Portion Control Tips: 11 Ways to Avoid Portion Distortion and Eat the Right Amount of Food
If you want to lose weight, there are all sorts of fad diets out there.
You could try plans like: Low Fat, Low Carb, Mediterranean or Calorie Restrictive.
There are many differences between these diets, but they all have something in common. At their core, they recommend adding portion control into your daily routine.
Now, I’m not really a fan of any specific “diet” because most of them aren’t effective in the long-term. However, I do believe that developing the habit of portion control can have a positive impact on your ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
So today we’ll talk about how to develop the portion control habit. First we’ll go over why it’s important to carefully measure your serving sizes. Then, we’ll talk about how to make it a habit. And finally we’ll go over 11 .portion control tips you can add to your busy schedule.
Let’s get started.
The Danger of Portion Distortion
Let's be honest here…
The world is getting fatter.
This is not just my opinion; it’s a fact that has been proven many times in countless studies. One of the major reasons why we’re seeing an obesity epidemic is due to the increase of “portion distortion” where people no longer understand what constitutes a normal sized meal.
For instance, the average plate size in the 1980's was a small 9 inch plate. Today the average plate size is 12 inches. The average slice of pizza? 30% larger. Average bagel size? 50% larger. The list goes on and on (check out this article for more info about portion distortion.) My point is this—as a population we’re drowning in the mountain of food that’s served in restaurants and at home.
The simplest solution to this problem is to develop the habit of controlling your portions.
Why Portion Control Works
In the best of worlds, we would eat slowly and stop when we feel satiated. Many people think that being mindful of how much they eat is the remedy for controlling portion sizes. However, in a Journal of Health and Psychology study, people using the “mindful techniques” didn’t significantly decrease their volume of food. The truth is most of us will eat whatever we have in front of use until we feel stuffed.
What does this mean for you?
It’s simple—the habit of “eating less” isn’t a very effective long-term strategy. It may work sometimes, but you will eventually be tricked into eating more than you should. Since most people underestimate their number of calories, it’s hard to rely on intuition as a guideline.
Now, I’m a habits kind of guy. I believe that you can break down any problem into a series of simple steps that can be repeated on daily basis. So here are 11 ways you can habitualize the concept of portion control.
Habit #1: Focus on Portion Control for 30 Days
Make portion control your one habit change for at least a month. “One habit at a time” should be your focus and mantra.
Many people attack weight loss like it’s part of a multi-front war campaign. They diet. They start an exercise routine. They eat less. They eat healthy. They try to get right amount of sleep. They count calories.
Don't get me wrong, all of these strategies are great. But it’s impossible to add them all at once. What usually happens is ego depletion sets in; you start to backslide and ultimately give up because it’s almost impossible to perfectly change multiple habits at the same time.
Habit #2: Plan Your Portion Control Habit
Every habit change needs a plan. That’s why you need to plan for the following situations:
- How will you measure portions?
- What routines can you attach this new habit to?
- What are your obstacles?
- What are your triggers?
- What tools can help?
- How will you deal with temptations to eat more?
Make a plan for the portion control habit. Ultimately this will be difference maker when it comes to permanently adopting this routine.
Habit #3: Learn Serving Sizes
One of the very best portion control tips is learning exactly what the proper serving size really is.
These days. most serving sizes are ridiculously large. Because of this most people tend to underestimate serving sizes these days. That’s why it’s important to learn how to read food labels.
Unfortunately manufacturers purposefully make it hard to understand their labels because the more you eat, the more money you’ll spend on their products.
At some point, it’s worthwhile to understand the metrics behind serving sizes. This will help you to visualize what’s “enough” food for you.
As an example, here are a few portion sizes that can help with your visualization efforts:
- 3 ounces (meat or fish) = deck of cards
- 1/2 cup is one ice cream scoop
- 1 cup is the size of a closed fist
Most people think they know a portion size, and most people are wrong. The super-sized mentality has skewed our viewpoint on what’s considered normal. By understanding portion sizes, you’ll know how much is appropriate to eat at each meal.
Example above is a 9 inch plate. A size much closer to a full plate being the “proper” size for meals.
Habit #4: Eat more Vegetables
I’m sure you remember your mom saying this. I admit it, I’m not crazy about most vegetables; but they’re an important part of living a healthy lifestyle.
One of the keys to mastering portion control is to eat lots of vegetables throughout the day. Why? There are many reasons. Vegetables are: Low in calories, packe
d with vitamins, and filled anti-oxidants and minerals. When it comes to controlling your portions, you can almost ignore large servings of veggies because they have a low amount of calories when compared to other foods.
Habit #5: Use Portion Control Plates
As mentioned before, since 1980 the average plate size has increased from 9 inches to 12 inches. That’s an increase of 33%. So a simple solution is to reverse this trend and buy a 33% smaller plate. Fill it up all you want, piling on the veggies and salad. That way you’ll be full, satiated and eating proper sized meals.
Don't want to buy new plates? You can do the same thing with a portion control plate tool. Simply lay it over you plate and fill up your fruit, vegetable, starch and protein sections.
Habit #6: Prepare Meals at Home
When we eat out, we get huge portions that taste great; but are usually filled with an insane amount of calories. Sure, the occasional dinner out can be a treat. But for the majority of the time, it’s far better to prepare meals at home.
Eating at home also means cooking your own meals. I know it’s tempting to throw a T.V. dinner into the microwave, but most of these are filled with junk calories. Plus they contain preservatives and don’t have a substantial amount of vegetables. The simpler solution is to cook your own food, which allows you to control and monitor all aspects of the food you’re eating.
Habit #7: Sneak in Veggies
Many people have a tough time eating their veggies. The trick is to find the veggies that you like and try to “sneak” them into the dishes that you prepare. Just add a few extra veggies into a recipe, to turn a non-veggie dish into something that’s healthier.
For instance, sneaking in veggies is a particularly effective strategy when preparing sandwiches, soups and casseroles.
Habit #8: Pack Your Leftovers Immediately
After loading up your plate at mealtime, immediately pack away the leftovers. If you are really hungry, you can always unpack your leftovers later. But this simple habit will remove the likelihood of “eating out of convenience.” By packing the food away, you’ll increase the chances of stopping after a single-serving meal.
Habit #9: Turn a Single Meal Out into 2 Meals
If you do go out to eat, only eat half the plate. In fact, ask your waitress/waiter to bring a “to-go box” the moment they bring you a meal and then put half away for a future meal. Most of the time, you can’t control the “badness” of a restaurant meal, but you can at least reduce the total number of calories.
Habit #10: Use Oil Sparingly
When cooking you sometimes need oil, but use it sparingly and try healthy alternatives like olive oil or safflower oil.
Habit #11: Prepare Single Serving Packages
If you cook large amounts of food, separate the leftovers into single serving packages. This makes it easy to grab a perfectly portioned size lunch for work or school.
Final Thoughts on Portion Control
Generally speaking, most “diets” don't work in the long-term. What does work is following a plan that incorporates sensible eating, minimizing bad foods and controlling your portions, and adding in a simple workout routine. Make it a point to incorporate these 11 strategies over the next 30 days and you’ll be on the road to forming the portion control habit.
Now it’s on to you.
Do you have any portion control tips you’d like to share? How have you fared with monitoring your eating habits in the past? What has worked (or not worked) for you?
Please share your stories, tips, thoughts and questions in the comment section below.
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