Practice portion control

Many of us suffer from portion distortion, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. We live in a super-sized culture, and many of us are just used to eating (or at least dishing up) more than we really need, whether or not we're hungry — and, sometimes, in spite of lackluster choices. If you're used to heaping food on your plate, or always having seconds, practicing portion control may take some getting used to. Practice, in this case, will likely not lead to perfection, but getting your portions under control can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which can have lasting positive effects in your life.

Portion vs. serving size

A serving size is a specific measurement of food — such as a tablespoon or cup. Serving sizes — along with nutrition information — are commonly listed on food packages. A portion size is arbitrary — and up to you. Put simply, it's the amount of food you choose to put on your plate. In dishing up food for meals and snacks, many of us take — inadvertently — more than a single serving size. Multiple studies have shown that when provided larger plates and bowls and unlimited access to food, most people — no matter age or weight — will serve themselves more, and, as a result, consume more.

Consider these serving sizes in relation to what you are used to consuming:

Food Size equivalent
One serving of fruit A baseball
One serving of vegetables (1/2 cup) A light bulb
Cereal (one cup) Your fist
One serving of cooked rice, pasta or potato (1/2 cup) Half a baseball
One pancake A CD
One slice of bread A cassette tape
One serving of cheese Four dice, stacked
Ice cream (1/2 cup) Half a baseball
One serving of butter or margarine One die
Meat or poultry (3 oz.) Deck of cards
Grilled or baked fish fillet (3 oz.) Checkbook
Peanut butter (two tablespoons) Ping pong ball

Source: National Institutes of Health

Remember when you're reading a food label that you're looking at nutrition information for just one serving size; if you eat three servings of potato chips, you'll need to multiply by three the fat, calories and sodium. In the scheme of what balance of fat, calories and salt (or sugar) is your recommended daily consumption, you may have just maxed out on one or more categories. On chips! We all fall into that trap sometimes — eating too much — but if it's more the rule than the exception for you, you may want to put into practice some simple guidelines for managing your portions.

Taking control of your plate

So, how do you begin to downsize your portions in an effort to maintain a healthy weight? Follow these steps to help put your portion sizes into perspective:
  • Use smaller plates and bowls — they leave less room for super-sizing your meals.
  • Avoid eating family-style, and instead, dish up individual plates with the appropriate serving sizes.
  • Pay attention to when you get full, and try not to eat past that point.
  • Think before you ask for — or help yourself to — seconds.
  • When eating out, plan to take half of your food home, or split an entrée with your dining companion.
  • When snacking, take one serving size from the bag or box, and put the rest back on the shelf. Eating right out of the container will practically guarantee eating more than what you really want or need.

Resources to help serve you well

Learn more about serving sizes and portion control, and find what works to help you maintain a healthy weight: