How to portion control?


18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes

When you’re a kid, being a member of the clean plate club is practically a playground badge of honor. But when you’re an adult with a bad case of portion distortion, your membership is likely making it impossible for you to lose weight.

And we hate to break it to you, even if you think you’re eating the proper amount of food, you’re probably not. (Whomp, whomp!) But it’s not totally your fault; with each passing year, plates become larger and “normal” portions double in size, making it all the more difficult to eyeball proper servings of caloric fare like ice cream, almond butter, and cheese. But no matter who or what is to blame, that doesn’t change the fact that overeating can seriously mess with your blood sugar and lead to weight gain. There is a bit of good news, though: Simply cutting your portion sizes practically guarantees you’ll be able to fit back into your skinny jeans. In one study of 329 overweight people, 40 percent of those who practiced portion control for two years lost 5 percent or more of their body weight (for a 150-pound person that’s 7.5 pounds!) while those who didn’t measure their food out actually gained weight. Yikes!

To help you reel in your portions and live your healthiest life, we’ve compiled a list of the best science-backed tips and ingenious portion control products known to man. To shrink down to your goal weight, pick a tip or two that best fits into your lifestyle and then purchase a few products that can help you dole out the right amounts of your favorite foods. And speaking of slim down success, accelerate your results with the help of these 25 Ways to Lose Weight in 5 Seconds!


Make Your Own Snack Packs

In a recent experiment at the Cornell University food and brand lab, researchers gave study participants either a single bag containing 100 Wheat Thins or four smaller bags holding 25 each, waited for the munching to subside, then did a cracker count. The tally: Those given the jumbo bag consumed about 20 percent more. Outsmart your snack habit by pre-portioning everything from crackers and almonds to oatmeal and pasta as soon as you bring them home from the store. To stop yourself from going back for a second baggie of snacks, write the calorie count of the contents with a Sharpie nice and large! “Partitioning food prevents you from eating larger portions because stopping to open another package forces you to pay attention to how much you’re actually consuming,” says portion control researcher Amar Cheema. Not into that idea? Keep caloric nibbles out of your kitchen and load up on some of these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less instead. The less caloric a food is, the harder it is to overdo it!


Don’t Skip Meals

The more your tummy is rumbling the more likely you’ll serve yourself—and subsequently gobble down—far too much food! Aim to eat something with protein, fiber, and a bit of healthy fat every four hours or so. Not only will this strategy help you avoid overeating, it will also help ward off that debilitating mid-afternoon slump.


Change Up Your China

The bigger your plate, the bigger your meal. Why? While smaller plates make food servings appear significantly larger, larger plates make food appear smaller, which can lead to overeating. In one study, campers who were given larger bowls served themselves and consumed 16 percent more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Swapping dinner for salad plates (or even something closer to 9 or 10 inches in diameter) will help you eat more reasonable portions, which can help the pounds fly off your frame! To kick even more calories to the curb—and ensure you’re eating the right amounts from each food group—invest in a set of Slim & Sage portion control plates (pictured above). The pretty china patterns were all designed to help dieters divide their meal into quarters. Two of the quarters are for fruits and veggies; the others for whole grains and lean proteins. Want to get your hands on a set? Buy it here!


Start a Food Journal

Next time you’re craving some after dinner sweets, try mentally reviewing everything you ate earlier in the day. In a Physiology & Behavior study, participants who were asked to recall their last meal before doing a taste test ate 30 percent fewer cookies than those who were asked about their morning commute. “Remembering what you ate activates your brain’s hippocampus, which may play a role in decision-making to help you say no to consuming extra calories,” explains lead study author Suzanne Higgs. To tame your appetite, keep a food journal throughout the day and then review it before you reach for dessert. You may decide you don’t need that scoop of Chunky Monkey after all!

RELATED: 20 Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry


Use Your Muffin Tin For More Than Muffins

Occasionally indulging in some chicken pot pie or a slice of pizza isn’t the reason you can’t lose weight. Your pants feel tight because you’re portions of these caloric treats are massive. To help you eat your cake, and lose weight too, invest in a muffin tin. The catch? Don’t use it bake muffins! Instead, use the tray craft mini versions of comfort food classics like mac and cheese and tiny little pies. Paired with fruit or veggie salad, the bite-sized portions can help to keep temptation at bay and calories under control. Check out these 15 Muffin Tin Recipes for Perfect Portion Control to start eating your way slim!


Use Measuring Cups & Scales

This way be an obvious old school trick, but using measuring cups and scales can help you learn what actual serving sizes look like. And just because you invest in these gadgets now doesn’t mean you have to use them forever. After you learn how many almonds make up a one-ounce serving and memorize what a cup of pasta should look like, you’ll be able to eyeball your portions more accurately moving forward.


Follow the “Half Plate Rule”

Aim to have a vegetable with every meal. Better yet, try to fill half your plate with veggies or a mix of fruits and veggies. They add volume and nutrition to your meal without a lot of calories. Fill the rest of your plate with equal parts whole grains and lean protein. Even if you can’t measure out all the components of your meal, sticking to the plate rule, ensures you’re getting the right ratio of nutrients for optimal health and weight loss. For more healthy eating hacks, check out these 25 Best Nutrition Tips of All Time.


Drink More Water

Adequate water intake is essential for all your body’s functions, and the more you drink, the easier it is to cut back on calories (without going hungry) and lose weight. In one University of Utah study, dieting participants who were instructed to drink two cups of water before each meal lost 30 percent more weight than their thirsty peers—likely because the water filled up their bellies and curbed their appetites. Hate the taste of plain water? Check out these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss!


Look at Your Hands

If all else fails, next time you’re whipping up a meal or pulling together a snack, look down at your hands and remember these three portion control cues: 1.) A serving of fat should be about the size of your thumb; 2.) a true serving of rice or pasta is about the size of your fist; and 3.) lean meats should be about the size of your palm. Sticking to the recommended serving size can help zap away excess pounds—as can these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven’t Tried!


Cook In a Mug

If resisting the urge to indulge in a second serving is more than you can handle, consider making single-serve desserts and meals—in a mug! Thanks to their simple instructions, minimal equipment and blink-and-it’s-done cooking time, microwave mug recipes are uber trendy right now—and are an effortless way to keep portions in check. So, grab your mug, get cookin’ with the help of these 20 Mouthwatering Mug Recipes!


Get a Pasta Basket

Carb-a-holic looking to trim down? Jokari’s Portion Control Pasta Basket basket is about to become your new best friend. After you’ve used the basket to scoop out the correct amount of your favorite pasta you can set the basket directly into boiling water. When your noodles are done cooking, lift out the basket and the water will drain out right into the pot, so all that’s left to do is pour it onto your plate and enjoy! (If you prefer skinny noodles there is a hole on the basket handle that helps you measure the right amount.)Buy it here!


Brown Bag It

Women who regularly “brown bag it” tend to eat less overall calories, according to a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics report. In the study, women who went out to lunch once a week or more lost five pounds less than those who brought lunches from home. “Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes,” the authors wrote in the study. For best results, try packing your lunch in a container (like this one) that has built in sections. Use the biggest one for your veggies, and the two smaller ones for your grains and proteins. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) Some of our favorite combinations? Garlic roasted broccoli (veggie), roasted sweet potatoes (carb) with grilled chicken (protein); and a mixed green salad (veggie) with quinoa (carb) and s blend of seasoned chickpeas and kidney beans (protein).


Up Your Protein

If you find yourself ravenously shoveling food in your mouth throughout the day, you’re likely not getting enough protein. In one University of Sydney study, people who ate a low-protein diet reported feeling hungrier and ate 12 percent more calories throughout the day than those who consumed more of the muscle-building nutrient. While 12 percent may not seem too awful, the researchers estimate that this could add up to an extra 2.2 pounds of weight gain per month. That’s more 26 pounds a year! The easiest way to add more protein? Make sure every snack you have throughout the day includes 5 to 15 grams of the nutrient. That might mean swapping out chips for an ounce of almonds (6 grams) or reaching for a Greek yogurt (15 grams) instead of an ice cream bar. For even more high protein snack ideas, check out these 25 Best High Protein Snacks in America.


