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Portion Control For Weight Loss: Your Ultimate How-To Guide

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Although what you eat tends to be the main focus of most weight loss diets, how much you eat—which is a matter of portion control—can be as important, if not more so, for successful weight loss.

So, how do you implement portion control for weight loss? What are tips and strategies to improve portion control when you want to lose weight? What are healthy portions or serving sizes for different foods for weight loss?

In this article, we will discuss the importance of portion control for weight loss, how to portion control to lose weight, and tips for managing portion sizes for weight loss.

We will cover the following: 

  • What Is Portion Control?
  • How to Portion Control for Weight Loss

Let’s jump in! 

A plate of food for portion control for weight loss.

What Is Portion Control?

Although most people have an understanding of what portion control entails in a general sense, understanding portion control for weight loss and the impact of using portion control to lose weight is unfortunately rather absent from many discussions surrounding weight loss.

However, with the obesity epidemic continuing to plague the adult population and trickling down into adolescents and children, discussing portion control for weight loss has become even more important.

After all, even if your diet consists of nutritious, “healthy“ foods, you will not lose weight and may even gain weight if you are simply eating too much food and exceeding the appropriate portions for your body size, activity level, and overall caloric needs.

Ultimately, if you do not pay attention to portion sizes, you can easily gain weight eating seemingly healthy foods simply because you are consuming more calories than you are burning in a day.

A person writing in a food diary.

In fact, according to research, increased portion sizes are thought to contribute to unwanted weight gain and obesity. 

For example, researchers determined that marketplace portions are usually two to eight times larger than the standard serving sizes as dictated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Moreover, portion sizes offered at commercial establishments, such as fast-food restaurant chains, have increased over time, such that they are now often about 2 to 5 times larger than the original size.

Controlling portion sizes can be key to successfully losing weight by helping to prevent overeating and exceeding your caloric needs.

How to Portion Control for Weight Loss

There are various tips for how to control portion sizes for weight loss. 

Certain portion control tips may work better or worse for you personally based on your own challenges with sticking to appropriate portion sizes and controlling your food intake. 

Ultimately, the goal of controlling portion sizes is to rectify any discrepancy between the larger portion sizes that you are eating and the ideal portion sizes for weight loss.

Here are 6 tips to control portion sizes for weight loss:

Nutrition facts labels.

#1: Learn Portion Sizes

Many people aren’t actually aware of the correct serving sizes for different types of food.

Reading labels to look at the specific serving size is a helpful way to build your foundational understanding of the appropriate portion size for different types of food in your diet.

Moreover, evidence suggests that using our own judgment to inform appropriate portion sizes is often ineffective.

Therefore, actually measuring your food, either by weighing it with a kitchen scale, or using measuring cups and measuring spoons, is the most accurate way to ensure that you are eating the correct portion sizes for weight loss.

#2: Use Smaller Plates

A classic weight loss tip for portion control is to use smaller plates and bowls.

We often eat with our eyes, such that when you serve your food on a large plate or bowl, the amount of food that you are eating can appear smaller since there is so much extra dinnerware surrounding the portion of food you have served yourself.

A small plate of blueberries.

This can lead to overeating because your brain is telling you that you are not consuming as much food.

In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that the size of plates, bowls, glasses, and even spoons can unconsciously affect how much food you end up eating.

Evidence suggests that the sizes of plates, spoons, and glasses can unconsciously influence how much food someone eats. 

For example, one study found that people who ate pasta out of a large bowl ate 77% more pasta than those who ate pasta from a medium-sized bowl.

This is a significant difference in the amount of calories consumed. 

Another study found similar results. Interestingly, the subjects in this study were nutrition experts. 

Even despite an assumed greater awareness of portion sizes, when the subjects served themselves ice cream when they were given a larger bowl, they put 31% more ice cream into the bowl and 14.5% more ice cream when they were given larger serving spoons.

Most importantly, the majority of people who ate more food when using larger plates or bowls were entirely unaware of the increased portion size.

Extrapolating these findings in the opposite direction, it seems logical that swapping your plates, bowls, and spoons for smaller dinnerware may help control block portion sizes for weight loss.

A waiter carrying a plate of food.

#3: Ask for a Half Portion At Restaurants

Because portion sizes at restaurants have increased significantly and are generally 2 to 8 times larger than a standard serving size, the best way to implement portion control for weight loss when eating out is to ask for a half portion when you order your food.

If the restaurant will not specifically cut the meal in half or serve a half portion with resultant cost savings, you can ask them to preemptively wrap up the second half of the dish so that you can take it home and only serve you one half of the given portion size while you are dining in.

Another option is to order your dish from the children’s menu, which will have smaller portion sizes. 

#4: Avoid Buffets

All-you-can-eat buffets are one of the toughest environments to implement portion control.

Between the bevy of options of foods to choose from in the buffet line and the notion that you want to get a good value for the price, we often significantly overindulge at a buffet.

A buffet.

If you are trying to lose weight, you may find that it is best to avoid a buffet altogether and opt for eating at home or choosing restaurants that serve defined portions.

If you do go to a buffet and you are trying to control portions for weight loss, set ground rules for yourself.

This might include things like no seconds (meaning that you only get one shot at the buffet line) or filling at least half your plate with salad or steamed vegetables.

The buffet is also a great place to implement the small dishes approach.

Use an appetizer plate rather than a dinner plate and allow yourself to fill up your plate, but you only get a single appetizer plate for your meal.

Food in small snack bags.

Related: Ideal Body Weight Calculator

#5: Serve Your Food

Many people who overindulge do so because they are eating directly out of the package rather than serving themselves a sensible portion of food and then putting the rest away.

Indeed, studies have found that people tend to eat more food when they are eating directly out of a large package rather than a small single-serve package, no matter how good the food tastes or the quality of the food.

Because single-serve snacks, cereals, juices, meals, etc., tend to cost more money, if you need to buy jumbo-sized or family-sized packages or bottles for your budget, make sure to actually pour out or portion out a correct serving size and then put the rest of the package away rather than munch mindlessly directly from the package of food.

For example, in one study, people ate 180 fewer grams of snack food per week when they were given 100-gram snack packs compared to when they were given snacks in standard-sized packages.

Similarly, another study found that people ate 129% more candies when the candy was served from a large container compared to when the same candy was served from a small container.

A food diary sheet.

#6: Keep a Food Log

Research has found that keeping a food log can result in greater weight loss.

This is likely because studies have found that people are often unaware of how much food they are actually eating and are surprised to find out how many calories or how much food they are consuming once they start to write it down and pay attention to their portion sizes.

Record not just what you eat but also your portion sizes.

For more information about how much food you should be eating, check out our guide to how many calories you should eat per day here.

A scale, plates of food and a tape measure.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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