If you’re looking to control your weight (and really who isn’t?) you need to focus not only on what foods you’re eating but also on how much and how often you eat. The information outlined below will show you the difference between a portion and a serving, how to control portions even when dining out, and how to eat just enough for you.
A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time whereas a serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts. The serving size is used to inform consumers about how many calories and nutrients are found in an amount of food. The serving size found on the Nutrition Facts is not the recommended amount to eat but rather a measurement.
According to the Weight Control Information Network normal portions sizes may be equal to two or three standard servings. For example if you take a look at the Nutrition Facts for a package of macaroni and cheese the serving size is one cup, but the entire package actually has 2 cups of food found in it. If you end up eating the entire package, you must remember that you are eating two servings of macaroni and cheese therefore doubling the calories and fat.
By learning to recognize serving sizes you can better judge how much food you are eating. If you’re cooking at home it‘s important to look at the serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts of the packaged food products that you eat. Use measuring cups and spoons to put the suggested serving size on your plate. This will help you recognize how much one standard serving size looks like compared to how much you may normally eat.
Another effective way to keep track of portions is to keep a food diary. By keeping a good record of how much, what, when, where and why you eat, you can help yourself become more aware of the amount of food that you’re eating and when you tend to eat too much. Through your diary, you can become aware of the times and reasons that you eat too much which may help you try to make different choices in the future. You can keep your food diary in a notebook, on your cell phone or at a myriad of online trackers. Don’t worry- you do not need to measure and count every little thing you eat for the rest of your life, just long enough to decipher patterns and recognize typical serving sizes.
Here are some additional ideas from the Weight Control Information Network to help you control portion sizes at home:
- Take the amount of food that is equal to one serving, according to the Nutrition Facts, and eat it off a plate instead of eating straight out of a large box or bag.
- Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities. Pay attention to what you are eating, chew your food well and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your foods.
- Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full.
- Try using smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses. This way, when you fill up your plate or glass, you will be eating and drinking less.
- To control your intake of the higher-fat, higher-calorie parts of a meal, of vegetables and salads (watch the toppings) instead of desserts and dishes with heavy sauces.
- When cooking in large batches, freeze food that you will not serve right away. This way, you will not be tempted to finish eating the whole batch before the food goes bad. And you will have ready-made food for another day. Freeze leftovers in amounts that you can use for a single serving or for a family meal another day.
- Try to eat meals at regular intervals. Skipping meals or leaving large gaps of time between meals may lead you to eat larger amounts of food the next time that you eat.
- When buying snacks, go for single-serving prepackaged items and foods that are lower-calorie options. If you buy larger bags or boxes of snacks, divide the items into single-serve packages.
- Make snacks count. Eating many high-calorie snacks throughout the day may lead to weight gain. Replace snacks like chips and soda with snacks such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, smoothies, fruit, or whole-grain crackers.
- When you do have a treat like chips or ice cream, measure out 1/2 cup of ice cream or 1 ounce of chips, as indicated by the Nutrition Facts, eat it slowly, and enjoy it!
It’s often more difficult to eat a healthy meal when going out to eat. Research shows that the more often a person eats out, the more body fat he or she has. When possible try to prepare more meals at home that way you have control over what and how much you are eating. Eat out and get take-out less often. But when you do eat away from home, below are some tips for controlling portions:
- Share your meal, order a half-portion, or order an appetizer as a main meal. Examples of healthier appetizers include tuna or chicken salad, minestrone soup, and tomato or corn salsas.
- Take at least half of your meal home. Ask for a portion of your meal to be boxed up when it is served so you will not be tempted to eat more than you need.
- Stop eating when you begin to feel full. Focus on enjoying the setting and your friends or family for the rest of the meal.
- Avoid large beverages such as “supersize” sugar-sweetened soft drinks. They have a large number of calories. Instead, try drinking water with a slice of lemon. If you want to drink soda, choose a calorie-free beverage or a small sugar-sweetened soft drink.
The amount of calories you eat ultimately affects your weight and your overall health. In addition to selecting a healthy variety of foods, look at the size of the portions you eat. By choosing nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes sensible you will better be able to control and stay at a healthy weight.