Sip Smarter

If your dietary downfall is booze, this glass by Caloric Cuvee is a must-own. (You can buy it here!) In addition to the calorie-marked wine glass, the brand also makes Old Fashioned glasses and beer mugs with similar looking calorie cues. Some may say it’s a buzz kill, but we think the invention is ingenious! Sometimes seeing a visual reminder of what you’re ingesting is all it takes to help you make smarter decisions.


Try Measuring Bowls

Whether you’re ladling out soup, pouring cereal, or scooping yourself some ice cream, consider this bowl your savior. Thanks to its stealthy measuring lines, you’ll always know when you’ve reached the recommended serving size. Get a set of two here!


Consider Serving Size

Sure, this story is about portion size, but when it comes to keeping your portions in check, serving size is actually really important. What’s the difference? Serving sizes, which are often listed on the nutrition label, refer to how many servings are inside a bag or box of food. So for example, if a snack bag of popcorn has 130 calories per serving, and the bag has two servings, you’d actually be consuming 260 calories if you scarfed down the entire thing in one sitting. Read the label and proceed with caution because to consume far more than you bargained for. Looking for more ways to save calories? Check out these 25 Ways to Cut 250 Calories


Get a Nut Scoop

Nuts are one of those health foods that nine out of 10 people regularly overeat—like, all the time. Did you know that just 15 almonds pack 100 calories? Or that 17 cashews has 157 calories? Most people eat three or four times that amount, which spells trouble for those with weight loss goals. To ensure you’re always sticking to the recommended serving size—which is an ounce—invest in the trust Nut Bowl and Scoop by Jokari. The best part? The scoop doubles as a lid, to make for easy snacking on the go. Buy it here!


Limit Your Choices

If measuring or thinking too hard isn’t really your thing, simply keep a smaller variety of foods in your house. As strange as it seems, keeping your options limited can help ward off overeating.
The reason: too many options zaps your willpower. That means avoiding buffets and only stocking your kitchen with your go-to staples. This ensures you’ll have plenty of portion willpower reserved when a coworker shows up with cupcakes or there’s a giant dessert table at a friend’s wedding.

Get the New Book!

Want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds—all without dieting?! Get your copy of Eat This, Not That: The Best (& Worst) Foods in America!, and learn how to indulge smarter and lose weight fast!

10 Easy Portion Control Tricks

When most of us sit down to eat, the last thing we want to think about is portion control. But for anyone on a diet or just looking to maintain their current figure, that’s exactly what they should be doing.

Gone are the days of eating a bagel or muffin and feeling safe about its calories. In fact, researchers measured typical servings from takeout restaurants, fast food chains, and family-style eateries and found that bagels were 195 percent larger than the standard set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), muffins were 333 percent bigger and cooked pasta exceeded the standard by 480 percent. Scariest of all were cookies, which were a whopping seven times the USDA recommended serving size.

Portion Control and Diet: How It Works

The first step in successful portion control is learning the correct serving size — the amount of food recommended by government agencies, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans put out by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services, and the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. The serving size can usually be found by reading nutritional labels. But the portion is the amount of food or drink a person chooses to consume. In many cases, the portion eaten is larger than the serving size simply because we don’t know any better.

Brush Up on Your Food-Label Smarts

“Portion control is limiting what you eat,” says Mary M. Flynn, RD, PhD, chief research dietitian and assistant professor of medicine at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Providence, R.I. “It is being aware of how much food you are actually eating and what calories are in that serving.”

Portion Control and Diet: 10 Easy Tips for Smaller Servings

The good news is that with a little practice, portion control is easy to do and can help people be successful in reaching and then maintaining a proper weight.

Here are 10 simple ways to keep your portions a healthy size:

1. Measure accurately. For foods and beverages, use gadgets like a measuring cup, tablespoon, teaspoon, or food scale.

2. Learn how to estimate serving sizes. “‘Ballpark’ food portion sizes by estimating serving sizes in comparison to known objects,” says Rose Clifford, RD, clinical dietitian in the department of pharmacy services at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC. “For example, three ounces of cooked meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.” Other easy measurements to eyeball include:

  • ½ cup is the size of an ice cream scoop
  • 1 cup is the size of a tennis ball
  • 1 ounce of cheese is the size of a domino

3. Use portion control dishware. Pick out smaller plates, bowls, cups, and glassware in your kitchen and measure what they hold. You might find that a bowl you thought held 8 ounces of soup actually holds 16, meaning you’ve been eating twice what you planned.

4. Dish out your servings separately. Serve food from the stove onto plates rather than family-style at the table, which encourages seconds.

5. Make your own single-serving packs. “Re-portion bulk quantities of favorite foods such as pasta, rice, and cereal into individual portions in zipper bags so that when you’re in the mood for some food you’ll instantly see the number of portions you’re preparing,” says Jennifer Nasser, RD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

6. Add the milk before the coffee. When possible, put your (fat-free) milk into the cup before adding the hot beverage to better gauge the amount used.

7. Measure oil carefully. This is especially important because oil (even the healthful kinds like olive and safflower) have so many calories; don’t pour it directly into your cooking pan or over food.

8. Control portions when eating out. Eat half or share the meal with a friend. If eating a salad, ask for dressing on the side. Dip your fork into the dressing and then into the salad.

9. Add vegetables. Eat a cup of low-calorie vegetable soup prior to eating a meal, or add vegetables to casseroles and sandwiches to add volume without a lot of calories.

Try This Beef Soup With Root Vegetables Recipe

10. Listen to your hunger cues. Eat when hungry and stop when satisfied or comfortably full. “Try to gauge when you are 80 percent full and stop there,” says Clifford. “There will be more food at the next meal or snack!”

Just Enough for You: About Food Portions

On this page:

  • What is the difference between a portion and a serving?
  • How much should I eat?
  • How can the Nutrition Facts food label help me?
  • How can I keep track of how much I eat?
  • How can I manage food portions at home?
  • How can I manage portions when eating out?
  • How can I manage portions and eat well when money is tight?
  • Clinical Trials

To reach or stay at a healthy weight, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Do you know how much food is enough for you? Do you understand the difference between a portion and a serving? The information below explains portions and servings, and provides tips to help you eat just enough for you.

To reach or stay at a healthy weight, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat.

What is the difference between a portion and a serving?

A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or at home. A serving, or serving size, is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts, or food label (see Figure 1 below).

Different products have different serving sizes, which could be measured in cups, ounces, grams, pieces, slices, or numbers—such as three crackers. A serving size on a food label may be more or less than the amount you should eat, depending on your age, weight, whether you are male or female, and how active you are. Depending on how much you choose to eat, your portion size may or may not match the serving size.

Figure 1. Updated Nutrition Facts Label

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

As a result of updates to the Nutrition Facts label in May 2016, some serving sizes on food labels may be larger or smaller than they had been before (see Figure 2 below). For instance, a serving size of ice cream is now 2/3 cup, instead of 1/2 cup. A serving size of yogurt is 6 ounces rather than 8 ounces. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed some food and beverage serving sizes so that labels more closely match how much people actually eat and drink.

Figure 2. FDA Serving Size Changes

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Serving size and servings per container

Go back to the updated food label in Figure 1 above. To see how many servings a container has, you would check “servings per container” listed at the top of the label above “Serving size.” The serving size is 2/3 cup, but the container has eight servings. If you eat two servings, or 1 1/3 cups, you need to double the number of calories and nutrients listed on the food label to know how much you are really getting. For example, if you eat two servings of this product, you are taking in 460 calories:

230 calories per serving x two servings eaten = 460 calories

How much should I eat?

