7 Tricks to Finally Nail the Whole Portion Control Thing

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7 Tricks to Finally Nail the Whole Portion Control Thing

When searching for healthy eating or weight loss tips, the phrase “portion control” pops up time and again. Simply put, controlling your portions means sticking to a set amount (portion) of food in one sitting: The right amount depends on your calorie and nutrient needs. And, of course, what actually fills you up. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just develop healthy eating habits, it’s important to have a good idea of what a healthy portion looks like.

“Portion is different than serving size,” Caroline Kaufman, R.D., tells SELF. “The serving size is a measured amount of food or drink (what you see on a nutrition label) and your portion is the amount you actually consume,” she explains. For example, one serving of granola may be listed as a quarter cup, but if you have two servings, your portion is a half cup. Oftentimes, the right portion size is one serving, but that’s not always true.

Portion control is an important part of a weight loss plan.

If you’re trying to lose weight, knowing the nutrition content of one serving and then controlling your portions is the best way to monitor calorie intake. It’s important to also note that counting calories, and losing weight in general, is not for everyone. There are also many other factors, like sleep habits, stress, and genetics that can influence weight loss, making it about way more than just calorie intake. If you have a history of disordered eating, you should always speak with your doctor before changing your eating habits.

Even if weight loss isn’t your goal, sticking to reasonable portions helps keep meals balanced and nutritious.

The goal is to eat a reasonably sized meal that fills you up and is nutritionally diverse. “You want to make sure your plate isn’t all red meat, for example, and that you’re getting a little bit of variety,” Jackie Baumrind, M.S., senior dietitian at Selvera Wellness, tells SELF.

There are lots of guidelines comparing foods to everyday objects—for example, a single portion of protein should be about the size of a deck of cards. (For more examples, check out this pretty comprehensive list by the Mayo Clinic.) You can also use measuring cups to dole out portions according to serving sizes and then adjust depending on your personal needs.

But we’re not all walking around with a deck of cards or our trusty measuring cups in our purses. Here, Kaufman and Baumrind share some easier ways to naturally eat healthy portion sizes, so you can develop better eating habits without spending so much energy fussing over it.



The best way to eyeball healthy portions? Fill your plate or bowl with 50 percent veggies or salad, 25 percent lean protein, and 25 percent starchy vegetables or carbs. This helps you roughly control portions automatically. “If a quarter of your plate is for protein, it’s hard to fit a 12-ounce sirloin into that corner,” Baumrind jokes. This also helps you fill up on veggies, which are low in calories and fat.


“Use salad plates and cereal bowls instead of dinner plates and large soup bowls,” Kaufman suggests. Why? It essentially tricks your mind into thinking you’re eating more than you are. Whether we’re eating at a restaurant or cooking at home, we all want our plates to look full, Baumrind notes. “We eat with our eyes and nose first.” A salad plate that’s piled high with food looks and seems more filling than a scantily topped large dinner plate—prepping you to expect to be full once you’ve cleaned it.


If you’re cooking dinner and intend to have leftovers for lunch or the next night, portion it out before you even sit down to eat, Baumrind says. That way, you can determine the correct portions before you dig in. It’s much harder to stop eating when there’s still delicious, home-cooked food on your plate.


Either with yourself or another person. “Most places, it’s enough for two people,” Baumrind notes. “Ask the waiter to package up half before they bring it to the table,” she suggests. “Or split a main course with whomever you’re with.”


“Portion out a certain amount of food (use the serving size on the container as your guide) and go back for seconds of the same amount if you want more,” Kaufman says. When you’re taking snacks on the go, portion them into Ziploc bags, Baumrind says. “Grabbing something like a cheese stick or single-serve yogurt is good because it’s already portioned,” she adds.


It’s easy to forget everything you’ve been taught about healthy portion sizes and eating with your stomach not your eyes when you have endless options and feel like you should get your money’s worth. Kaufman suggests taking a lap and surveying all the options on the buffet before digging in. That way, you can decide what you really want to put on your plate and portion accordingly. If you decide you’re hungry for seconds, just stick to the suggested proportions (see #1) when you serve yourself again.


