How Do YOU Control Portion Size?

August 23, 2010   17 Comments

Most of us are struggling with the same problems with our waistline. We love food and we eat too much of it.

How To Control Portion Size

Recently, I received an e-mail from Jo asking about portion size.

From Jo:

I would like to know how to control portion size. I recently joined the gym and go about 2-3 times a week. I do the treadmill for 30 minutes and the elliptical for 20 minutes. I'm a relatively healthy eater (I love salt) but for me, it's always been about portion control vs. unhealthy foods. I don't know why my stomach has to hurt before I stop eating.

First of all, way to go on the gym membership. It is hard to change and making a gym visit a habit is a fantastic way to get in shape!

Portion size is a huge issue because as humans we eat what is in front of us. Millions of years of evolution lead us to eat MORE not less (gotta pack on fat for the next ice age!).

One of my favorite sources on food psychology is a book called "Mindless Eating" by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. (see below).

In it, Dr. Wansink reviews research on eating behavior and gives advice on how to get your portion sizes under control.

One of my favorite studies in the book includes a refillable soup bowl. A person ate over a QUART of soup because his bowl keeps filling up. He never checks his senses to see if he is full. Isn't that nuts?

His book has really helped me think about how much I am eating. Especially, when I am going out to eat (which is a big danger zone for me).

He gives tips on how to reduce your portion size as it relates to your problem eating areas. For example, if you eat for comfort try eating Homemade Chicken Soup instead of other higher calorie foods (like cookies).

Some more obvious ideas:
1. Downsize the size of your plates. Smaller plates equals smaller portions.
2. Measure out your snacks into little portions. Eat from a bowl, not a bag.
3. Wait 15 minutes before you go get seconds. Tune into your body.

Please share your ideas on how to control portion size. We could all use the advice.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

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small portions mean "fist size" good carbohydrate (oatmeal, brown rice or sweet potato) and "palm sized" lean protein (fish, chicken breast, cottage cheese)

Portion control is my big issue as well. Smaller plates helps. So does slowing down when eating and really trying to focus on how I feel. But still - there's that desire for seconds when something's really tasty! That's when I make sure I'm measuring and logging my food - so I can do that "self-check" to see if I really want the additional calories or not. I'm not 100% on this - I still overeat sometimes - but it's helping!

Interestingly, this can be very easy. There are many myths about diet. One of them is: Eat Less, Exercise More. That does not work.

While exercise is extremely important for overall health, it is not incredibly helpful for weight-loss. The other side of the equation; eat less.

Well, here's the interesting thing: If you are eating better (not enough space to explain), you can eat much (much) more. And, more frequently. Also, eating less implies willpower and deprivation. Those are surefire ways to set yourself up for failure.

My advice: If you are hungry eat. Never be hungry. Snack, snack, snack (Lisa can assist with that)...of course, the right snacks. If you eat frequently, portion size becomes a moot point because when you sit down for B/L or dinner, you are not too hungry.

Last myth to bust: Eating better does not mean eating food that doesn't taste good. Eating better is better foods, better tasting, and better for health and weight.

Ken Leebow

I love that book! Even though I KNOW what a portion size is, though, I still have difficulty stopping myself. But that's an emotional issue rather than a portion size issue, methinks.

I find that it also really helps to eat with others. Then I'm talking while eating, so it slows me down with eating, and I become aware of my fullness faster.

I try to pre-measure stuff and put portions in baggies. My food scale is my friend!

Smaller plates at home have helped our family immensely! If the plate if small but full, you think you are eating a ton of food. Also, when we eat out, the first thing my husband and I do is draw a line through the middle our food. Half is to eat and half is to take home for leftovers. Helps with portion control and you get two meals for the price of one!

I recently bought a nutrition scale from EatSmart. It helps me figure out my portions instead of filling my bowl.

Please check out Pete Cohen is an amazing resource for people who are trying to lose weight. He recommends chewing your food slowly and putting your fork/spoon down between bites so that your stomach gives your brain enough time to communicate that it's full.

I like the Vitalicious snacks. Low cal + fiber. Surprising that it can keep me full until my next meal. It's not just about portion control. It's about self control. Some people buy low cal snacks and eat five in one sitting. That isn't necessarily helping their goal.

One thing that Pete Cohen talks about is how people mistake being thirsty for being hungry. A friend of mine recently told me that drinking water helped her from grazing out of boredom.We as individuals just have to find something that works for us! Lots of great tips so far! Looking forward to reading more. :)

Hello, Snack Girl!