How many calories you need each day to lose weight or maintain your weight depends on your age, weight, metabolism, whether you are male or female, how active you are, and other factors. For example, a 150-pound woman who burns a lot of calories through intense physical activity, such as fast running, several times a week will need more calories than a woman about the same size who only goes for a short walk once a week.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 can give you an idea of how many calories you may need each day based on your age, sex, and physical activity level. Use the Body Weight Planner tool to make your own calorie and physical activity plans to help you reach and maintain your goal weight.

How many calories you need each day depends on your age, weight, metabolism, sex, and physical activity level.

How can the Nutrition Facts food label help me?

The FDA food label is printed on most packaged foods. The food label is a quick way to find the amount of calories and nutrients in a certain amount of food. For example, reading food labels tells you how many calories and how much fat, protein, sodium, and other ingredients are in one food serving. Many packaged foods contain more than a single serving. The updated food label lists the number of calories in one serving size in larger print than before so it is easier to see.

Other Helpful Facts on the Food Label

The food label has other useful information about what is included in one food serving. For example, one serving on the food label in Figure 1 above has 1 gram of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat, a type of fat that is unhealthy for your heart.

The updated food label also includes information about “added sugars.” Added sugars include table sugar, or sucrose, including beet and cane sugars; corn syrup; honey; malt syrup; and other sweeteners, such as fructose or glucose, that have been added to food and beverages. Fruit and milk contain naturally-occurring sugars and are not included in the label as added sugars. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 calls for consuming less than 10 percent of calories daily from added sugars.

Because Americans do not always get enough vitamin D and potassium, the updated food label includes serving information for both of these nutrients. Since a lack of vitamin A and vitamin C in the general population is rare, these nutrients are no longer included on the food label. However, food makers may include them if they choose. Most food makers will have to start using the new food label by July 26, 2018. Figure 3 below compares the updated food label with the original label.

Figure 3. Side-by-Side Comparison of Original and New Nutrition Facts Label

Current label (left) Updated label (right)
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

How can I keep track of how much I eat?

In addition to checking food labels for calories per serving, keeping track of what you eat—as well as when, where, why, and how much you eat—may help you manage your food portions. Create a food tracker on your cellphone, calendar, or computer to record the information. You also could download apps that are available for mobile devices to help you track how much you eat—and how much physical activity you get—each day.

The Sample Food Tracker in Figure 4 below shows what a 1-day page of a food tracker might look like. In the example, the person chose fairly healthy portions for breakfast and lunch, and ate to satisfy hunger. The person also ate five cookies in the afternoon out of boredom rather than hunger.

By 8 p.m., the person was very hungry and ate large portions of high-fat, high-calorie food at a social event. An early evening snack of a piece of fruit and 4 ounces of fat-free or low-fat yogurt might have prevented overeating less healthy food later. The number of calories for the day totaled 2,916, which is more than most people need. Taking in too many calories may lead to weight gain over time.

If, like the person in the food tracker example, you eat even when you’re not hungry, try doing something else instead. For instance, call or visit a friend. Or, if you are at work, take a break and walk around the block, if work and schedule permit. If you can’t distract yourself from food, try a healthy option, such as a piece of fruit or stick of low-fat string cheese.

Figure 4. Sample Food Tracker


Time Food Amount Place Hunger/Reason Estimated Calories
8 a.m. Coffee, Black 6 fl. oz. Home Slightly hungry 2
Banana 1 medium 105
Low-fat-yogurt 1 cup 250
1 p.m. Grilled cheese sandwich Work Hungry 281
Apple 1 medium 72
Potato chips Single-serving bag, 1 ounce 152
Water 16 fl. oz.
3 p.m. Chocolate-chip cookies 5 medium-sized Work Not hungry/Bored 345
8 p.m. Mini chicken drumsticks with hot pepper sauce 4 Restaurant/Out with friends Very hungry 312
Taco salad 3 cups in fried flour tortilla with beans and cheese 586
Chocolate cheesecake 1 piece, 1/12 of 9-inch cake 479
Soft drink 12 fl. oz. 136
Latte Espresso coffee with whole milk, 16 ounces 196
Total Calories = 2,916

Through your tracker, you may become aware of when and why you consume less healthy foods and drinks. The tracker may help you make different choices in the future.

How can I manage food portions at home?

You don’t need to measure and count everything you eat or drink for the rest of your life. You may only want to do this long enough to learn typical serving and portion sizes. Try these ideas to help manage portions at home:

  • Take one serving according to the food label and eat it off a plate instead of straight out of the box or bag.
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV, while driving or walking, or while you are busy with other activities.
  • Focus on what you are eating, chew your food well, and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your food.
  • Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full, which may take at least 15 minutes.
  • Use smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses so that you eat and drink less.
  • Eat fewer high-fat, high-calorie foods, such as desserts, chips, sauces, and prepackaged snacks.
  • Freeze food you won’t serve or eat right away, if you make too much. That way, you won’t be tempted to finish the whole batch. If you freeze leftovers in single- or family-sized servings, you’ll have ready-made meals for another day.
  • Eat meals at regular times. Leaving hours between meals or skipping meals altogether may cause you to overeat later in the day.
  • Buy snacks, such as fruit or single-serving, prepackaged foods, that are lower in calories. If you buy bigger bags or boxes of snacks, divide the items into single-serve packages right away so you aren’t tempted to overeat.

Avoid eating while in front of the TV, while driving or walking, or while you are busy with other activities.

How can I manage portions when eating out?

Although it may be easier to manage your portions when you cook and eat at home, most people eat out from time to time—and some people eat out often. Try these tips to keep your food portions in check when you are away from home:

  • Share a meal with a friend, or take half of it home.
  • Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets.
  • Order one or two healthy appetizers or side dishes instead of a whole meal. Options include steamed or grilled—instead of fried—seafood or chicken, a salad with dressing on the side, or roasted vegetables.
  • Ask to have the bread basket or chips removed from the table.
  • If you have a choice, pick the small-sized—rather than large-sized—drink, salad, or frozen yogurt.
  • Stop eating and drinking when you’re full. Put down your fork and glass, and focus on enjoying the setting and your company for the rest of the meal.

Order an appetizer such as a salad instead of a whole meal.

Is getting more food for your money always a good value?

Have you noticed that it costs only a few cents more to get the large fries or soft drinks instead of the regular or small size? Although getting the super-sized meal for a little extra money may seem like a good deal, you end up with more calories than you need for your body to stay healthy. Before you buy your next “value meal combo,” be sure you are making the best choice for your wallet and your health.

How can I manage portions and eat well when money is tight?

Eating healthier doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. For instance:

  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables when they are in season. Check out a local farmers market for fresh, local produce if there is one in your community. Be sure to compare prices, as produce at some farmers markets cost more than the grocery store. Buy only as much as you will use to avoid having to throw away spoiled food.
  • Match portion sizes to serving sizes. To get the most from the money you spend on packaged foods, try eating no more than the serving sizes listed on food labels. Eating no more than a serving size may also help you better manage your fat, sugar, salt, and calories.


Too many calories can affect your weight and health. Along with choosing a healthy variety of foods and reducing the total calories you take in through eating and drinking, pay attention to the size of your portions. Sticking with healthy foods and drinks and managing your portions may help you eat just enough for you.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?

Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.

What clinical trials are open?

Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at

Portion Control Tips: 11 Ways to Avoid Portion Distortion and Eat the Right Amount of Food

Last Updated on January 22, 2020

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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 1980s 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 us 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 a daily basis. So here are 11 ways you can habitualize the concept of portion control.

11 Ways to Build the Portion Control Habit

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 healthily. They try to get the 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 the 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.

One great way to store leftover is portion control containers, which give a great way to measure and store leftovers.

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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Then share the below image on your favorite social media website (like Pinterest)!


How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls to Help Manage Your Weight

Portion control when eating out. Many restaurants serve more food than one person needs at one meal. Take control of the amount of food that ends up on your plate by splitting an entrée with a friend. Or, ask the wait person for a “to-go” box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it’s brought to the table.

Portion control when eating in. To minimize the temptation of second and third helpings when eating at home, serve the food on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table. Keeping the excess food out of reach may discourage overeating.

