Portion control is one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off. Despite the pervasive super-sizing of restaurant meals and food packaging, there are easy ways to prevent super-sizing your caloric intake.
Determine your daily calorie needs
The first step in controlling your portions is to know how many calories your body needs. Your age, gender and physical activity level should determine your caloric intake. You can talk to a nutritionist, fitness professional or your doctor for help, or consult online tools that calculate your daily calorie needs based on information you enter. From here, you will have a better idea of how many portions of food you should be eating and how calorie-dense each should be.
Food manufacturers may package multiple servings of a food in a bag or box. Even individually wrapped foods, such as chocolate bars, snack cakes, muffins and bagels, may pack up to three servings per package. So read the label before you devour the entire package to be sure you’re eating only a single serving. In time, you will be able to recognize a serving without labels.
Get a visual
Packaged foods provide serving-size information on the label, so determining a portion is easy. However, when you eat out or dine on foods fresh from a market, deli, butcher or fish purveyor, having a visual of serving sizes can help you eat just a single portion. Here are a few everyday equivalents to keep in mind:
- 1 ounce meat: Size of a matchbox
- 3 ounces meat: Size of a deck of cards or bar of soap (the recommended portion for a meal)
- 8 ounces meat: Size of a thin paperback book
- 3 ounces fish: Size of a checkbook
- 1 ounce cheese: Size of four dice
- Medium potato: Size of a computer mouse
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter: Size of a ping pong ball
- 1/2 cup pasta: Size of a tennis ball
- Average bagel: Size of a hockey puck
- Medium apple or orange: Size of a tennis ball
- 1 cup chopped raw vegetables or fruit: Size of a baseball
- 1/4 cup dried fruit (raisins, apricots, mango): A small handful
Don’t eat out of the bag or box
When you eat out of a package of food that contains multiple servings, monitoring how much you’ve eaten is difficult. Place a serving size of food (particularly chips, mini-cookies, candy and even healthful foods like trail mix or nuts) in a small bag or bowl before you start eating. And put the package away so you aren’t tempted to reach in for another helping. You also can repackage foods from larger bags or boxes as single servings by putting them in snack-size Ziploc bags.
Halve your intake
For high-calorie items such as mayonnaise, butter, sour cream, cream sauces and oils, simply halve the amount you usually use. Chances are you won’t even detect a difference in taste. Add low-calorie items such as lemon zest, fresh herbs, spices, fruit juices and vinegars to your recipes instead. You also can replace your higher-calorie foods with low-fat counterparts, but keep in mind that portion size still matters.
Substitute fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories. Replacing higher-calorie foods and snacks with nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables will reduce your caloric intake and help you get the most nutrition from the portions of food you do eat. One serving of fruit or vegetables is usually 1/2 cup (1 cup for fresh leafy greens). A serving of dried fruit or vegetables is 1/4 cup.
Always opt for the smallest size
As you peruse restaurant menus, always order the smallest size. Most “small” sizes are plenty. Choose the smallest order of pasta, meats, fish, burgers, fries and other dishes as well as drinks. But regardless of the amount of food brought out to you, keep the visual of portion sizes in mind. Take extra food home for a meal the next day.
Divide your meals
Cut your portions down by sharing your restaurant or take-out meals. If you don’t have a family member, friend or coworker with whom to share, divide your meal in half and enjoy leftovers the next day. Another restaurant tip: Order a healthy appetizer, which are typically smaller than a main course meal, and pair it with a side of vegetables or a salad instead of ordering a complete entrée.
Source: American Cancer Society
More on portion control
- Portion control: Are you eating too much?
- Diet-conscious strategies when choosing from a menu
- 10 Strategies to lose weight and live great