit down to a meal, and in front of us there is a gigantic bucket of spaghetti and meatballs – enough to feed 10 people – eating a portion that’s appropriate for us is tough and we’re likely to eat too much,” says registered dietitian Georgie Fear, author of “Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.” “That’s an extreme example that wouldn’t happen in real life, but serving 15 percent or 25 percent too much food on our plate is very realistic, and it’s common to finish what’s in front of us out of habit.” Think about it: How many of us grew up in a house with a “clean plate” club?
Not so. With the right strategy, mastering proper portions can kick both overeating and hunger to the curb – and help you reach and maintain your healthy weight-loss goals. Here, top nutritionists share their best (and easiest!) portion-control tricks.
1. Downsize Your Dinnerware
“If you currently eat from 10-inch plates, an 8- or 9-inch plate filled similarly may end up feeling and looking like virtually the same amount of food while in reality being a meaningful reduction,” Fear says. In fact, in one famed Cornell study, people who used 12-inch plates served themselves 52 percent and ate 42 percent more food than those who used 9-inch plates. You’ll be glad to know that the people who ate less (and off of smaller plates) reported that they enjoyed their meals just as much as those who ate more – so no going hungry with this trick.
2. Think Produce First
Before putting pasta, meat and more on your plate, fill half of it with fruits and vegetables (although the bulk should be veggies), Fear recommends. Once you do that, overdoing it on portions or calories is pretty darn difficult. That’s because produce, especially non-starchy vegetables like green beans and broccoli, are low in calories but high in filling nutrients like fiber, says St.
What’s more, it’s important to remember that, when it comes to building your plate, you don’t have to keep your veggies separate from everything else. Rather, by preparing your favorite dishes (from pastas and casseroles to omelets and sandwiches) with extra vegetables mixed in, you can easily reap veggies’ satiety-boosting benefits, Caspero says. Plus, if you’re not a big fan of veggies, integrating them into your dishes can be a lot more appetizing than a side of Brussels sprouts or salad.
3. Give Yourself a Hand
“You can use your hands as an always-with-you portion-control guide,” Fear says. One serving of meat, eggs, fish or beans is about the size of your palm, a serving of grains, starches, fruits and veggies is about the size of your fist and, get this, a serving of fat is about the size of your thumb. Smaller than you thought, right?
Still, even though your hand size is largely proportional to your body size, you may need a bit more or less from your portions depending on individual factors including your genetics, muscle mass, physical activity levels and age, she says. Start with these guidelines and tweak as needed from there.
4. Purchase Single-Serving Foods
From “snack packs” of chips and cookies to individual pouches of oatmeal and almonds, pre-portioned foods, by giving you a new, healthier cue for how much you “should” eat, offer an easy way to cut down on portion sizes without feeling deprived.
If single-serving portions of foods you are prone to binge on are not available at your supermarket, portion things out as soon as you get home and before they go into the refrigerator or pantry. In one 2016 Obesity study of dieters, those who ate portion-controlled foods lost more weight and body fat than did those who dished out their own eats. (Interestingly though, both groups enjoyed their foods the same amount.)