Portion control in front of the TV. When eating or snacking in front of the TV, put the amount that you plan to eat into a bowl or container instead of eating straight from the package. It’s easy to overeat when your attention is focused on something else.

Go ahead, spoil your dinner. We learned as children not to snack before a meal for fear of “spoiling our dinner.” Well, it’s time to forget that old rule. If you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or small salad, to avoid overeating during your next meal.

Be aware of large packages. For some reason, the larger the package, the more people consume from it without realizing it. To minimize this effect:

  • Divide up the contents of one large package into several smaller containers to help avoid over-consumption.
  • Don’t eat straight from the package. Instead, serve the food in a small bowl or container.

Out of sight, out of mind. People tend to consume more when they have easy access to food. Make your home a “portion friendly zone.”

  • Replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl.
  • Store especially tempting foods, like cookies, chips, or ice cream, out of immediate eyesight, like on a high shelf or at the back of the freezer. Move the healthier food to the front at eye level.
  • When buying in bulk, store the excess in a place that’s not convenient to get to, such as a high cabinet or at the back of the pantry.

It can be really hard trying to get the right portion sizes for breakfast. Labels can be confusing; when it comes to cereal, for example, many often over-fill larger bowls with more than the amount recommended in the nutritional information.

Choosing a good breakfast option and being mindful when it comes to portion size can make a huge difference to the calorie and sugar intakes at the start of your day.

Registered nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed, as part of Wren Kitchen’s ‘Behind The Label’ campaign, shares six tips for portion control to stop over-eating.

1. Use a smaller bowl for cereal

“If you are using bigger bowls for breakfast, then it’s likely you are having more food than you actually need. Use a small/medium bowl and consistently use the same one every morning to make portion control easier.”

2. Add in some protein

“A great way to feel fuller for longer and avoid over-eating at breakfast is to add some protein to your morning. Foods like beans, hummus, egg, salmon, nuts, seeds or nut butters can help you get the nutrients you need to start the day and feel satisfied at the end of a meal.”

3. Try to get some of your 5 a day

“It could be grilled mushrooms with your eggs, berries in your yogurt or some kale in a smoothie; getting fruit and vegetables first thing sets you up for the rest of the day. This will boost your fibre and nutrients intake at a vital time, meaning you’re fuller for longer and stop snacking on those empty calories.”


4. Use your hand as a guide

“When it comes to measuring, it’s all about moderation and not restricting yourself. By simply using your hand as a guide, you can see roughly how much you should be eating. Use the palm of your hand to measure how much protein you need and your thumb (roughly a tablespoon) for measuring healthy fats. A fist size is the ideal portion for carbohydrates and vegetables.”

5. Slow down and enjoy

“Many of us eat breakfast in a rush, either on the go or at our desks, which can make you feel like you’ve forgotten that you even had breakfast. It’s so important as the first meal of the day, so try to dedicate time to eat and appreciate it. Being mindful may help you to feel fuller and more satisfied after a meal.”

6. Choose low sugar cereals

“Opting for a low-sugar cereal and then adding your own ingredients might help you eat less overall and get some extra nutrients. Choosing a small bowl of low-sugar cereal and adding oats, fruit and yogurt is better than a big bowl of high-sugar cereal.”

Related Story

Are you struggling to lose weight or looking for an easier way to eat healthy without feeling hungry all the time? Portion control is a great method to lose weight and monitor your healthy eating. This post explains what portion control is and offers tons of tips for how to successfully portion control yourself to healthy!

Portion control is one of the biggest nutrition hacks I’ve found for sticking to a healthy lifestyle, losing weight, and then maintaining my ideal weight. The idea is to understand what your body needs and just eat to that level. Oftentimes, either because we feel we have to finish all that’s on our plate or restaurants have pre-determined giant portions, we over-eat, which leads to weight gain.

Enter portion control, which helps us to identify what’s in our food and how much we need to consume to meet our goals. The hang-up for many people when trying lo lose weight, however, is they think they need to drastically reduce the amount of food they’re eating, which isn’t necessarily the case. My goal in this post is to share how to portion control without feeling hungry all the time, and still lose the weight (assuming that’s your goal). The bottom line is that portion control means no food is off limits — it’s just a matter of choice if and when you choose to eat anything.

Hopefully, the info I have shared below will help provide you some much needed support and control over this process. In a nutshell, here are the portion control topics we’re gonna cover in this post:

  1. Why is Portion Control Important?
  2. How Portion Control Can Help You Lose Weight
  3. 10 Portion Control Tips for How to Get Started
  4. Serving Size Versus Portion Size: What’s The Difference?
  5. What Does Serving Size Mean?
  6. What Does Portion Size Mean?
  7. Understanding Macros
  8. How To Calculate Macros
  9. How To Eat Slowly for Better Portion Control
  10. Should I Keep a Food Journal?
  11. How to Cut Down Portions Without Feeling Hungry
  12. How to Ea Smaller Portions at Restaurants
  13. Portion Control as a Lifestyle, Not a Diet
  14. Meal Prep Ideas for Portion Control

Feel free to jump to any sections that may be of interest.

So, let’s get started!


In basic terms, your body requires a certain amount of calories to function and survive each day. Those calories are determined by your age, current weight, and daily activity level and vary from person to person. An average woman requires approximately 2000 calories per day to maintain her weight, and 1500 calories per day to lose one pound of weight per week. An average man, on the other hand, requires approximately 2500 calories per day to maintain his weight, and 2000 to lose one pound of weight per week.

That’s where portion control comes in. If you’re eating more calories than your body needs, your body will take those extra calories and store them as fat. The more extra calories you consumer, the more fat you’ll store. So, in order to reduce those extra calories being stored as fat, we can use portion control to make sure we are eating what our body actually needs.

The reason why this is so difficult for many of us to do is we are constantly provided with larger portions than we need. This causes us to eat more without even realizing we’ve over-eaten, causing weight gain.


By portioning out our food and controlling the amounts of food we put into our bodies, we can essentially assume control over how much of our food will be stored as fat. And, if we eat at a calorie deficit, which means we eat less than what our body requires each day to function, we can then make our body use stored fat for energy, which causes weight loss. The more stored fat your body burns, the more weight you lose, up to a point, which is why we want to make sure we maintain a healthy, balanced diet while we utilize portion control.


Don’t worry, this isn’t where I suggest you eat carrot sticks and celery al day to lose weight. In fact, I recommend eating portions that make you feel full and satisfied, all the while understanding the food breakdown of what you’re eating. To help you, I’ve gathered some portion control tips that helped me when I first started.

  1. Read all nutrition labels. This is a biggie and will definitely be a big help to understand what’s in your food. It’s so important to read the labels to understand serving sizes. This doesn’t mean we then go by what the label recommends as a serving, however. Instead, we use labels to understand how much of that food we should be eating. Not everybody needs the same serving size, so it’s important to consider your daily needs. You can read more about what to look out for on your labels in this clean eating guide.
  2. Measure your food. There are many different ways to understand serving sizes so we can have a better idea of what we are eating. If you’re cooking at home (which is a great way to control portion size), you can make use of a kitchen scale, measuring cups, and meal prep containers to portion control your meals. When you’re not at home, there are also several tips you can use, which I discuss later on in this post.
  3. Meal prep. I love to meal prep because it is such a great way to help prepare you to succeed at your healthy goals. It helps to prep and cook balanced and healthy meals and full control over food portion sizes. The more you can plan ahead and make your well-balanced meal work for you, the better of you’ll be. Here are some great meal prep ideas to get you started.
  4. Calculate your macros. It’s important to get a good understanding of what your body needs in order to fully take advantage of portion control when trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight. This one is a little tricky and does require some patience and learning. I’ll cover how to calculate your macros later in this post so you can get started right away.
  5. Fill up on veggies. Veggies and greens are always a good idea so make sure you enjoy them with every meal. They not only add valuable nutrients, but they also are filling and don’t take up a bunch of calories, which allows you to better portion out your carbs and protein.