I have the honor of working with Dr. Wansink on his new online weight loss program called The Mindless Method. While all the tips posted here are great, they are not always effective for everyone. One of the things that Dr. Wansink says often during lectures and speeches is if there were one or even several "magic" solutions for weight loss, everyone would be thin! And there definitely wouldn't be dozens of magazines and books and talk shows discussing hundreds of different ideas! That is where his Mindless Method is unique. He designed the program to evaluate (all online) an individual's personal Mindless Eating Challenges and then recommend targeted Solutions which are matched as a result of personality traits and lifestyle and other factors. And the program definitely focuses on making changes that LAST, so no yo-yo dieting! The Mindless Method takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out which of the hundreds or thousands of tips out there will work for you!

Dr. Wansink talks more about the program in a video on the home page (How the Mindless Method works).

Andrea Parker Megivern

Hi Snack Girl,

I also have the honor of working with Dr. Wansink. Your readers need to know about Thinware! It is a line of dishes crafted to Dr. Wansink's specifications exclusively for Mindless Products. These dishes are created to be “just right,” to help you eat less at every meal. Plates to keep you in the “mindless margin,” mindlessly!

Donna Pinnisi

Wow lots of people wokring with Dr. Wansink. He's got a good crew around him.

I love the comments on this one. Really insightful stuff.

my two cents - eat more whole, plant based foods and less processed foods and commercialized meat and dairy.

that's it - keep it simple

Thanks for another great post Lisa

I am a weight management expert in New Jersey. Its sooo much about portion size. The first step in my programs is learning to embrace weighing and measuring your food! It keeps you honest and gets rid of any guesswork. There is no guesswork in success.

Portion control is pretty hard for me. I have a tendency to eat pretty much anything remotely chocolatey or peanut buttery. Combine the two, and there is no way that I'm gonna resist it! =D I also grew up in the Southern US, home of BBQ fried everything, and lots of it. So what I try to do is, if I'm going out to eat, I see if the restaurant has nutritional stats on the website. If so, I go ahead and pick out a meal that looks good, but that is relatively good for me. I also decide if I'm gonna go for the bread bowl, split a dessert with someone, or have a soft drink beforehand. At home, I try to keep fruits and veggies in plain sight, so that I'll snack on them and not on candy. Then, if I go to a BBQ or something, I choose one thing there that looks really good, BBQ pulled pork sandwich, fried chicken, ice cream sandwiches, etc and I eat that, along with lots of veggies and salsa.

Jen - this is really great advice -I never thought to pick out the meal before I go to the restaurant. If you had an Iphone you could pick it out when you are there to evaluate the calorie content.

Hello Lisa Cain (Beautiful Irish Name),

Great article. I am in complete agreement that our portion distortion is out of control.

I too have the pleasure of working with THE expert in eating behaviors and the Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, Dr. Brian Wansink.

Thank you for being a fan of the book. You need to look at some of the videos on our sites to see the good doctor's personality. He is so funny and enteraining and smart. Just like the book. At the same time, the book will make you unbelievably aware of your own eating habits called “eating scripts.”

The book was the premise of two (2) sites mentioned above endorsed by Dr. Wansink: and Mindless Products has the dinnerware line called "thinware." Thinware was specifically designed by Dr. Wansink with a formula for shape, color, pattern, and size to promote proper portions making a person feel completely satiated after their meal.

The Mindless Method is the weight loss program that is not a diet. The Method is also based on the book and changes bad eating habits into good eating habits mindlessly. "The best diet is the one you don't know you're on."

Dr. Wansink with all of his years of research has come to one absolute conclusion - It's a lot easier to change your environment than to change your mind.

Check out the sites. I think you will be amazed and informed as well as entertained. Let me know what you think Lisa. You have an excellent following!

I never thought about the smaller plates!

My mom and I just started a Yoga & Weight Loss class, and our instructor has told us to keep a food journal. I have to admit, now that I have to write it down, I'm thinking twice about what I'm eating. The first couple of days I ate like I normally would, and I looked at my day and couldn't believe all the food I put into my body and the amount. Keeping a food journal isn't a bad idea when you first start controlling your portions.

I agree that eating slower helps too. It gives my stomach a chance to tell my brain "STOP!" :-)

Hey Ktristen. Its Gladys the weight mamagwment expert from new Jersey.....Good for you on the journaling. People who journal lose twice as much weight as people who dont. Cause "When you IINK IT you THINK IT!!" I will not work with people as weight loss clients if they refuse to journal. Its THAT important!!

I've tried this a few times and it really works for me. When we go out to eat, I ask for a take-home box right away and put half of my meal in it. It takes it off my plate so I can't see it, it lowers the portion size by half, and I have some to take home. Sometimes I forget and leave the box at the restaurant, but no problem - I still only ate half of what was served.

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