Portion Control Secrets – Tips for Controlling Serving Sizes


In my nutrition consultation practice, I often tell my clients, it is not WHAT you’re eating that contributes to your weight gain; it is HOW MUCH you are eating! Portion control is essential to any weight management program. There are many obstacles that contribute to poor portion control. Let’s take a closer look at three problem areas. These include: large restaurant portions, copious quantities of snack foods eaten directly out of a box or bag, and numerous food items consumed off of someone else’s plate.

We are all dining out more. The U.S. Department of Labor’s consumer expenditure report released in February 2007 reveals that there was an 8.2 % increase in spending on food away from home. Our busy lifestyles contribute to this easy answer to meal planning. Unfortunately for our waistline, food portions at many American restaurants are gigantic which contributes to the “battle of the bulge.” The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 6 ounces of meat per day. Our favorite restaurants often portion out 8-16 ounces or more of meat on just one plate. Starch based foods such as rice, potatoes and pasta are often served on a platter, “marketed” as a one serving. It is very cost-effective for restaurants to offer huge servings of these foods as they cost “peanuts” to serve in large quantities. Enormous meat portions combined with huge starch portions wreak havoc on one’s effort for weight control. How can we enjoy foods away from home with out insulting our health?

Great portion control secrets when dining out include the following:

  • Split an entrée rather than gorging on the whole super sized meal.
  • Ask the server to provide you with 2 servings of vegetables and a smaller amount of the starch (potato, rice)
  • Substitute a baked potato for the French fries.
  • Take one roll from the breadbasket, and ask that it be removed from the table.
  • Just say “no” to the second serving of taco chips or breads!
  • Set a limit with beverages with calories, choose one special beverage, and then order up a nice glass of H2O!

Let’s take a look at the second obstacle to proper portion control. This obstacle seems to be a very common habit for many of us. Obstacle number two is eating directly out of a bag or box. Do you ever find yourself engaging in this habit? This can be a true detriment to anyone on a weight control program. Eating snacks can and should be a part of a healthy diet, however, avoid eating directly from a bag or box, as it is a form of mindless eating. That is, the eater is unconscious of what and/or how much is actually consumed. It is easy to overeat when snacking this way. To counteract this unhealthy habit, always proportion any snack item. Read the label, look at the serving size recommended on the label, and consume only this amount. Be sure to take a moment to savor the flavor.

And lastly, obstacle # 3, avoid eating off of someone else’s plate. For example, have you ever almost unconsciously reached over to your child’s plate to “finish up” their unwanted pizza crust? Or have you found yourself digging a fork into your spouse’s pasta dish? Again, this is a form of mindless eating. You won’t mentally “register” you ate those foods. This ultimately can lead to overeating over the course of the day.

Portion control is a key ingredient to any successful weight management program. Take a moment and portion, keep your portions realistic when dining out, and always stick to eating what is on your plate not someone else’s!

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About Author

Kate Scarlata

Kate provides practical and healthy ways to improve well-being through sound nutritional choices. Kate has been in private practice for the past 12 years providing individual nutrition consultation as well as leading comprehensive nutrition workshops in the corporate and healthcare setting. See my profile page for more information!

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