  1. Go slow and steady. No one likes to be hungry all the time. It’s a lifestyle that won’t be satisfying and, thus, will likely fail when you are trying to lose weight. The best method for weight loss is gradual weight loss over time as part of a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, not to restrict your calories so much that you’re miserable. You can read more about my own personal struggle with weight and calories counting as well. That means you want to slowly reduce your portion sizes and your body gets used to the new levels. The more drastic you cut your food intake, the more your body and mind will fight you to give up.
  2. Use smaller plates. There’s something about finishing your plate that really makes a difference. I know it seems crazy, but using smaller plates will help you to feel like you’re enjoying a full meal and will trick your brain into feeling satisfied. If you eat everything on your plate, but the plate is smaller, it will feel better than not eating everything on your plate with a larger plate. This is another reason I really like these glass meal prep containers — because I know I can eat everything in the container and it’s still on track with my goals.
  3. Drink more water. Did you know drinking water before a meal will help with portion control and will help you to lose weight faster? For realz! When we’re dehydrated, we tend to eat more. So, drinking a glass of water before your meal actually helps because you’ll be less tempted to eat a big portion size. If I know I’ve already eaten what my body needs and I start to feel hungry, I drink a glass of water and wait 30 minutes. If I’m still hungry, I know it’s that I should eat a small snack, but often times, I’m no longer hungry – I was actually thirsty!
  4. Eat slowly. It can be difficult at first to re-train yourself, but try to slow down your eating. The longer you take to eat your food, the more full you’ll feel before you finish, which will help you eat what you need and not over-eat. Check out my tips for how to train yourself to eat more slowly later in this post.
  5. Make a schedule. I found it really helpful to create a schedule with alarms on my phone that would let me know when breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack times were. That way, I always had something to look forward to and knew I was just a little bit away, while I trained my body to not over-eat anymore.


Learning how to measure food is very important and it will make portion control much easier. So, first, let’s talk about the difference between serving size and portion size.

What Does Serving Size Mean?

Serving size is the recommended amount of a specific type of food. This is the recommended amount for a day, not for a meal. The serving size is what you will read on a nutrition label at the top for that product. Serving size, believe it or not, is actually NOT based on dietary needs to any large degree. The “serving size” we see at the top of nutrition labels (for example, 15 crackers, 8 oz., or 2 tbsp, etc.) was determined from the average amount Americans consumed in a single seating, based on federal food surveys between 1978 and 1988! Insane, right? The serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts label are NOT recommended serving sizes. By law, those serving sizes must actually be based on how much food people actually consume, and not on what they should eat. That means it is not very useful in understanding how much of that food we should be eating — you must understand that for yourself.

What Does Portion Size Mean?

The portion size is the actual amount of food you literally eat in one sitting. That means we need to understand serving sizes of our food and eat what our bodies require using portion control to lose weight and be healthy. It’s also always important to remember your nutritional needs are likely very different than the ones of an average person, especially when you consider serving size wasn’t even based on nutritional requirements.

Factors that can affect your daily caloric intake (and ideal portion size):

  • level of physical activity (exercise increases your body’s ability to burn calories)
  • height
  • age
  • genetics
  • diet (certain foods can increase or decrease your metabolism, which is what burns fat)
  • gender
  • drugs (certain drugs can help or hurt your metabolism)
  • muscle mass (the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns)
  • body size
  • hormonal imbalances


The first step in understanding how much food you should be eating to better succeed at portion control is to calculate your macros. What the heck are macros, you ask? Great question! Read on and learn all about them and why they’re so important for understanding portion control.

To start, all food is broken up into:

  1. carbohydrates
  2. protein, and
  3. fat.

It’s the combination of the three of these “macros” (short for “macronutrients”) that make up what we call Calories.

  • Calories

    First and foremost, let’s get one thing straight. A calorie, by itself, is not the evil thing you might thing it is. It is literally just a scientific way to measure energy. Calories aren’t bad for you by themselves. Your body NEEDS calories for energy. But eating too many calories — and not burning enough of them off through activity — can lead to weight gain. In fact, it takes about 3,500 calories below your calorie needs to lose a pound of body fat. It takes approximately 3,500 calories above your calorie needs to gain a pound.

    For the macros:

    1. 1 g carbohydrate = 4 calories
    2. 1 g protein = 4 calories
    3. 1 g fat = 9 calories

    This is why not all foods are created equal and why some contain more calories than others. It’s also not just about how many calories you eat, it’s about eating quality foods for your caloric intake.


    Commonly referred to as “carbs,” carbohydrates are in foods like bread, rice, and potatoes and they provide your body with heat and energy. There are three types of carbs:

    1. Starches (found in vegetables, beans, grains, pasta, bread)
    2. Sugars (found either naturally in fruits, milk, etc., or can be added to food, like with granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, etc.)
    3. Fibers (found in beans, fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, etc.)

    Overall, the goal is to focus more on fiber and starches and limit sugars, especially those that aren’t naturally occurring.


    All of our organs, including skin, muscles, hair and nails are built from proteins. Additionally, hormones, the immune system, the digestive system, and our blood all rely on proteins to work correctly. Protein is, therefore, an essential part of our diet, vital to our development, and for proper functioning of the body. When we eat, our body breaks down the protein in our food in order to create the amino acids that it needs.

    Foods high in protein:

    • lean meat
    • fish
    • eggs
    • dairy
    • nuts

    In order for protein to be broken down once we eat it, we NEED fat and carbohydrates to fuel the process. That’s why having a well-balanced diet is so critical — you can’t just eat protein and no fat or carbs — they all work together.

  • Fat

    Fat makes food taste better and makes us feel full longer, but what does it do for our bodies? Believe it or not, fat is also an essential part of our diet and nutrition, meaning we literally cannot live without it. While our bodies require small amounts of “good fat” to function and help prevent disease, a lot of diets contain far more fat than the body needs. Too much fat, especially too much of the wrong type of fat, can cause serious health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which can lead to a greater risk of heart disease.

    Types of fat:

    • Unsaturated Fat – Unsaturated fats are generally considered the best kind of fat. Unsaturated fats come from vegetable sources and are encouraged as part of a healthy diet. These fats help reduce heart disease, lower cholesterol levels and have other health benefits.
    • Saturated Fat – Generally, saturated fats come from animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs etc.), and are usually solid at room temperature. Common sources of saturated fat include: Beef, Lamb, Pork, Dairy products made from whole milk (milk, cheese, butter), poultry skin, palm oil, etc.
    • Hydrogenated / Trans Fat – Almost exclusively manufactured and are used in many processed foods. They are linked to an increased risk of high cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease. These are the worst of all fats when it comes to health. Manufacturers use trans fats because it increases the shelf life of fat and makes the fat harder at room temperature.

    Understanding what macros are and why we need them is very helpful for approaching portion control — it’s the “why” behind a well-balanced meal, and what that means for our bodies.


    So…how do you calculate your macros? While you can calculate it yourself using a formula, I recommend using the IIFYM calculator (IIFYM stands for “If It Fits Your Macros”), which helps you take activity level, goals, and many other factors into account. It is very quick to calculate and will provide you with how many calories you should eat each day, based on your goals, as well as how many grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to eat each day to reach your goals, whether that’s to lose, gain, or maintain weight.

    Once you have a base-line understanding of what macros your body requires, you can break down the foods you’re eating and control the portions to best fit your macros. It can seem a little overwhelming to start, but it becomes more second nature the more you learn what makes up your food.


    One of the reasons we tend to eat too much is because we don’t pay attention to what and how much we’re eating and how fast we’re doing it. Multitasking is not good for portion control, peeps. So try mindful eating. This means: slow down and experience your meal. For instance, did you know it can take your body up to 20 minutes to feel full? So, if you devour your meal within 4 minutes, there’s no way your body will feel full, and you’ll eat more than you need. If we eat too fast, we will over-eat and not feel satisfied from a meal that should actually be totally satisfying.