Eating when you’re distracted pretty much guarantees you’ll overeat—if you don’t take the time to pay attention to what you’re putting into your mouth, it’s tough to recognize when you’re full. To be more mindful, avoid eating in front of a screen, Kaufman says. That means both your TV and your laptop. Baumrind goes one step further: “Turn off your phone or put it away and sit quietly, enjoy the company [of others] and the food.”


> 12 Healthy Foods That Fill You Up Best
> The 5 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Losing Weight
> How to Manage All That Free Food at the Office

About the Author


SELF.com is the ultimate wellness resource and community. We recognize that wellness is as much about self-expression and self-esteem as it is about exercise and nutrition; that it’s not an all-or-nothing lifestyle; and that every person’s individual goals for healthy living are different, and that’s OK. We’re here to celebrate, motivate, support, inform and entertain you—and make you laugh, too. Join the conversation and catch the latest SELF news, recipes, advice, laughs and more on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.



49 responses to “7 Tricks to Finally Nail the Whole Portion Control Thing”

  1. Don Reitsma says:

    It is no wonder the bast majority of people don’t lose weight being given the above advice. Counting calories and trying to trick yourself into eating less does not work over the long term. Any diet or strategy will usually work in the short term but that is not what we’re after. So I consider the above to be ridiculous suggestions to say the least and demonstrates a lack of underdtanding of basic physiology when it comes to gaining and losing fat and then keeping it off in the long term.

    It also seems to be fashionable now to avoid talking about dietary fat and to push protein as more satiating. I will not argue the point, however protein is metabolized faster than dietary fat and is less dense, so how can it possibly more satiating? It can’t. Don’t take my word for it. Eat an once of something high in protein and compare it to eating an once of something high in fat and judge for yourself. Next they will be saying refuned carbohydrates are more satiating – ya, that’s why you’re hungry an hour later.

    Ok, so here is fat physiology 101 since apparently the so called experts don’t seem to understand it or have conveniently throwm it away for whatever is fashionable now. The only thing to really know is that fat / loss and gain is essentially driven by our hormones and has nothing to do with counting calories. Surprisingly though cortisol which is a hormone is mentioned since it’s fashioanble and seemingly easy to control but is not the primary hormone when it comes to weight loss or gain. It is a good way to sell you those weight loss meditation tapes though! Insulin is the primary hormone responsible for weight loss and gain. Reduce your stress and you like but if your insulin level is high you will gain weight or at least not lose any.

    This basicly comes from our understanding of type 1 diabetics who do not produce insulin and without it will not gain weight, which is why it was referred to as the wasting disease – because they wasted away without it. A diabetic without insulin can be fed to the point of bursting with as many calories of carbohydrates, protein or fat as you want and they will not gain weight (after they expel what they were fed). Not so surprising since this has been known for almost 100 years. Start giving a diabetic insulin and they will gain weight. In fact, injection sites are varied because of generating local fat deposits.

    It is very simple to understand that elevated blood glucose levels and therefore insulin levels in non-diabetcs inhibit releasing energy from fat tissue and any excess glucose is stored as fat. Rapid metabolization of sugar and refined carbohydrates and starches elevates glucose and therefore insulin levels resulting in fat storage – period.

    As time goes on following the same esting patten glucose levels continue to increase and weight gain accelerates as the cells become insulin resistant. In time the person develops type 2 diabetes which is high glucose and high insulin levels. Unfortunately for the most part insulin is prescribed (as strange as that is) to lower glucose levels like in type 1 diabetics, but this leads to even more weight gain at a higher rate. It becomes a vicious cycle and all the calorie counting and low fat consumption in the world will not result in long term weight loss.

