Portion Control Practice

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A portion control practice is simply balancing and monitoring the portion sizes of your food in meals and snacks. Part of being healthy and feeling good is ensuring your body is getting all the things it needs to work well. Too much or too little of any food can make your bodywork harder to try and remedy the situation. This creates a butterfly effect of your body not working optimally and resulting in a distracted mind.

A portion control practice aims to give the body the amount of the foods it needs to work optimally-not just to limit calories.  If you like, you can begin with one meal a day.   Emphasize the big picture-it's not a diet, it's a practice.   Learn the moderation of portions it takes for you to work your best and commit to sticking to it for at least one meal every day.   At this meal in particular, eat mindfully.   Note how the change makes you feel at different times throughout the day.

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You can expect: increased energy, improved digestion, sleep, mood and blood sugar levels, more effective intake of nutrients. Weight loss and all its benefits.

What the experts are saying: Brian Wansink (Ph.D. Stanford 1990), author of over 100 academic articles and books on eating behavior, including the best-selling Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think says,  "When it comes to portion control, you can count on your brain not being very interested and your body not being very well calibrated," Result: We often overeat in 100-or 200-calorie increments, which over time add up to a weight gain that seems like a mystery to the eater. And here's the rub, according to Wansink: Most of us know what we're supposed to eat, and how much of it. We just ignore what we know. We eat, he says, "mindlessly."

Level of Effort: Easy

Time Involved: 10 Minutes A Day


Getting Started:

  1. Understand portion size-- it's about moderation and awareness
  2. Learn the difference between a portion size and a serving size.
  3. Familiarize yourself with standard portion sizes & measuring and estimating your portions
  4. Ways to keep portions in-check


What to Consider:



1. Understand portion size

This practice is nothing new and you probably have heard about it a thousand times - every diet and eating plan created tells you to watch your portions. The practice is simply giving you a way of starting slow by creating awareness of portions and then making small changes by food types. You can start by becoming aware of just one food source's portion sizes. For example - if you start with pre-packaged snacks you can monitor your serving sizes to become aware of what a "handful" of crackers or 10 chips looks like and what the related nutritional content is. Once you get comfortable you can move to a food group like protein.


Portion size is really just about moderation. Try not to think of certain foods as "off limits." When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel bad if you give in to temptation. If you are drawn towards sweet, salty or unhealthy foods, start by reducing the size of the portion you usually have (or just becoming aware of how much you eat in one portion) and not eating them as often. Later you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.

Proper and healthy portion control is characterized by awareness. While it's important to not eat too much of any particular type of food, it's also equally important to avoid eating too little. Learn about the recommended serving sizes of various types of food, and do your best to adhere to them. This will ensure that you are eating a proper amount and that your body is fully nourished. Additionally, it's important that you not limit the amount of food that you eat too severely when you exercise portion control.

Learn more about food groups…


2. Learn the difference between a portion size and a serving size.

Although many people use the words interchangeably, portion and serving are not always the same. A portion is any amount of a certain food you choose to put on your plate, while a serving is a recommended amount of food based on a nutritional label or a health and nutrition guide such as the USDA Food Pyramid.

Become familiar with serving sizes for the packaged foods you eat every day.  This is especially easy to learn about serving sizes with prepackaged food, where the serving size is clearly printed on the food label. Packaged foods always show the serving size information on the nutrition fact labels, usually in ounces or in common kitchen measurements. Become aware of foods that appear to only contain a single serving per package but really have two, three, or even five servings. Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.

Learn more about reading nutritional labels…

Once you get comfortable with understanding serving sizes, you can use that information to start understanding fresh foods and unpackaged foods. Foods like meats and fresh produce may not have nutrition fact labels, so you need to know that one serving of meat, poultry or fish is about three ounces, and one serving of a fruit or vegetable is usually one piece of the produce, one cup (chopped or sliced) or 3/4 cup of juice.


3. Familiarize yourself with standard portion sizes & measuring and estimating your portions

Start with measuring your portions

Measure your portions until you get a good feel for what a reasonable portion size is and you can eyeball it. This goes for snacks too. Use an inexpensive kitchen scale, measuring cups and measuring spoons to measure your portions of these foods at home until you feel comfortable estimating serving sizes without them.

For example, according to USDA Food Pyramid, one serving from the grain and cereal group is about one ounce. One ounce of cooked white rice which, is about one half cup, but the portion of rice you put on your plate, while it may look small may be much bigger than that serving size. So you may think you're only eating one serving of rice when you're really eating two or three, and each half cup of rice adds about 100 calories to your meal, so you can see how the calories can add up quickly.


Standard portion sizes

Next learn to "eyeball" standard portion sizes and stick to them when dining out or dishing up meals. Visual cues and comparisons can be helpful with eyeballing portion sizes. For example, mentally compare portions with common, every day objects that you are used to seeing:



Protein portion




  • 1 portion of protein = 3 oz. of meat, fish or chicken is the size of a deck of cards or an audio tape
  • 1 oz. of meat is the size of a matchbook
  • Serving sizes for other proteins would be 2 tablespoons of nut butters, 2 eggs, and one-third cup of dry beans.


Starches and Grains:





  • 1 cup of cereal flakes = baseball
  • 1 slice of bread or a pancake = compact disc case or cassette tape
  • 1 bagel = 6 oz. can of tuna
  • ½ cup cooked rice = light bulb or tennis ball
  • ½ cup cooked pasta = light bulb or tennis ball
  • 1 portion of potatoes (mashed) = 1 cup looks like a tennis ball
  • 1 portion baked potato = 1 small potato is the size of a computer mouse
  • 3 cups popcorn = 3 baseballs


Vegetable, Fruits and Dairy:

Veg baseball




  • 1 small portion of cooked vegetables = half a cup which looks like a baseball
  • 1 portion of fruit = 1 piece of half a cup of chopped fruit or 1 cup of berries
  • 1 portion of vegetables = one cup of chopped raw vegetables or three-fourths cup of 100% juice.
  • 1 portion of dairy = 1 cup of milk or 1 oz of cheese


Fats and Oils:

tbls oil and finger nail




  • 1 tbsp butter or spread = poker chip
  • 1 tbsp salad dressing = poker chip
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise = poker chip
  • 1 tbsp oil = poker chip
  • 1 tsp of oil or salad dressing is about the size of a matchbook


General Size Comparisons:

  • 1 cup = a size of a baseball
  • ½ cup = light bulb
  • 1 oz. or 2 tbsp = golf ball
  • 1 tbsp = poker chip
  • 3 oz. = deck of cards


4. Ways to keep portions in check

  • Buy only single serving or bite-sized snacks.
  • Review the label and repackage foods into single serving sizes. If a bag of cookies says that a single serving is 3 cookies, then put 3 cookies in a zippered plastic bag or on a plate when you give it to your kids.
  • Avoid just eating from a bag of snacks or carton of ice cream, since you will likely eat much more than one serving.
  • Keep a food diary - pay attention and be honest
  • Slow down and experience the flavors of the food you are eating, use mindful eating.
  • Eat your meals with few distractions so that you can give your full attention to your food.


Fork bite

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Why portion control is important

  • You'll condition your body to become full after consuming a smaller quantity of food. This means that controlling your portions should become easier and easier over time, and that you'll have to concern yourself less as time goes on.
  • You will feel better and have more energy when they've eaten moderate portions than they did when they ate overly large portions.
  • By monitoring your portions appropriately it can help to improve your digestion process and your regularity as well.


Additional Resources and Articles

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