    To learn how to eat slowly, try the following…

    • chew each bite 15-20 times;
    • don’t shovel food in your mouth, take small bite after small bite;
    • eat at the table and focus on your meal, not on other things (don’t watch TV or stay in front of your PC, you might end up eating more if you don’t pay attention to your food);
    • be aware of how full you are and stop if you feel satisfied (learn the difference in how you feel when “satisfied” versus “full”);
    • save extra food for later if necessary (you don’t need to eat everything).

    Yes, life is busy and hectic, but the more we can practice mindful eating, the better off we will be – food will taste better, we will feel nourished, and we’ll lose weight along the way!


    Another great idea for those just getting started learning how to portion control is to keep a food journal. A food journal is a great way to manage food portion sizes and to make sure they follow the portion sizes we’ve determined, based on our individual needs.

    So, how do you keep a food journal or diary? You can choose to either keep track using an app or on a notepad. The idea is to track everything you eat, including portion sizes, each day. This will help provide you with a baseline for how much you’re currently eating and to keep track of your goals each day. I prefer the MyFitnessPal app, but there are many, many free and paid options out there.

    A word of caution: While I do believe tracking your meals is a fantastic way to create a baseline or starting point, and to reel in what you’re eating to better understand why you may or may not be losing weight, I recommend limiting the amount of time you keep a diary. Over time, you’ll be able to understand portions on your own, which is ideal to avoid becoming obsessed with every single calorie in your diary — trust me, I’ve been there. Once you’ve tracked your food for about a month, you should have a pretty good understanding of what portions you should be eating. The better you can trust yourself with your food choices, the more healthy of a lifestyle it will be. This is also what makes eating clean a fantastic choice because you don’t have so many empty calories of sugar and processed fats.


    If you’re worried that eating smaller portions will make you feel hungry all the time, I totally understand. I think everyone’s been on “that diet” where you felt like you were starving from meal to meal, only to finally eat another meal that wasn’t filling enough. This can cause un-needed stress, and is exactly what we want to avoid. So, take it one step at a time. Use this post to find out the ideal macros for you, then start to focus on your food portion sizes. Take note of the portions you’re currently eating — are they way too big? Try reducing them slightly, but do it progressively. If you want to be successful at the portion control, treat it like a marathon, not a sprint, and set yourself up for success.

    Here are some more portion control tips to help you feel satisfied (not starving!):

    • Overload on veggies and greens and follow more strict portions for higher calorie/fat foods, like carbs, proteins, and fats;
    • Fill up on water as much as possible – remember your body tricks you that you’re hungry when you may actually be thirsty;
    • Put aside a part of your meal for later. If, in 20 minutes you’re still hungry, finish eating. If not, save for later in the fridge.
    • Eat snacks! Snacking between meals will make eating smaller portions much easier. Just make sure those snacks are healthy and good for you (like these healthy snacks)!
    • Make sure you’re eating the right macros. make use of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbs so you’re not running on fumes.
    • Ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you just THINK you’re hungry because you’re used to eating more. This will be a gradual process you’ll need to learn.


    Portion control at restaurants is very tricky, especially nowadays when restaurants serve extra-large portions. It is definitely manageable, though, so don’t worry. I still like to eat out from time to time, but I’m able to keep my portion sizes under control. Here’s how you can do it, too:

    • Check the meal portion size or ask the staff – order something that is close to your ideal food portion sizes;
    • Ask for a half order (they can even box it for you ahead of time so you never see it!);
    • Use the 50/25/25 rule for each meal (50% carbs / 25% fat / 25% protein) to feel full and have more energy;
    • Take leftovers to go if you really crave something that comes in an extra-large portion;
    • Split the meal with someone – you can split the appetizers, the main dish, and even the dessert;
    • Eat until you are satisfied and take the rest to go – don’t overeat just to finish the portion!
    • Remember to go heavy on the greens and always ask for veggies as a side.
    • Drink your water so you feel full.

    These tips will help you to eat smaller portions at restaurants for sure. For more tips, check out my post on how to eat healthy at restaurants.


    I think it’s best to remember that portion control is an active choice you make as an investment in your healthy lifestyle and overall wellness journey. Portion control can help you lose weight and also keep weight off, and it’s all part of the process of controlling what foods you’re eating with clean eating. Hopefully, you’ll find how good it feels to be in control of your food (instead of at war) and aware of what, how much, and when you’re eating. Mindful eating and informed choices – this is the power of portion control. And I’m sure you’ll notice the long-term, positive effects along the way!


    Now that you’re on board with portion control, I’m betting you could use some helpful recipes to get you started. Here are some of my absolute favorite meal prep recipes because they are well-balanced, delicious, filling, easy, and, of course, allow you to portion control your food!

    • 7-Day Meal Prep For Weight Loss
    • Breakfast Egg White Scramble + Sweet Potato Hash
    • Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches
    • Frozen Breakfast Burritos
    • 6 Overnight Oat Recipes
    • How to Meal Prep Chicken
    • Healthy Chicken Parmesan
    • Healthy Chicken Fajita Meal Prep
    • Salmon Meal Prep
    • Honey Garlic Shrimp Meal Prep
    • Korean Beef Bowl Meal Prep
    • Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes 4 Ways
    • Spicy Chipotle Chickpea Taco Bowl Meal Prep
    • Smoothie Freezer Packs
    • Mason Jar Salads
    • Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash Noodles
    • 3 Healthier Takeout Options to Make at Home

    Plus I have TONS more Meal Prep Ideas on the blog for you to get started!

    This post contains affiliate links for products I use often and highly recommend.

Ever feel frustrated because you’re eating all the right foods but your pounds aren’t melting away? Even though you’ve cut carbs, ditched fats and passed on the booze, your weight-loss efforts aren’t being rewarded. Maybe you’re suffering from portion distortion. There are a few simple remedies.

Portion Control Devices

First of all, stop relying on your own body parts — like your hand — to judge portion size. It’s not consistent or reliable. Instead, use universal items like:

  • a deck of cards, which looks like a 3-ounce portion of protein
  • a tennis ball, representing a cup of pasta
  • one die, like a teaspoon of nut butter

Or, you can try a a number of products that you can find online that are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and will take the guesswork out of measuring.

Measuring cups

Measuring spoons can help you weigh out high-calorie fats like oils (120 calories per tablespoon) and nut butters (100 calories/tablespoon).

Measuring cups can keep grains like cereal, rice and pasta in check (1/2 cup cooked grains or pasta is 1 serving, equivalent in calories to a slice of bread).

If need a new set of cups and spoons, you have a wide array to choose from whether glass, metal, plastic), color, and price — and the number of pieces you need.

If space is an issue, some sets are collapsible like this 8-piece set made of silicone.

Leepiya collapsible Measuring Cups and Spoons, $11 (Originally $21), Amazon

Leepiya collapsible Measuring Cups and Spoons, $11 (Originally $21), Amazon

Besides the space-saving feature, an important attribute for measuring equipment is that the measurements (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 teaspoon, and so on) are engraved or raised on the surface and not just printed on. If you wind up using these devices frequently, over time the print will wear away.

Portion control containers

If the containers you saved from restaurant delivery services have mismatched covers and are never the size you need, this 7-piece 21-Day Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Containers Kit comes with:

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  • a 12-day meal planner
  • a guide showing how to use the containers
  • a recipe ebook

The system is color coded so you can match various containers to the amount of daily proteins, carbs, fruits, vegetables and fats you require, depending upon the amount of calories you need to consume. The containers are BPA-free and easy to store and carry along to work or on-the-go or when you’d like to pre-measure the amounts of food you plan on eating for the day.

The set includes a sample grocery list, meal tracker, and other guides to help you account for your daily intake. Beyond the 21 days you’ll have to repeat the positive behaviors you’ve learned over the previous three weeks. This is a good set to help you jump start and balance your diet plan.