    Therefore the simple answer is to avoid / significantly limit those types of foods that are ralidly metabolized, namely sugar, fruit juices, low fat products due to high sugar content and processed foods, particularly those made with refined flour. Essentially, eat those foods that have a low glycemic load and you will lose weight. It also helps to eliminate snacking since this will further decrease insulin levels. Also limit the numbers of meals (but not the calories) by eating foods that are both nutritious and satiating. Fasting is an extension of meal reduction. Do not worry about reducing snacking and the number of meals because you will stay full longer and not want to eat all the time or have to limit the size of your plate.

    • Jimmy NoChit says:

      Simply put, eat fat not carbs.

      • Don Reitsma says:

        Yes, however people think their arteries will plaque up and clog just reading that! LOL!

        • Jimmy NoChit says:

          They dont realize that their arteries dont ‘clog’, they become obstructed due to inflammation from outside the arteries that comes from eating carbs.

          • Don Reitsma says:

            They stick with the old science and cliches from the 70’s and 80’s though. Ignorance abounds and LDL’s take the rap for gettng caught st the scene trying to repair the damage.

      • SarahJ89 says:

        I’m okay eating a small amount of (100% whole grain) carbs, one serving a day if I need to lose some weight. This does free me up to use more butter and olive oil when I’m cooking, which makes the food taste better and is more satisfying. I love carbs, too, but have learned to limit them. Sugar and simple carbs are out, though.

  2. Susan says:

    25% starchy vegetables or carbs? Really? Maybe change that to 25% healthy fat…

    • Orion Antares says:

      Better option, 75% vegetables and some fruit, 25% healthy fats and protein.

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  3. SarahJ89 says:

    Amazingly, I was cooking dinner when I read this. And I implemented tip number 3: doled out the extra pasta I’d cooked and put it right into the fridge. Not only did we not overeat, but now I have a nice lunch for tomorrow. I would not have thought to do this on my own, but will be doing it from now on. So much easier than teetering over the serving bowl, spoon in hand, debating…

  4. SarahJ89 says:

    I’ve been doing a ten-a-day vegetable-fruit thing lately. A serving of veg is 80 grams. No more than three servings of fruit a day. I put a Post-it on my kitchen scale and just note ever 80 grams until I get to 800.
    It’s revolutionized my meal planning. I love vegetables, but it requires more planning and prep to get in those 500 grams so I now start my planning with vegetables. They used to be kind of an after thought, but not any more. I’ve been having fun (I like to cook) finding new recipes and techniques for cooking them and trying out new vegetables.
    I feel a lot better. It’s much easier to do if I’m not traveling or having a wildly disruptive schedule, though.

  5. Talya Solomon says:

    I know the 50 25 25 rule but wasn’t thinking about it at my Moms lol . I love my carbs too much but to be fair I also didn’t know how much olive oil my Mom liboraly drizzled on the salid . Oh well I’ll assess damages tomorow and resume counting .

  6. Greg Dahlen says:

    One thing that might help with weight loss is going to church. For instance, I go to daily Mass, and a person is supposed to fast one hour before going to Mass. I find this hour of fasting sets a tone for eating less during the day. I notice there aren’t many overweight people at church. Or at least not too overweight.

    • Orion Antares says:

      Fasting for one hour before mass??? That’s less than the time between traditional three a day meals…

      Try not eating between waking up and sometime in the afternoon or evening. That’s a real fast.

      • Greg Dahlen says:

        You’re right, one hour isn’t a very long fast. Although I find that one-hour fast can in a sense turn into a three or four-hour fast. Because I’m usually up three or four hours before church starts. And for some reason anticipating that one hour of fasting has made me less inclined to eat for the whole three or four hours between when I’m up and when church starts.

        But I’m still thinking the church must help people psychologically with weight control. Because it seems to me on average the church attenders are a little leaner than the average group of Americans.

        • ron says:

          Well I tend to eat between ten and five thereby doing what is referred to as an “intermediate fast.” At first seventeen hours without eating seems difficult but within a couple of weeks it was much easier (not that I always strictly adhere to it). Ideas regarding portion control are good (and for me necessary). Last year at this time I weighed 208 today I weigh between 160 and 165 (I’ve weighed this for the last three months). I weigh in the morning and just before I go to bed. Although on no specific diet I eat less carbs (nothing white), very little sugar (never added), and have a smoothie (well thought out, not overly sugarized naturally or to high in calories) once a day. I don’t worry about the right kind of fats but use lean pork, beef, no skin on chicken, etc. For me the most important factor is discipline. Anything (fasting, portion control, church, exercise, walking, whatever) that helps maintain discipline is fine with me and up to the individual and their ideology.

