4 Tips to Help You Master Portion Control
Portion control. I know… not really the best conversation starter, right? But when you’re working on fitness goals including building muscle or losing body fat, portion control can’t be overlooked.
Mastering portions doesn’t have to leave you starving and hangry, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Many people associate portion control with deprivation diets but when you combine a healthy balanced diet, with appropriate portions, you will be more likely to achieve your weight loss goals while staying healthy and well nourished and satiated —the opposite of deprivation.
Stacey Mattinson, RD calls this “portion permission.” She says, “Although the term “portion control” sounds restrictive, it’s actually liberating. You can think of it as portion permission, which gives you permission to enjoy the foods you like, without throwing all inhibitions to the side. It says, you can eat a cookie. But it also says, that cookie doesn’t taste any different if you have one or six. So eat one great cookie that you love.”
How Important Is Portion Control?
If we aren’t considering portions, it’s easy to over-consume on fats, grains and sweets… some of the major contributors to excess calories in the diet. And the same is true even when it comes to healthier foods like avocado, meats, whole grains, and peanut butter. Just because they’re healthy, doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. If we don’t pay attention to the portions we’re consuming, the calories can add up pretty quickly.
Alternatively, eating too little may cause lack of energy, poor recovery from workouts, and difficulty maintaining or achieving body composition goals.
Intentionality is at the heart of portion control. Eating with intention allows for the enjoyment of food and the focus to eat in a balanced way that truly nourishes the body.
Expert Tips on How to Portion Control
1. Use your hand as a guide. Your hand can be a visual guide to serving sizes — your thumb, pointer finger, palm and fist can be used to estimate how big your servings should be for each of the food groups. The size of your hand corresponds to individual portions based on your size, as a man’s hand is larger and in general has higher macronutrient needs whereas a child’s hand is smaller as they usually need smaller portions.
- Clenched fist = about 1 cup of fruit, vegetables, complex carbs
- A scooped handful = about 1/2 cup pasta, rice or oatmeal
- Thumb = about 1 tablespoon of fat
- Tip of the pointer finger = about 1 teaspoon of oil or other fats
- Palm of hand = 3-6 oz of chicken, fish, or other meats
2. Meal Prep. Planning meals in advance helps to control portions. When you think about what you are going to eat before you eat it, you’re creating intention, which should help to increase your willpower when hunger strikes. Plan your meals out and go grocery shopping from your list. Prep in the morning or cook your meals at the beginning of the week and pre-portion them in meal prep containers. Meal planning and prepping can be simple or involved and you have to do what works for you, but even a little planning in advance helps with portion control.
3. Plan your plate. Balancing your plate can help with portion control. People tend to eat what they put on their plate, which is why it is so important to create your plate with intention, which includes portion control and balanced macronutrients. When you build your plate appropriately you are more likely to leave the table feeling satiated. Serving yourself on a smaller plate may help with managing portion sizes if you use it as a tool for smaller portions, rather than over crowding the plate and going back for multiple helpings.
Here’s a simple guide to building a portion control plate:
- ½ plate non-starchy vegetables
- ¼ plate complex carbohydrates and fruits
- ¼ plate protein
- Sprinkle or drizzle of fats (cheese, nuts, seeds, oils)
Please note, this is simply a guide for most healthy adults managing their weight for weight loss. Athletes, teens, or individuals interested in weight gain and weight maintenance may need additional energy and adjusted macronutrients for their portion plate.
4. Timing is everything. Whether you prefer an intermittent fasting/ “time restricted eating” approach or eating every four hours throughout the day, having a rhythm with your eating can really help with managing portions and preventing mindless snacking habits and that hangry feeling, which can lead to poor choices or overeating.
Learning to master portion control can be simple and creates an intentional way to eat to help you reach your health goals.
Serving Sizes vs. Portion Control
Portions are different than serving sizes. Serving sizes are listed on a product’s nutrition label, however portions are the amount you decide to serve yourself. So while serving sizes are defined and standard on a label, portion size is a conscious and intentional decision of the amount you choose to eat, and this might be more or less than the serving size.
Stacy Mattinson, RD, says, “How much you eat varies by day, activity level and season of life. Giving yourself portion permission allows you to honor your own body’s hunger/fullness signals, nourishing it adequately while steering you to feel like your best you.”