21-Day Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Kit + Planner + Recipe eBook, $13 (Originally $50), Amazon

21-Day Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Kit + Planner + Recipe eBook, $13 (Originally $50), Amazon

Digital food scale

Are you over- or underestimating portions? A food scale is the most precise way to tell. You could try an inexpensive postal scale, but digital scales are reasonably priced and easy to use and store.

The Ozeri ZK14-AB Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale lets you measure in grams, pounds, ounces or millimeters and it even allows you to convert grams to pounds, and so on.

Results are displayed on a LCD screen powered by 2 AAA batteries (which are included). To save battery life the scale automatically powers down when not in use.

Ozeri Digital Kitchen and Food Scale, $15 (Originally $35), Amazon

Ozeri Digital Kitchen and Food Scale, $15 (Originally $35), Amazon

To take the food scale to another level, the EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale – Professional Food and Nutrient Calculator can also calculate calories, carbohydrates, fiber, sodium, fats, vitamin k and six other nutrients from thousands of packaged and whole foods by using the built-in codes or the nutritional calculations found on food labels.

This scale weighs in grams and ounces and runs on 4 AAA batteries (included).

EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale, $40 (Originally $42), Amazon

EatSmart Digital Nutrition Scale, $40 (Originally $42), Amazon

A food scale is most helpful if your judgement of portions sizes is inaccurate, but the goal is to learn to use your eyes and estimate portion sizes so that you can feel confident about measuring portions when outside of your home. This food scale is useful for those following recipes, even when weight loss is not a goal.

Portion control plates

A more subtle way to assess the amount you should be putting on your plate, especially when you’re dining with others, is to use a dish that is sectioned.

Since most healthy eating plans say half your plate should contain fruits and veggies, with the remaining half divided equally among proteins (like meat, fish, poultry, tofu) and carbs (such as grains, pasta, potatoes), divided plates are a reliable visual guide.

The Portion Control Plates Kit from Precise Portions comes with a meal plan guide to help with proper portions for kids and adults. You can get these plates with just a design dividing the plate into sections or with display words. That way you’ll know what goes in each section and how much you should be eating.

Portion Control Plates Kit from Precise Portions, $30 for 2, Amazon

Portion Control Plates Kit from Precise Portions, $30 for 2, Amazon

Precise Portions also makes portion control snack and cereal bowls for breakfasts and mid-day noshing.

Portion Control Cereal & Snack Bowls, $35 for 8, Amazon

Portion Control Cereal & Snack Bowls, $35 for 8, Amazon

Additionally, the brand sells microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe section plates with lids that are perfect for lunches or leftovers.

Portion Control To-Go Plates with Lid, $30 for 4, Amazon

Portion Control To-Go Plates with Lid, $30 for 4, Amazon

The takeaway

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight or just maintain the body you have, you should be aware of how much food you’re consuming. If you don’t watch your portion sizes, you may not fit into your favorite sizes!

Want to learn more about how to get fit and eat right? Today Health has a whole collection of healthy cookbooks to jump start your diet, as well as digital smart scales to keep you on track.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, is the founder of and author of “Read It Before You Eat It.” You can find her on Twitter @eatsmartbd and Instagram @bonnietaubdix.

Most diets fall into one of two categories—they either claim to unlock a previously misunderstood secret of nutrition science that will lead to effortless weight loss (see: Keto, Atkins); or they promise an innovative way to change your thinking around food that will lead to effortless weight loss (see: Noom, intermittent fasting).

The reality is that although there are certain habits most doctors and nutritionists would encourage for good health—eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep—there is no one weight-loss system that works for everyone (and certainly not an “effortless” one). Increasingly, the consensus is that dieting, on the whole, doesn’t work, and that body size is not necessarily a good metric for health.

Despite that, the diet industry—with its books, apps, programs, packaged foods, and supplements—was worth an estimated $66 billion in 2018. The enduring popularity of diets speaks to our deep confusion around body size, health, and food.

Even as I wrote this story in a café, I overhead a woman confidently recommend that her dining companion dust her coffee with cinnamon to “help control your blood sugar.” (There’s no evidence the spice has this effect.) And indeed, so much of modern diet culture is based around this sort of “one weird trick” thinking: Just cut out all carbs, or don’t eat fruit, or practice mindfulness at mealtime, or fast two days a week, and you’ll crack the code of weight loss.

Into this crowded marketplace has come a new weight-loss strategy that has been gaining attention, and doesn’t sound at all like a weird trick or a new fad. In fact, it sounds like something your grandmother would have sworn by to keep her figure: portion control.

Counting calories

As a weight-loss strategy, portion control has obvious appeal—it’s simple and doesn’t rely on new theories of biology. And it feels like common sense: Smaller portions mean fewer calories. But it also reveals just how much about weight loss and nutrition we don’t actually grasp, and how seemingly helpful information, like the portion sizes on food labels, can deepen that confusion.

Instead of drastically limiting the foods you’re “allowed” to eat (like the Whole30, Keto, or Paleo diets), portion control doesn’t usually ban foods. Neither WW nor Noom, weight-loss programs that have participants track and count their intake, tell you precisely what to eat. Instead they set limits on how much, in the form of a number of “points” or calories, you can consume on a daily basis.

In the community that has grown up around WW (a rebrand of the company formerly known as Weight Watchers, with the tagline “Wellness that works”), there are hundreds of articles, blog posts and Pinterest pins dedicated to outlining ways to eat without racking up points. Points aren’t directly equivalent to calories, but the message is clear—the less food you eat, the better.

Of course, that’s not always true. Despite the often-cited maxim that weight loss is as simple as burning more calories than you consume, a growing body of research suggests that weight loss is far more complex, and that the nutritional information on food labels isn’t as clear cut as it might seem. “The more we probe, the more we realise that tallying calories will do little to help us control our weight or even maintain a healthy diet,” the Economist reported recently. “The beguiling simplicity of counting calories in and calories out is dangerously flawed.”

Calories represent stored energy, and are calculated based on the amount of heat produced when a food is burned. The human digestive system though, involves many more variables than an oven. In the US, it’s legal for calorie counts on packaging to be off by up to 20 percent, the Economist explained. What’s more, even when the count is accurate, different bodies process calories in different ways. “The calorie as a scientific measurement is not in dispute,” the Economist reported. “But calculating the exact calorific content of food is far harder than the confidently precise numbers displayed on food packets suggest.”

Nutritionists who embrace an “intuitive” approach to eating (another growing trend, but one that pointedly eschews food rules and diet products and doesn’t promote or promise weight loss), say that the emphasis on the amount of food we eat—all that weighing of pasta portions, and doling out of tablespoons of hummus—undermines our internal system of satiety and appetite, which should tell us when to eat and when to stop eating.

“It reinforces the messages that we see in diet culture, which is you cannot trust your body to tell you what, when, and how much to eat,” Dr. Laura Thomas, a registered nutritionist in the UK, and author of Just Eat It told me over the phone. “Therefore you need rules, you need restrictions in place. You need these guidelines. And again, it’s undermining that trust that we have in our bodies to self-regulate.”

Portion size matters

The guru of portion control is Dr. Lisa Young, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University whose outrage about growing portion size has become her personal brand.

Young came to prominence as the researcher in the documentary Super Size Me who points out how much larger typical portion sizes have gotten in restaurants over time. In that seminal film, she highlights how the smallest order of fries on the menu at many fast food restaurants used to be the only size available, and points out that the largest soda cups at many convenience stores clock in at a full half-gallon of sugary liquid.

These giant portions warp our perception of how much we should eat, she argues in a new book, Finally Full, Finally Slim. And our actual dinnerware has gotten bigger over time as well, she says. “We get used to these big portions, and plates have gotten bigger,” she said in a phone call. “They’re not the same size as our grandmother’s stuff.”

Young, like many others in nutritional science, is a critic of fad diets. “It’s really not that complicated,” she says of maintaining a healthy diet. “Fads come and go and we want to jump on it. Like whether it’s celery juice, whether it’s kale, whether it’s cauliflower, there’s no miracle diet and there’s no miracle ingredient—period.” She maintains that eating from smaller plates—using a salad plate or pulling your grandparents’ china out of the cabinet—and filling it half full of vegetables is a solid starting place for a healthy diet, and potentially for weight loss as well.

“Portion control is a lifestyle issue,” she said. “And it doesn’t mean you have to eat tiny portions.”

Thomas agreed that super-sized restaurant meals have the power to distort our thinking around how much food we need. But the portion control movement is just more of the same, she argues. Both interfere with our internal cues about how much we need to eat, which may fluctuate on a daily basis. And portion control’s sharp focus on the amount of food being consumed, Thomas added, could contribute to disordered eating patterns.

The problem with food labels

A central, and problematic, aspect of portion control is the nutrition labels on packaged food. As it becomes increasingly clear that individual bodies use calories in different ways, it’s also becoming clear that the food labels we rely upon to tell us how many calories we’re eating are far from the precise measure we have assumed they are. The Economist found that calorie counts on labels were off by an average of 8 percent, and that frozen foods can understate calorie content by up to 70 percent.

The way portion sizes are calculated for labels is also impossibly confusing. In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration unveiled new food labeling requirements, including updated (larger) portion sizes. Many consumers believe these portions to be suggested serving sizes, which they are not. As the FDA explains:

By law, serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously 1/2 cup but is changing to 2/3 cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.

Young argues that the serving sizes on labels are problematic because they suggest that the government is saying that these foods, in these amounts are healthy—that 12 ounces of soda is a good choice because it’s the proper amount of soda. “People think it’s what the government is recommending,” Young says. She also notes that because those servings are based on self-reported surveys, they’re not accurate: “People don’t have two-thirds of a cup of ice cream. They have more like a cup-and-a-half.”

All this emphasis on the measurements echoes diet culture’s insistence that your body cannot be trusted, that you must rely on an external authority when it comes to how much food to consume. A label doesn’t know that you’re extra hungry because you missed lunch, or that a spoonful of ice cream standing by the freezer is all that you crave, not a whole scoop. And even if it’s not the intent, most consumers read portion sizes on nutrition labels as an indication that unless you’re eating that specific amount, you’re doing it wrong.

A way to deflect blame

Another problem with portion control is the movement can be co-opted to deflect the pressure on food companies to mass-produce healthier foods.

The National Consumer League is leading a campaign to emphasize portion size in the next set of dietary guidelines, which the US Department of Agriculture adjusts every five years and is slated for an update in 2020. In February the NCL sent a letter to the USDA, co-signed by several of big food’s industry groups—the American Frozen Food Institute, American Beverage Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Confectioners Association, Sugar Association, and the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance. “One promising, and we think underutilized, strategy for tackling the obesity epidemic is helping consumers understand and implement appropriate portion control,” it wrote.

This message is problematic for eaters, both Thomas and Young agree, because it says that it’s how much food we eat, not the types of foods we choose, that have the greatest impact on our health. Young noted that placing responsibility, in the form of portion size, onto the consumer makes it seem like all foods are equally nutritious so long as we eat the “right” amount. She said that just because a snack comes in a small portion, like a 100-calorie package of chips, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice nutritionally speaking.

By the same token, it may be perfectly fine to eat more than one portion of a food, depending on what that food is and your nutritional needs. “A portion size depends on your hunger and satiety cues,” says Thomas. “It doesn’t depend on these arbitrary labels.” She gave the example of a client who found herself confronted with a tub of hummus with a label saying it contained four servings. “She ate half the tub of hummus and she ended up feeling really guilty,” Thomas says. “She was basically self flagellating about eating half of a pot of hummus—and it’s fucking crushed chickpeas!”

Most of us spend our days surrounded by food we don’t actually need for survival, and spend our lives in bodies that look different than what has been held up as ideal. Portion control pits us against ourselves by making external rules—plate size, numbers on a label—the arbiter of our appetites rather than our actual hunger. It also denies that humans sometimes eat for reasons that have nothing to do with fueling our bodies, that pleasure is a legitimate thing to expect from food.

A healthy relationship with food, Thomas says, requires a person to “understand what your body is asking for and respond to that… Both in terms of your hunger and fullness levels, but also things like pleasure and satisfaction.” There’s no easy way to measure that.

*This post may contain affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if you purchase something by clicking my link, at no cost to you. Thank you!

Ever wanted an easy way to figure out what foods go into those colorful Beachbody portion control containers? Wish you could just type in a food and see what container it goes in and how much you should eat? Well, you’re in for a treat because I’ve created a searchable Beachbody portion control food list for you. Use it to find what foods go in which container, how much you get and which nutrition & workout programs include each food.

Portion Control System

Each Beachbody workout program comes with its own nutrition plan. Many of the programs use the color coded portion control system created by Autumn Calabrese in 21 Day Fix and recently updated in Ultimate Portion Fix. The containers help you eat the proper portion sizes. They are broken down by food type:

  • Green= Vegetables
  • Purple= Fruits
  • Red= Proteins
  • Yellow= Carbohydrates
  • Blue= Healthy Fats
  • Orange= Seeds & Dressings
  • Teaspoon= Oils & Nut Butters

Food Lists

Each nutrition plan comes with a food list that lets you know what goes in each container. The food lists for each plan are written in a hierarchy. The most nutrient-dense foods are at the top of each list. Kale, raspberries, chicken breast, sweet potatoes, avocado are all top of the list items. Beachbody does say not to skip foods lower down the list because “variety is an important part of getting all the nutrients you need and will keep eating fun.” I agree.

For the most part you can just fill your container with the specified food, making sure the lid closes. You can also put two different items from the same food lists into a container at once to fill it up. For example, to make a salad you can fill half a green container with lettuce and the other half with tomatoes.

But it can get tricky when foods don’t fit in the container. In that case the food list will tell you the amount of that food that equals a container. For example, instead of having to chop up your asparagus you know you can just enjoy 10 asparagus spears.

Foods In Multiple Containers

Here’s where it can get really confusing. Some foods fall into multiple containers depending on how they are prepared or the ingredients used. Some examples include:

  • Pumpkin
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Salsa

These foods can be listed as purple or green. Sugar content is one of the main factors that determines if a food falls on the green food list or purple food list.

Shift Shop throws a curve in the plans by putting Winter squash on both the Green and Yellow food lists. The nutrition plan explains that this is done to give more variety in the abbreviated Shift Shop Yellow list.

Treats & Special Foods

The food lists for each fitness program are pretty similar. Some nutrition plans, like Ultimate Portion Fix, include treat swaps you can substitute in 2-3 times each week. These include things like wine and cookies. The foods are marked as substitutions (Yellow Sub or Purple Sub) in the searchable list.

But some nutrition plans are more dialed in, like 80 Day Obsession, and do not include some of the lower food list items like waffles and pancakes. However, 80 Day Obsession includes what is referred to as “refeed days” where you get to enjoy higher glycemic carbs. Think white bread, pretzels, FIXATE cookies. Autumn refers to them as “dirty yellows” and they are on the Supplemental Yellow Food List.

Searchable Beachbody Portion Control Food List

By now you can see how things can get pretty confusing. My best advice is to not think too hard about the food lists. I created the searchable Beachbody Portion Control Food List to make it easier to find what foods go in which containers and answer questions like:

  • Can I eat pickles and what container do they fall in?
  • Is wine on the 80 Day Obsession Food List?
  • How many almonds count as a blue container?
How To Use The Searchable Food List

The food list tells you each food item, the portion for that food item, what color container it counts as, and which fitness programs include that food item. It is currently sorted alphabetically by food item. You can also sort by container color or sort to see all items in a particular fitness program.

Find a food without sorting or scrolling by using the search function (ctrl+f) and typing in the food you’re looking for.

Subscribe Below to Access the Searchable Food List

As an Ultimate Portion Fix Master Coach I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about the food lists or any Beachbody program. If you’re looking for accountability or help with meal planning I’ve got you covered as well.

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