Better Portion Control: 9 Tips For a Healthy Weight

portion control sign

Do you struggle with portion control? Are your efforts to eat less food failing? Do you want to lose weight without starvation dieting?

If so, we’ve got good news for you. You can obtain a healthy weight by ignoring serving or portion sizes. Why? Because research shows that the amount of food you should eat for health and weight control depends upon the quality — not necessarily the quantity — of the food.

The Difference Between Portion and Serving Sizes

Though often used interchangeably, “portion size” and “serving size” are not the same.

Serving size refers to a measured amount of food, i.e., those listed on nutrition labels or the suggested serving sizes of MyPlate food groups.
Portion size refers to the amount of food you choose to eat, which can differ from serving size.

Portion control and portion size infographic

Ever-Growing Portion Sizes

Nutrition authorities tend to focus on large portion sizes as the main culprit of weight gain, and they do have a point.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Food portions in America’s restaurants have doubled or tripled over the last 20 years, a key factor that is contributing to a potentially devastating increase in obesity among children and adults.” (1)

In other words, restaurants have distorted what constitutes a standard portion size, a significant factor in weight gain. But that’s not the only one.

The Importance of Food Quality

Multiple research studies suggest that the quality of the calories we consume contributes significantly to weight gain, obesity, and associated health conditions. For example, Harvard researchers studied the metabolic effects of three popular diets — low fat, the low carb (Atkin’s Diet), and the low-glycemic index plan — and made a startling conclusion. Namely, the low-glycemic diet focusing on regulating blood sugar levels seemed to be the best choice for shedding pounds long-term and supporting overall health. (2)

The low-glycemic diet neither concentrates on reducing fat nor carbs. Instead, it emphasizes making better carbohydrate choices based on their effects on blood glucose. Why is this so important? Well, all carbs are converted into sugar in the body. However, how quickly this happens is the critical factor.

portion control with healthy food

For example, the carbs in heavily processed foods like bread (even wheat bread) and white rice are digested quickly, with the resulting glucose reaching the bloodstream in as little as 15 minutes causing a spike in blood sugar levels. In addition, insulin transports excess glucose to your fat stores quickly, often causing you to get hungry again soon after eating heavily processed carbs.
The sugar in an apple, on the other hand, is digesting slowly due to its fiber content, which promotes a gentle rise in blood glucose levels. The result? An apple and other high-fiber foods are much more filling than heavily processed carbohydrates. Thus, eating a high-quality diet can naturally keep you from overeating, supporting better portion control. No willpower or starvation is needed!

Tips for Better Portion Control

Keeping food quality in mind, here are a few tips that help your body control portion sizes.

Load Up On Nonstarchy Vegetables

Healthy eating includes lots and LOTS of nonstarchy vegetables because they fill you up fast and keep you full for a long time. They also contain fewer calories than other foods.
So, forget about portion sizes. Instead, simply fill half your plate with a variety of different colored vegetables at each meal.

By the way, nonstarchy vegetables are ones you can eat raw if you desire, i.e., they don’t need to be cooked. (Think salad veggies.) However, because potatoes need cooking, they are starchy and should be limited due to their effect on blood sugar levels.

portion control with fruits and vegetables

Nonstarchy Vegetable Choices

There are a wide variety of nonstarchy vegetables from which to choose, including:

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Cabbage (green, red, or white)
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Collard greens
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • Turnips
  • Water Chestnuts
  • Zucchini

portion control with salmon

Eat Lean Protein

Lean protein is crucial to portion control. After all, numerous studies show that protein is the most critical macronutrient for satiety as it triggers both short-term and long-term satiety hormones and increases metabolism, both of which are crucial for weight control. (3, 4) Protein also triggers protein muscle synthesis that contributes to a higher resting metabolic rate.

So, try to eat at least one serving (30 grams, three to four ounces) of lean protein per meal. (About the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.) This should fill a third of a standard-size dinner plate.

You can get your protein through animal or plant sources.

