Painless Portion Control

July 17, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Most of my patients make an effort to eat healthy.

After all, we all know that you are what you eat. And anyone concerned with their health should really start with their diet.

Eating healthy foods is essential to having a healthy body.

But what you put in your mouth is only part of the equation. How much you eat is important as well.

And society is doing us no favors there.

Over the course of the 20th century, serving sizes have increased 2-5 times what they once were. At that ratio, even the healthiest foods can work against you.

So I’m giving you five easy tips to help you find the right portion sizes. Because the folks selling you food certainly won’t.

1)    Look To Your Hand

Often, we are told to have a teaspoon of this or a cup of that, but out in the real world, no one is carrying a measuring spoon.

Luckily, we can get a rough approximation with something we always carry with us—our hands.

The tip of your index finger is about a teaspoon. That’s about how much butter you want to put on your toast.

Your thumb, from the tip to the first knuckle, is right around a tablespoon. That’s how much oil you’d want in an oil and vinegar dressing on your salad. (Knowing a tablespoon of olive oil has about 100 calories—and seeing how restaurants usually drench salads with it—you can see why salads are often hidden carriers of large calories.)

A portion of meat is about the size of your palm. Or, if you prefer, about the size of a deck of cards. A portion of fish is a bit more, but not much.

One cup is around the size of your closed fist. The proper portion of pasta is only half that.

If the mall restaurant gives you a bowl in which you could fit your head, you know you’ve got a problem.

With that, you should know that the size of your dishes plays a role in over-eating too.

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2)    Use Your Grandmother’s Plates

We are visual eaters. And if we see a large plate with lots of empty space left by a proper portion, on some level, we feel cheated.

Eliminate that problem by eating off of small plates, and out of small bowls. Not only will this limit your portions—and force you to make a choice to go back for seconds if you’re still hungry—but the visual cue will help you feel satisfied with a smaller portion.

3)    Always Serve Yourself a Single Serving

When most people snack, they do it right out of the bag.

That’s always a bad idea. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of how much you’ve had, and it lends itself to absent-minded eating.

Read the package, and find out what a single portion is, of whatever you’re eating. Then, put that amount on a plate or in a bowl, and put the rest away.

You might be surprised how much extra you’ve been eating, simply because you never had the proper amount laid out.

4)    Half Fruits And Veggies

Whenever you eat—and especially for meals—fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.

They are full of vital nutrients, full of healthy fiber, and low in calories. Even if you wind up with a super-sized portion, making half your plate vegetables or fruits greatly limits the damage.

The other half should be your protein and your healthy carbohydrate. A piece of chicken and brown rice, for example.

Try this with your pastas, and you’ll be shocked how out of whack most Italian dishes have become.

5)    Learn To Eat Just Enough

Eating delicious foods lights up our pleasure centers.

But each bite provides diminishing returns. The first taste is always the best, with each subsequent one chasing that same high.

Chasing that high leads to overeating. If you can learn to observe your own pleasure, and stop eating when you are no longer getting much enjoyment out of it, you’ll automatically find yourself eating proper portions.

Follow these five tips, and I can’t guarantee you won’t be served—and eat—too much now and again. But if you can limit those times, and have proper portions for most of your meals, you’ll find yourself eating less, enjoying your food more, and suffering from fewer cravings as well.

Controlling your portions is one of the most powerful paths to better health. The food industry isn’t going to do it for you. But, using these tips, you can easily do it for yourself.

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