15 Portion Control Tips From Nutritionists
Portion control tips
To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume, which means being aware of your portion sizes. But you're not necessarily doomed to a growling stomach. "Portion control doesn't mean you have to eat tiny portions of everything," says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, author of The Portion Teller Plan: The No-Diet Reality Guide to Eating, Cheating, and Losing Weight Permanently. "You don't want to feel like you're on a diet, but you have to eat fewer calories."
Here are 15 easy ways to cut portions, trim calories, and lose weight without counting the minutes until your next meal.
Start meals with a glass of water
Drink 16 ounces (a big glass) of water before you eat, suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet. Filling your belly with water will naturally make you less likely to overeat, she says. Plus, some symptoms of dehydration may actually be what's causing your rumbling belly, so sipping some water before you eat may eliminate your "hunger" altogether.
Wear form-fitting clothes
We're not suggesting you squeeze into pants that are too tight. However, wearing an outfit with a waistband or perhaps a jacket with buttons can serve as a tool to prompt you to slow down and assess how you feel during your meal, says Young. As your clothing begins to feel a little snugger, it may keep you from going back for seconds.
Fill up on veggies
Bulking up your meals with veggies is one easy way to cut calories while filling you up fast. Spinach, for example, can be used as a sandwich-topper or can add fiber and nutrients to pasta and stir-fries, says Blatner. Other ideas to eat more veggies: swap in mushrooms for half the ground meat in most recipes, make oatmeal more filling with diced apples, and use a whole-wheat pita in place of bread so you can stuff it with more veggies.
Try portion control dinnerware
The color of your plate may influence how much you eat, according to a 2018 study in Nutrition Journal. The study conclusions suggest that if you want to eat less, select plates that have a color-contrast to the food you're eating for dinner, like pasta with red sauce on a white plate. Or if you want to eat more healthy foods, like a bigger salad, eat greens from a large green plate or bowl!
Make carbs the topper instead of the base
Rethink the way you use grains and starches. Take a breakfast parfait, for instance: instead of starting with a granola base, fill your cup with yogurt and then sprinkle just a tiny amount of granola on top for the crunch you crave. Making a stir-fry? Load up your plate with veggies and a serving of lean protein, then add a quarter cup of brown rice.
Set the scene for slower eating
Dim lights and listen to relaxing music to set the tone for a more leisurely meal, suggests Blatner. "Taking your time while eating increases enjoyment and decreases portions," she says. Remember to chew slowly, put down your fork between bites, and sip water to make your meal last longer.
Take time with your food
Here's another way to slow down your eating: munch on foods that require shelling, peeling, or individual unwrapping, suggests Blatner. Oranges, edamame, and pistachios in their shells are healthy options.
Don't eat from the bag or box
When you sit down with a bag of chips, do you really know how many you're eating? Researchers from Cornell University sought to answer this question in a study and found that people ate 50% more chips when they were given no visual cues as to how large a portion should be. So if you buy a bag of pretzels or tin of nuts that contains 10 servings, divide the contents of the container into 10 smaller baggies ahead of time.
Slurp your appetizer
Before you dive into your entrée, have some soup. Though it may seem counterintuitive to add more to your meal, research shows that starting a meal with soup may help you reduce your overall calorie intake. In a study from Penn State University, people who ate soup before their lunch entrée reduced their total calorie intake by 20%. Your best bet: a broth-based soup, preferably with veggies to help you feel full from the natural fiber, says Young. Here are a few healthy soup recipes to get you started.
Take a lap before serving yourself
In a Cornell University study published in PLoS One, researchers observed people at two separate breakfast buffet lines that featured the same seven items: cheesy eggs, potatoes, bacon, cinnamon rolls, low-fat granola, low-fat yogurt, and fruit. One line presented the foods from healthiest to least-healthy, while the other line had the order reversed. Regardless of which line they passed through, more than 75% of diners put the first food they saw on their plates; the first three foods they encountered in the buffet made up two-thirds of all the foods they added to their plate. So take a stroll around the buffet or dinner table before you serve yourself, suggests Young.
Drink from a tall glass
It's okay to have a cocktail with your meal if that's what you really want, but keep it to one glass and enjoy it slowly, suggests Young. To trick yourself into believing you're having more, pour your drink into a tall, thin glass. A study published in the journal BMJ revealed that practiced bartenders who poured what they thought was a shot of alcohol (1.5 ounces) into a short, wide glass poured 20% more than when the glass was tall and thin. Add extra ice to your drink to make it look like even more!
Limit mealtime distractions
Turn off the TV and put your smartphone away while you eat. A review of studies found that people who watched television during meals tended to consume more than those who ate without any distractions. And for you office dwellers? Consider taking your lunch break away from your desk—in an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, people who were more attentive to their food while they ate were more likely to reduce their need to count calories.
Use smaller serveware and dishes
Turns out that even food experts aren't so savvy about eyeballing portion sizes. In a Cornell University study, 85 nutrition experts gathered for an ice cream social to celebrate the success of a colleague. They were randomly given either a small or large bowl, or a small serving scoop or large serving scoop. Then, the nutritionists were asked to complete a brief survey while the study researchers secretly weighed their bowls. Those given the larger bowls served themselves 31% more without realizing it, while those who used the larger scoop unknowingly served themselves 14.5% more. Moral of the story? Dish up your own food with a small utensil onto a small bowl or plate, and chances are you'll eat less.
For a clearer idea of how much of each food group to add to your meal, try a portion control plate like Rehabilitation Advantage 3 Compartment Portion Plate with Lid ($13; amazon.com) with individual compartments for proteins, grains, and veggies. The green color is also a plus to encourage you to eat your greens!
Try easy-to-remember visual cues
One trick nutritionist Cynthia Sass likes to use is easy, memorable visual cues for healthy awareness of how much of a food you should be eating. "For example, a golf ball is a pretty typical sized portion of nuts or dried fruit; a thumb, from where it bends to the tip, is a typical sized portion for olive oil; a deck of cards in thickness and width is a typical sized portion of fish; and a tennis ball is a typical sized portion of fresh fruit," Sass tells Health. "Rather than using these as strict rules for exactly how much to eat, I think they're helpful as a starting place."
End your meal with a different sweet treat
Many people have trained themselves to expect a sweet treat at the end of a meal, says Blatner. Swap in a new, healthier ritual after meals to signal that you're done eating. She recommends brewing a flavorful decaf tea like peppermint, cinnamon, chocolate, or one of your favorite fruity varieties for low-or-no-calorie sweet-tooth satisfier.