        • Juda Bacon says:

          A scientific study would be interesting. I have never heard of Catholics being a leaner bunch but I do know that Seventh Day Adventists have predominantly better health because of vegetarianism than any other religious or non religious cohort. Faith based or nutritional choice?

    • Jessica Jax says:

      This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. There “aren’t many overweight people at church”? There aren’t many overweight people in bars, either. Should I start drinking and smoking and hanging out in bars to help with weight loss?

      • Greg Dahlen says:

        I don’t know, Jessica. Most people would say drinking and smoking are physically unhealthy. Do you think the church promotes things that are physically unhealthy?

        • Jessica Jax says:

          Very well, I’ll rephrase. Should I visit a bar for an hour once a day (and just sit and meditate) for weight loss? Or the library? Or a park? Or the movies? My point was, setting the tone for the day is entirely dependent on the person and how they choose to approach the day, and has nothing to do with where they decide to do it. Your point of setting a healthy vibe for the day is valid and quite important, but connecting church with weight loss is dangerous, as it promotes the idea that God/church/religion/faith is responsible for our health when it is largely our own choices about how we treat our bodies that determines our physical health (setting aside, for the moment, genetic factors). Equating church attendance with weight loss puts the accountability somewhere in the ether instead of where it belongs: with us. So yes, do engage in activities that help you set a healthy rhythm for the day, but please stop short of saying that going to church (specifically) can help with weight loss.

          • Mary Quiett says:

            Just sharing ideas/options…finding what works for you (the individual) is the important thing. Mass works for me… Just throwing it out there 🙂 Live joyfully!

          • Mary says:

            I think he was just trying to help. He goes to mass instead of eating or thinking of eating for that hour. It’s like saying I go for a walk before breakfast each morning. It was just a tip that helps that person. He didn’t mention God, people need to stop trying to make everything politically correct. Always looking for an argument when it’s supposed to be a helpful conversation. You Jessica changed the tone!

        • n8larson says:

          I think many churches do promote things that are physically unhealthy, at least for women. Ask a few people at a church how they feel about the number one provider of reproductive health information and services (which apply to men too) in the United States. There’s also ritual circumcision. That’s a bit of an anachronism. And opposition to compassionate end-of-life care. Those are a few examples.
          Greg, I think part of the problem is that you mentioned a specific breed of supernatural belief, rather than just setting the tone for the day in general. Would you feel the same way about going to your local Jewish or Mormon temple, or faithful observance at the nearest mosque (to name a few), as effective weight loss techniques? If so, that would have been a more appropriate piece of advice for a general audience. If not, then it seems you’re just proselytizing for your favorite team and weight loss is just a front for it.

          • Viola Olah says:

            Totally agree with you n8arson.

          • Christine Woodall says:

            Everything political my God get a grip

          • n8larson says:

            Greg (though I find his advice sound in the broader sense) made it specific to one brand of religion, you named your deity with a capital letter, and this has nothing to do with ‘politics’. You might consider examining your own grip. : )

          • robinbishop34 says:

            I’m not particularly religious, but I always find it curious how those who feel the need to disparage religion are always trying to nail themselves to a cross.

          • Graeme Taylor says:

            Thank you for your balanced and rational response

          • Phil Bowman says:

            Do not fear,trump b*** buddy. It was just a note of what works for him. Don’t get your panties in a wad. Chill out people!

    • Mary Quiett says:

      I agree, attending morning daily Mass does set my overall ‘intentional living’ tone for the day. So much positive comes when we take quiet/prayerful/meditative time to start our day. 🙂

      • Greg Dahlen says:

        Well, I don’t necessarily find Mass quiet ;), but I think it might help with self-control, and maybe give you feelings of well-being so you don’t need to turn to food for well-being.

