People get into trouble when they eat the wrong foods, but portion size is an issue too. Most people have lost touch with what a portion size really looks like. This is partially because restaurants have tricked us into believing the large portions they serve are a single serving. Far from it. Even packaged foods have distorted portions. According to the CDC, portion sizes of ready-to-eat foods have slowly ballooned in size over the past 40 years.
To make matters worse, research shows that when people are served larger portion sizes of food, they eat more. In one study, individuals ate 30% more calories when larger portion sizes were put on their plates. Plus, they weren’t even aware that they were eating more. Studies consistently show that people eat more when greater amounts of food are placed before them or when they have too many options. That’s why all-you-can-eat buffets are disastrous if you’re trying to control your weight. Don’t let portion distortion get in the way of controlling your weight. Here are some tips to help fine-tune your portion control skills.
Use Portion Control Plates
Portion control plates take the guesswork out of how much to put on your plate. Each plate is partitioned into slots. There are two slots for protein and starch and a larger slot for vegetables. To use them, you simply fill each slot with the appropriate amount of food. Do they work? A study carried out at the University of Calgary showed that more people who used these plates lost significant amounts of weight. They’re a good tool for familiarizing yourself with portion sizes and how much you should put on your plate. In addition, they help you make better decisions about the composition of what you eat.
Weigh Your Food
If you have portion distortion, get a kitchen scale and weigh your food before eating it. Over time, this will teach you to recognize what a portion size really looks like. Chances are it’s smaller than what you’re accustomed to eating. Do this consistently for a few weeks, and you’ll quickly learn to recognize when you’re eating an oversized portion. Use the scale to fine tune your ability to eyeball portion sizes.
Become Skilled at Reading Labels
Food labels are tricky. When you buy a beverage or a snack, you might think you’re getting a single serving, but this isn’t always the case. Always check the number of servings before eating a “single-serving” snack. In some cases, there are two or even three servings in the bag or bottle. If this is the case, when you eat the entire bag you’re getting two to three times the calories listed on the label. Be a savvy label reader and know how much is in the package before tossing it in your mouth.
Sequester Your Snacks
When you eat a snack, remove an appropriate portion from the bag or box, and put the remainder away. If you eat from the container, you’ll end up eating more especially if you’re snacking while working on the computer or watching television. It’s too easy to keep mindlessly dipping your hand into the bag when you’re distracted. To make life easier, use a kitchen scale to create 100-calorie snack packs you can reach for when snack time rolls around.
Control the Portions You Eat at Restaurants
Restaurants are notorious for mega-sizing portions. Stay away from all-you-can-eat deals, and ask the waiter to box up half of your meal to take home before you even start eating. Even better see if you can order a half-portion instead.
The Bottom Line?
Be more portion savvy when you’re dining out or eating at home, and you’ll have fewer problems controlling your weight. Don’t be a victim of portion distortion.
Arch Intern Med. 2007 Jun 25;167(12):1277-83.
Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:1207-1213.
Centers for Disease Control. “Do Increased Portion Sizes Affect How Much We Eat?”