Animal Sources of Lean Protein

  • Chicken
  • Cottage cheese
  • Fish
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Lamb
  • Liver
  • Plain nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • Turkey
  • Venison
  • Whey protein powder
  • Vegetable Sources of Protein
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Pea protein powders
  • Tofu
  • Many nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach and asparagus

portion control with avocado

Include a Whole Food Fat at Every Meal

By the 1960s, low-fat diets started to be regarded as essential for heart health, and by the 1980s, they became the standard method for cardiovascular health and weight control. But, unfortunately, this advice became the seeds of the obesity epidemic we’re seeing today.

It turns out, the studies blaming fat consumption for heart disease were incorrect. To date, there is no verifiable data that proves fat consumption leads to heart disease. But there is a wealth of evidence that sugar triggers systemic inflammation promoting the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other conditions. (5)

Instead of being bad for your health, research suggests that dietary fat is good for you. You see, fat has little to no effect on blood glucose levels, yet it is incredibly filling. So if you seem to be hungry all the time, it could be because you’re not eating enough healthy whole food fats.

So, fill the final third of your plate with whole food fats. Unlike their oils, whole-food fats support health and weight control because they contain fiber, protein, and other nutrients. Save your oil for cooking or for salad dressing, and even then, stay away from vegetable oils. Instead, use olive oil or coconut oil.

portion control with berries

Whole-Food Fat Choices

Great whole-food fats include:

  • Avocado
  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut
  • Coconut milk
  • Dark chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Flax seeds
  • Nuts, i.e., walnuts, almonds, cashews
  • Olives
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish

Eat Small Portions of Low-Sugar Fruits

Fruits and vegetables are usually listed as one category as if they’re equally important. But in truth, fruit can be less healthy than nonstarchy veggies, especially if eaten in excess. You see, fruit contains much higher amounts of sugar than vegetables, negatively impacting your blood sugar.

So, if you want to eat fruit, please make sure you limit the number of servings to just one to two per day and select low-sugar options as much as possible.

portion control with junk food

Low-Sugar Fruit Options

Some great low-sugar fruits include:

  • Acai berry
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Goji berry
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Nectarine
  • Peaches
  • Raspberries
  • Rhubard
  • Strawberries

portion control and eating slowly

Reduce or Eliminate Heavily Processed Foods

To control portion sizes, you’ll need to reduce or eliminate ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods are the opposite of whole foods. Indeed, they are food-like products chemically altered to taste like real food.

According to Harvard Medical School:

“Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers. Examples of these foods are frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs and cold cuts, fast food, packaged cookies, cakes, and salty snacks.” (5a)

These food-like products contain no fiber to slow digestion. Consequently, the body converts it to glucose and dumps it into your bloodstream quickly, causing a spike in blood glucose levels. Plus, because your stomach doesn’t recognize it as food, it doesn’t send satiety chemicals to your brain. Both of these factors can contribute to faulty portion control and overeating.

Drink a Full Glass of Water Before Meals

For ultimate portion control, try drinking a full glass of water when hungry.

Clinical research studies suggest that 37% of people mistake thirst for hunger due to weak thirst signals. (6)

Drinking two full glasses of water, about 16 ounces, right before meals is also great for portion control because the water in your belly helps take the edge off hunger, making it less likely that you’ll overeat.

portion control with water

Eat Slowly

Eating slowly is one of the best ways to reduce food intake. Why? Well, let’s discuss how satiety works. Your stomach sends chemicals to your brain, signaling your state of fullness. After you finish your meal, these chemicals continue to rise for up to 30 minutes. They remain elevated for three to five hours after meals, then fall, and your hunger returns. (7)

Pretty impressive, right? There’s only one problem. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register those chemicals. So, if you eat too fast, you may not only overeat but also become uncomfortably full after your meal.

Therefore, to avoid overeating, try chewing each bite at least ten times. Thoroughly chewing food not only gives your brain a chance to realize you’re full, but it also promotes healthy digestion.

Put Your Food on a Small Plate

Eating proper serving sizes is often a matter of perception.

The typical dinner plate holds more than twice as much food as most recommended serving sizes. As a result, we often fill our plates because it looks like we’re not getting enough food if we don’t. And then if you were always raised to clean your plate, you’d feel like you must eat all of it.

The solution?

Serve your food on a smaller plate, perhaps a side or dessert plate. Filling a small plate tricks your brain into thinking you’re getting more than enough food! However, for this to work, you’ll need to eat slowly so that your brain can signal satiety.

portion control with supplements

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