Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Michael Brockbank
Arguably, one of the best ways to lose weight is through portion control. And I’m not talking about restrictive diet plans or only eating certain things. In reality, nearly every diet plan relies on one specific element: the portion sizes you give yourself.
Losing weight, in its most simplest form, is all about burning more than you eat. By keeping yourself in a caloric deficit, you’ll more than likely lose weight. However, you also need to keep in mind the types of food you eat.
For one thing, eating nothing but Walmart cupcakes throughout the day to meet a 2,000-calorie goal isn’t going to do much for your body. In fact, it may make you incredibly lethargic and feeling like the bottom plate of an overly used air fryer.
Needless to say, there aren’t enough nutrients in cupcakes to sustain the body indefinitely. Things will start to break down, including how your brain processes information.
What is Portion Control?
Portion control is the process of serving oneself a “proper” amount of food depending on specific diet goals. This control often includes precise measurements of portions to achieve a desired effect while eating.
For example, a lot of people will monitor overall calories for the day. In many cases, they will meal-prep according to how many calories they can eat for meals and snacks. That way, they can portion out the food in accordance with their specific diet plan.
How Portion Control Affects Your Budget
One aspect that a lot of people don’t realize is that properly portioning out your food can greatly affect your grocery budget. By eating logical sizes of various foods, you could decrease how much money you spend annually at the store.
For example, a lot of people have no problem consuming an 8-oz steak with a side dish of two cups of potatoes, and several slices of garlic bread.
That meal is essentially two in one.
By cutting down the steak to three to four ounces, one cup of mashed potatoes, and a single slice of garlic bread, you’re already consuming less than half of the first meal. This translates to saving that much money per plate.
For those who don’t think that’s enough food, that is still more than you’d get from any Lean Cuisine on the market, and for a fraction of the cost if you cook it yourself.
Consider this, the average man needs about 2500 calories per day and the average woman needs about 2000 calories per day in total. If you break this down to three meals per day without snacks, that is roughly 833 and 667 calories respectively. That’s actually quite a bit of food, depending on what you prepare.
Of course, there are a lot of variables that affect how much you need to eat every day. Age, current weight, physical activity, and various medications can all impact realistic portion sizes.
The bottom line, though, is that portion control often saves money when you’re trying to lose weight as opposed to what you consumed in the past. This is especially true if you gained all of your weight from sugary snacks as I did.
Needless to say, I spend far less on food today than I did 80 pounds ago. And that’s including the current rate of inflation.
11 Tips to Monitor and Control Portion Sizes
Portion control is good in theory, but how easy is it in practice? Actually, there are quite a few things you can do to shave down the sheer volume of food you eat.
It all really comes down to how committed you are to eating less.
1. Use Smaller Dishes
Instead of serving yourself up a large plate or bowl, use something smaller in size. This does two things: a) you can’t fit as much on a smaller plate, and b) you’re not tempted to cover the dish.
If you’re a beginner at losing weight, you might have to talk yourself out of having seconds or thirds. But that’s the beauty of using a smaller dish. Convince yourself you only need one serving with that particular bowl or plate.
Personally, I recycle Lean Cuisine dishes to use for lunches and dinners. They are great for helping you limit what you can stack onto them while giving you an idea about proper portion sizes while you eat.
2. Use Portion-Control Containers
Proportional containers are all over the Internet. And using them can easily help you cut down on how much you serve for your meals. This is especially true if you plan on measuring what you serve, which I’ll go over in a moment.
The idea behind these types of containers is to help you realize portion sizes while giving you exactly what you need for meals or snacks. They are incredibly useful for a myriad of purposes and most can travel exceptionally well.
When I meal prep, I like using the Bentgo freezer containers. They fit more than enough food without being too large or small.
Plus, they’re microwave and dishwasher safe.
3. Prepare Food That Makes Good Leftovers
Contrary to the belief of some, leftovers are not all that bad. While it really depends on what you’re preparing, some food can be just as good the next day. In other words, you don’t need to eat everything in one sitting.
Yet, as I just said, it depends on what you make. Foods with breaded elements don’t save all that well for long periods of time. For instance, breaded, air-fried shrimp just doesn’t have the same awesomeness when frozen or packed away in plastic containers and left in the fridge.
Meats and most fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, often keep fairly well for days at a time. Try to prepare foods that can last longer as leftovers and reduce how much you serve each meal.
4. Keep an Eye on Serving Sizes (Nutrition Labels)
I’ve been following nutrition labels since starting my weight loss journey. I know some people scoff at the idea, but for me, it’s how I’ve lost the last 80 pounds. Using this information, I try to gauge how much of any particular food I can have in one sitting.
For example, two Oreo cookies are roughly 120 calories. That is considered a single serving according to the label. As long as you’re not diving into the bag with a gallon of milk, you can still enjoy a few sweets here and there without packing on the pounds.
You may even come across a few labeled servings that are nowhere near what you think of as proper portion control. You might find yourself eating less or cutting that portion size while measuring out the food.