        • Daniel Hart says:

          I agree with you Greg. Fasting before Mass and going to church promotes dedication and discipline. Both qualities help with weight loss.

    • Luke X says:

      On some level I see where Greg is coming from here. Attending church regularly helped me lose 50 lbs because I was taught techniques about fasting and dieting by the pastor in the pulpit. On another level, a lot of churches have get-togethers where people chow down. So it can be a mixed bag. It depends on which church you attend and the attitudes associated with the leadership and attendees. I attend a church where there are a lot of healthy, fit folks.

    • Perrofelix says:

      “One thing that might help with weight loss is”… you could have followed that up with “a distracting activity such as going to church” or “a community activity such as…” but going to church as the only example? I was raised Lutheran and this is the first I hear of fasting before church. But if I want to gain weight by stress-eating from going back into the closet for an hour and waiting for people to tell me I’m going to hell for who I am, then yeah definitely. Church.

  7. Dave says:

    Maybe skip the buffet entirely?

    • Kevin Leonard Lankford says:

      Sound advice to me! These eyes say “you can work this off later!” Yeah right!!!

    • paytonn says:

      There have been occasions (events such as ‘going away luncheons’ ) where the Buffet is the only option. My thoughts: the problem is the misconception of ‘getting your money’s worth’. people go and eat massive amounts of food because they have to ‘get their money’s worth’, but… say the buffet is $15.95 : what would that get you in a regular restaurant? certainly not several plates piled high with all kinds of protein, carbs, fats, sweets, etc. I choose options from the buffet that more realistically represent value for the money. ‘Skip the buffet’ is the best choice, but if not possible, eat portions like you would get at any restaurant (except you can’t take half home in a doggy bag, so maybe go a little smaller), and don’t go back for seconds. It’s not as hard as you’d think.

    • paytonn says:

      There have been occasions (events such as ‘going away luncheons’ ) where the Buffet is the only option. My thoughts: the problem is the misconception of ‘getting your money’s worth’. people go and eat massive amounts of food because they have to ‘get their money’s worth’, but… say the buffet is $15.95 : what would that get you in a regular restaurant? certainly not several plates piled high with all kinds of protein, carbs, fats, sweets, etc. I choose options from the buffet that more realistically represent value for the money. ‘Skip the buffet’ is the best choice, but if not possible, eat portions like you would get at any restaurant (except you can’t take half home in a doggy bag, so maybe go a little smaller), and don’t go back for seconds. It’s not as hard as you’d think.

    • Kpop Queen says:

      That’s what I was thinking! I skip the buffet completely as well. It eliminates the temptation all together.

  8. epickett says:

    I’ve discovered that separating mealtime and TV time is a lot tougher for those of us who live alone. Sitting quietly to eat is, well, boring…

    • Elizabeth Austin says:

      Here’s an idea for that issue. When I was single, I had a friend who lived nearby. We often cooked for each other. Even now, our neighbor (who is widowed) joins us for dinner and vice-versa several times a week. Maybe you have a friend or neighbor who’d like to do this with you. It saves a bit of money also in the long run…

  9. Ryan Conn says:

    Good advice except for #4. DO NOT GO TO A RESTAURANT AND ASK THE SERVER TO BOX HALF YOUR DINNER BEFORE IT IS SERVERED. Act like an adult. It’s good that you are trying to be healthy but the world does not revolve around your needs.

  10. Kylie says:

    Seriously we are all here for the same reason and that is to loose weight. I am not here to learn about religion. If it works for you then good but please do not use this site as a way to preach to other people

  11. Luke X says:

    #1 – Don’t eat out. Eating out is a way to pack on calories and sugar like nothing else I know. Unless you plan to go to that rare restaurant that serves only vegan meals, most restaurants douse their meals in calories and sugar.

  12. alex jones says:

    wait this epic

  13. Ray says:

    issa big bet INFOWARS.COM

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