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Dr. Lisa Young


Rightsize Your Plate and Your Waist: 11 Portion Control Tips That Work

Posted: 09/06/2012 8:06 am

Practicing portion control is one of the most difficult tasks facing anyone who eats out or even eats in these days. Look around you and everything is super-sized. And not just fast food. Bagels, muffins, steaks, even frozen dinners have grown in size. And of course we know about the big sodas. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has proposed restricting the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in many eateries, and the Board of Health is set to vote on the proposal in just over a week. Stay tuned.

I tracked the history of food portions increasing since the 20th century and found that portions are much, much bigger than they were in the past -- 2-5 times bigger, to be exact. And so are people! No surprise. As I wrote in The Portion Teller Plan and in numerous articles, large portions contribute to weight gain because large portions contain more calories than small portions. Simple as it sounds, so many clients that I counsel don't seem to apply logic to the equation. We know that if a 64-ounce Mega Jug of soda is eight times bigger than a standard 100- calorie eight-ounce soda, it should contain eight times the calories. Yes, it contains 800 calories. Simple math? Yes. But... if WE drink it, we think, how can a soda possibly have so many calories?

Our plates have increased. So have our mugs, glasses, and wine goblets. Our cabinets and dishwashers are now larger to accommodate our satellite-sized dishes. And car seats for our kids, who are now pudgier than ever, have also increased. And even caskets have become super-sized!

Many of us don't understand what a healthy portion size is, and for good reason. A pasta portion in a restaurant is easily three cups, and many steaks are at least a pound. That is much too much food. The problem is that we've gotten used to these jumbo portion sizes and we think that a "portion" is whatever is put in front of us. Getting used to normal-sized portions is not an easy task.

Here are some tips:

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  • 1. Practice Plate Control

    For starters, try eating off of plates your grandmother used. Next, change your expectation. Restaurants are in business to sell food, and lots of it. It is time to shift our perspective on what a reasonable amount of food is. If you use a smaller plate, you will probably begin to scale back on your portion. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Wonderlane</a></em>

  • 2. Fill Up On Fruits And Veggies

    We want to scale back on our meat and potato portions and increase our intake of veggies.<a href="" target="_hplink"> Fruits and vegetables</a> are relatively low in calories and high in fiber. An easy trick is to fill half your plate with fruit and veggies. One quarter of your plate protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu) and one quarter healthy starch (brown rice, quinoa, barley). <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">USDAgov</a></em>

  • 3. Limit Liquid Calories

    You are better off eating -- and chewing -- your calories than drinking them. Somehow, when we drink our calories, we do not feel full and the calories we just guzzled down do not seem to register. So... we want more. Eat an orange instead of drinking the juice. And steer clear of empty soda calories -- choose seltzer or water instead. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">lisamurray</a></em>

  • 4. Buy Single Servings

    Steer clear of the jumbo bags of chips, cookies, and nuts sold at price warehouse clubs such as Costco. We all love a good bargain, but beware when it comes to buying food. While you may want to stock up on toilet paper or paper towels, when it comes to food, buy smaller servings. Single-serve bags of chips will really help you practice portion control while snacking. <em>Photo from <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>

  • 5. Order A Small

    In many cases you have a choice between a small, medium, or large. Order the small size whenever possible. And don't be fooled by the label; even a drink labeled small, for example, can be big. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">sylvar</a></em>

  • 6. Avoid Your Triggers

    If you can't stop at one serving of chips, then don't even start. Choose a treat you CAN control.

  • 7. Don't Snack Out Of The Bag

    Read the food label, serve yourself one portion, and put the rest away. Practice this for chips, nuts, pretzels and other treats. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">The Travelling Bum</a></em>

  • 8. Don't Be Fooled By Health Halos

    Just because a food is labeled organic or trans fat-free doesn't mean you can eat as much as you want. Calories are still calories. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Eurofruit, Asiafruit & Americafruit</a></em>

  • 9. Skip All-You-Can-Eat Buffets

    They may be a bargain for your pocketbook, but not for your health. If you must visit a buffet, do a full lap around the buffet before choosing your selection and wear tight-fitting clothes (you'll probably eat less). <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">@yakobusan Jakob Montrasio 孟亚柯</a></em>

  • 10. Share, Share, And Share

    Restaurant portions are huge. Order one main dish and an extra veggie dish or salad and share both. And order one dessert for two or three people and you will still feel satisfied.

  • 11. Eat Like A Parisian

    Eat slowly, savor your food, and enjoy your company.

Enjoy! Bon Appetit.

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