Become the Master of Portion Control!

by Christine on April 29th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, General Information

Looking back on my struggles with weight gain, I believe one of the fundamental issues that I continued to screw up was identifying the correct portion size for a given meal.  Once I got my binge-eating under control and began to eat healthy foods, I still gained weight.  I amped up the exercise, and I still gained weight.

Unless you are carefully regulating how much food you are consuming, it doesn’t really matter what types of food you are eating.  If you’re eating too much, you’re most likely grossly under-estimating the amount of calories you are consuming. This will inevitably lead to weight gain. It did for me.

Restaurants do not serve you a normal portion size worth of food.

This bears repeating.

Restaurants do not serve you a normal portion size worth of food.

When I go to a restaurant and order a meal, it will usually last me three additional meals.  That’s right, three additional meals!  That grilled chicken salad that costs you $13 suddenly becomes a lot more affordable when you consider that it will give you four meals.  Each meal out of that dinner only costs you $3.25 which is entirely reasonable.

I cannot stress this enough: use your measuring cups and buy a food scale.  Use them often.  When you’re home and making mashed potatoes, do not just throw a dollop of potatoes onto your plate. Get your measuring cup out and carefully measure exactly ¼ cup of mashed potatoes.  I use my measuring cups so often that I actually have three sets of them because I go through so many of them.

You can also use visual clues for determining an appropriate portion size.  Here is a general guideline that you can use:

Grain products What one serving looks like
1 cup of cereal The size of a fist
1 pancake A compact disk
Half a cup of cooked rice, pasta, or potato Half of a baseball. (NOT a softball. Baseball.)
1 slice of bread A cassette tape.
1 cup of French fries About 10 fries
4 oz Nachos potato chips About 7 chips
Fruits and veggies What one serving looks like
1 cup of salad greens A baseball
1 medium fruit A baseball
Half a cup of raisins A large egg
Half a cup of vegetables 1 light bulb
Half a cup of fruit 1 cell phone
1 cup of carrots 12 baby carrots
1 cup strawberries About 12 strawberries
Half a cup of grapes About 16 grapes
Dairy and Cheese What one serving looks like
One and a half oz cheese 4 stacked dice
½ cup of ice cream Half a baseball
1 cup of milk or yogurt The size of a fist
Meats and Alternatives What one serving looks like
3 oz of meat (beef, poultry, fish) Deck of cards
3 oz of grilled/baked fish (flattened) Checkbook
2 T of peanut butter Ping pong ball
Fats and Desserts What one serving looks like
1 t of oil The size of your thumb tip
1 cookie 1 makeup compact
1 T salad dressing 1 shot glass
1 T mayo 1 poker chip
¼ cup of Almonds About 12 almonds
2 T hummus 1 golf ball

Here are some tips for helping you control your portion sizes:

  • When you leave for work in the morning, measure out your snacks and put them into ziplock bags or containers.
  • Look for those 100-calorie snack packs. My favorites are the natural almond packs by Emerald.  If you buy in bulk, such as a big bag of pretzels, make sure you measure out a real portion size into a ziplock bag. Don’t just eat out of the family-sized bag.
  • When eating at restaurants, share your meal with your spouse or significant other.
  • Make an appetizer your meal (just watch out for those unhealthy fried appetizers!)
  • Eat like a child. Order off the kid’s menu if you can, or ask the restaurant if you can order a half-sized portion of any item on the menu.
  • Avoid those gigantic glasses of soda.
  • Think of eating in terms of snacks instead of meals. I haven’t eaten a “meal” in over a year now. Instead, I “snack” about six times a day. If I approach each eating-period as a “snack,” I find I am less likely to overeat.
  • Never, EVER eat at a buffet. Ever.  It’s a freaking free-for-all, and don’t put yourself through that.
  • Just eat half of whatever you would normally take.
  • Eat off of tiny plates, rather than big plates. You can’t overload (and overeat) if you’re eating off a teacup saucer!

Best food scales

  • The OXO Good Grips Food Scale. It’s more expensive than most, but it offers fractions instead of decimals, which is good for some people and a con for others.  It is a digital scale and is ranked as accurate, sturdy, and had a unique pullout display so that the readout is not covered up by a big plate or bowl. It can weigh foods up to 11 pounds.  It also has a “tare function” which means that it automatically adjusts the measurement to subtract for the weight of the container.  $45.
  • The EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale. This digital scale includes a calorie count book and will also weigh foods up to 11 pounds. It also has a tare function, and it can easily convert between grams and ounces. However, large bowls and plates may block the display, and the platform doesn’t remove for easy cleaning. At $25 it’s a good budget buy.
  • EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale. This digital scale has a calorie calculator built right in, so you can get all the nutrional properties of the food that you are weighing. It can analyze the food item by portion size. This scale also has a memory so you can track what you’re eating. It weighs 2 pounds and can measure up to 6.6 pounds of food. $69.95.

Cute Measuring Cup Products:

Heart Shapes

Gaggle of Geese or Giraffe Measuring Cups! These are totally cute!

More resources:

Wallet-sized portion control guide to take with you, by WebMD

Portion Distortion Quiz! How good are you at guessing?

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