The Right Portion Sizes For Weight Loss, According To A Nutritionist

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Choosing the right foods for your diet is only half of the equation, as not only what you eat but how much you eat will affect your caloric intake, weight loss, and overall nutrition. 

However, understanding the correct portion sizes for weight loss or the appropriate serving sizes for different foods can be challenging since portion sizes offered by restaurants are constantly getting larger and many people have “food portion distortion.”

Although measuring your food using a food scale or measuring cups is the most accurate way to monitor your serving sizes, visual guides for portion sizes for foods can help you estimate or eyeball the right portion sizes when you eat.

In this weight loss guide, we will discuss why portion sizes for weight loss are important, the difference between portion size vs serving size, and tips for understanding the right portion sizes for weight loss using our guide with tangible measurements to help you pick the correct portions for different food groups.

We will look at: 

  • What Is the Difference Between Portion Size vs Serving Size?
  • Portion Sizes For Weight Loss Tips
  • Visual Food Portion Guide With Portion Sizes for Different Foods

Let’s get started!

Portion sizes of different foods.

What Is the Difference Between Portion Size vs Serving Size?

Many people are confused about the difference between a food serving size vs portion size.

The serving size for a food is listed on the nutrition facts panel is a standard serving size established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to describe “the amount of food customarily consumed in one sitting for that food.”

The standard serving sizes for different foods are used to help you calculate how many total servings of vegetables, fruits, grains, lean proteins, and fats and oils you have in a day.

Additionally, serving sizes are used to provide the nutritional information for a given food product.

In contrast, a portion size is how much you actually eat of the food. You may have a larger or smaller portion size relative to the serving size.

A plate of food.

Visual Food Portion Guide With Portion Sizes for Different Foods

Portion control for weight loss is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Having a portion size guide to help you understand reasonable portion sizes for protein, vegetables, fruit, fats, etc. can be tremendously helpful so that you don’t have to use a food scale or actually measure every single serving size vs portion size that you’re eating.

Here are some food portion size guidelines for weight loss diets:

Fruits

A serving size of fruit is about the size of a tennis ball.

A medium-sized apple or orange should be about the size of a tennis ball, and if you have something like grapes, blueberries, raspberries, or pineapple, think of the chunks or pieces filling up a tennis ball for the fruit portion size.

Peppers on a scale.

Vegetables

The serving size for vegetables is slightly larger than that for fruit and more along the size of a baseball.

Think of cutting up carrots, peppers, or broccoli and putting it in a bowl where the veggies round up over the top, forming about the size of a baseball or two fists pushed together.

Protein

Fish, chicken, meat, tofu, and other proteins should be the size of a deck of cards or your palm.

Grains

A serving size for pasta or cooked grains like oatmeal, rice, couscous, etc., is 1/2 cup. You can visualize this portion size like a hockey puck or one cupped hand.

Bread

The bread serving size is one slice, while a bagel is typically half a bagel or even 1/3 or a quarter of a bagel, depending on the size. You would want it to be about the size of a hockey puck or a slice of plain sandwich bread.

Fat

Butter, mayonnaise, cheese, etc., is the size of a pair of dice or your thumb.

Tomatoes on a food scale.

Portion Sizes For Weight Loss Tips

In addition to having an understanding of the food portions guidelines or a guide to serving sizes, it can be really helpful to have some tips for portion control for weight loss. 

After all, just because you know how large a serving size should be or you have a goal portion size for weight loss doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to stick with the recommended food portion sizes for weight loss.

Here are some tips for following the food portion size guide and implementing portion control for losing weight:

Portion Control Weight Loss Tips for Eating At Home

#1: Measure Your Food

Use measuring cups, measuring spoons, or a food scale if you want to get the correct serving size. 

A nutrition food label.

#2 Read Food Labels

Read food labels so that you understand the serving size.

#3: Eat Off Small Plates

Use smaller plates, bowls, and serving utensils when you are eating at home.

Studies suggest that eating off of a smaller plate and using smaller serving spoons can help trick your brain into thinking that you are consuming more calories than you are, which can help you feel physically and emotionally satisfied by smaller portion sizes.

Plus, research shows that people generally are not aware that they have eaten larger portions or more calories when they eat off a larger plate.

#4: Use Food Portion Guides

Serve your food by using the food portion guides or portion size measurements on the packaging or based on the type of food that you are eating before you eat.

Do not eat directly out of a large container.

For example, instead of reaching your hand into a bag of mixed nuts or trail mix, grab your measuring cup and measure out a quarter-cup serving or whatever serving size or portion size is appropriate for your caloric needs and weight goals.

Then, put the correct portion size for the food in a separate bowl or plate and put the rest away.

Particularly if you are working on portion control for weight loss, you should follow this portion control tip for all foods, even fruit.

We have a tendency to mindlessly munch on handfuls and handfuls of cherries or grapes, and though these foods are healthy, if you are having numerous servings of fruit all at once, you may be consuming more calories and sugar than you want to based on your weight loss goals.

To go containers of food.

#5: Portion Out Your Leftovers

Store any leftovers from home-cooked meals in separate, portion-controlled containers.

There are tons of meal prep containers that you can buy online that help you determine appropriate portion sizes for different foods, and you can even freeze some of these containers so that the correct portions are already set when you want to reheat your next meal.

This can cut back on “weak moments” when your willpower is lacking and you want to have a huge slab of lasagna or twice as large of an overnight oats portion size. 

One of the best portion control containers for leftovers are the Souper Cubes. What is great about these is that you can freeze them right in the silicone container or bake them up to 415 degrees Fahrenheit.

They have a lid, and the food pops out super easily into baking dishes that come with the set or any dishes that you have at home so that you can have reheated soups, mashed potatoes, smoothies, or even protein pancake dough prepared.

They clean extremely easily right in the dishwasher, and each of the containers actually has measurement lines inside so that you know if you are filling a 1/2 cup, one cup, etc., in addition to being able to buy almost any size imaginable.

A plate of pasta.

#6: Serve Plates In Advance

When you eat dinner at home, don’t put the platters, pots, or vats of food on the table for seconds or for self-serving.

Serve the plates at the stove or oven, and then sit down to eat.

If the food will stay hot, it is even best to put away the leftovers in the portion control containers right away so that you aren’t tempted to sneak back for seconds if you wow yourself with how good your cooking came out!

#7: Buy Single-Serve Packages

As you are learning the correct serving sizes for the best portion sizes for weight loss, consider getting single-serve packages of food such as individual packets of peanuts or trail mix, or ice cream sandwiches instead of a carton of ice cream.

Although single-serve portion-controlled foods cost more money, and frankly, they tend to be processed and unhealthy foods in the first place, this is at least a good stepping stone as you are trying to learn appropriate serving sizes for weight loss and are working on improving your diet.

Single serve packages of instant oatmeeal.

Portion Control Tips for Eating Out

When you are eating at a restaurant or getting takeout, ask for half portions, smaller portions, or order off the children’s menu for a more appropriate portion size.

You can also ask the waiter or waitress to put in a request to wrap up the second half of the dish right in the kitchen before serving and then bring you the leftovers to take home along with your half portion for in-house dining.

Use your visual food portions guides that you’ve learned to help eyeball the proper portions for weight loss for the different foods that you order, and then just eat that portion and ask the rest to be packaged and taken home.

Another great tip is to share your entrée with someone else.

For more tips on losing weight, check out our guide on how to lose the last 10 pounds here.

A person stepping on a scale.
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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