For example, Trader Joe’s says that one cup is a serving of teriyaki chicken. I cut that in half when mixed with half of a serving of chicken fried rice. It comes out to be 190 calories while providing enough food to eat for lunch or dinner.
5. Drink More Water
Water is not only an element all humans need to survive, but it can also be a great deal for weight loss and portion control. For one thing, drinking more water has a lot of physical benefits.
A lot of people have had great success with controlling portion sizes by drinking at least a cup of water 30 minutes before a meal. It fills your stomach and essentially convinces your brain that you don’t need to pile on the calories.
Think about it this way, the effects of drinking liquids are why a lot of all-you-can-eat buffets offer free drinks or free refills. You’re less likely to wipe out the shrimp and steak platters if your stomach is full of water or soda. The same principle applies at home if you drink more water before and during your meal.
6. Serve Food from the Container
Instead of eating food directly from its container, serve it up in a much smaller one. This is especially useful when you’re snacking on things like chips, popcorn, or other packaged goods.
Instead of sitting there with the package and eating the entire contents, you’re limiting yourself to a proper portion size according to your diet. This helps reduce the likelihood of killing off that bag of Oreos or smashing a bag of popcorn while watching movies or playing games.
A lot of us will snack on anything around us while on autopilot. It becomes a habitual practice, and you don’t really think about what you’re eating until it’s gone. Serving the food from the container greatly reduces the sheer volume you’ll eat in one sitting.
7. Use Food-Monitoring Apps
Tracking your food intake can greatly help with portion control. The day you enter your average meal from somewhere like Taco Bell is a real eye-opener. You quickly learn where to adjust your eating habits.
I have been using MyFitnessPal since 2014. I’ve been able to track every morsel of food I eat while keeping an eye on my caloric intake. By striving to keep myself in a deficit, MyFitnessPal has been crucial for my weight loss journey.
You don’t have to use MyFitnessPal, as there are quite a few food-tracking apps out there. Using one can help you learn better eating habits while changing your relationship with food for the better.
Coincidentally, tracking what you eat in an app or food journal can help you discover food allergies you might have or help you determine how you feel mentally after eating certain things. There are all kinds of things you can figure out about yourself when you track everything you eat.
8. Get Used to Measuring Food
I know that not everyone wants to pull out the measuring cups and start portioning out everything. But if you do, it won’t take you long to learn how much a proper portion size is when looking at virtually any food type.
For instance, I have grown accustomed to being able to eyeball virtually any food and guess how many calories the meal has in total. And usually, I can get incredibly close. While I’ll still measure things here at the house, I can guesstimate portion control while out in the wild at a restaurant or when dining with friends.
My point is that measuring how much you eat with every meal can go a long way to helping you drop a lot of weight. Not only that but as I said earlier, it’ll save you on the grocery bill each month.
9. Never Underestimate To-Go Boxes
If you do plan on going out, keep in mind that you don’t need to eat every single thing on your plate. Most places offer some kind of to-go box that you can take with you. And depending on the restaurant, you can enjoy the experience again the next day through leftovers.
Yes, I know re-heating restaurant food isn’t exactly the same as getting it fresh. But it’s better for your weight loss goals while saving you money on yet another lunch. Instead of that $15 plate for a single dinner, it becomes two meals for $7 each if you only eat half of it while at the restaurant.
If you’re one of those people who feel odd about using to-go boxes, think of it more like securing your lunch for the next day. Don’t feel bad for putting your health and finances first. You don’t need to eat every single thing the kitchen sends you in one sitting. Especially considering how much dining out costs, nowadays.
That food is coming with me one way or another.
10. Do You Really Need Seconds?
One aspect of portion control involves how many servings you actually need. Sure, some foods are awesome, and your mouth wants to taste them again. But listen to your body…is it really telling you that you’re still hungry?
Instead, give yourself a bit of time, drink more water, and then contemplate on having seconds. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to decide. During that time, find something that can distract you, such as your favorite television show or a game. I know it sounds a bit absurd to some, but it does help quite a few people.
There is a difference between eating because you’re hungry and eating because you’re bored.
I can’t count the number of times when I thought I needed seconds only to fill my stomach too much resulting in heartburn. It’s tricky because sometimes your brain might tell you that you’re still hungry despite your stomach telling you otherwise.
11. Don’t Fixate on Food
Perhaps one of the most difficult for many on their weight loss journeys is not fixating on eating. Depending on the type of eating disorder you might have, it can be extremely hard not to center yourself around meals or snacks.
For example, I am a stress eater and often binge at night. How I avoid that nowadays is by keeping myself occupied with something else or finding other ways to adapt to stress. Lately, it’s involved more walking or playing games on the Xbox Kinect or Oculus that keep me physically active.
It’s OK to enjoy the experience of a well-prepared dish or an incredibly tasty snack. Just try not to fixate on having it again and again. Keep your eating to logical portion sizes.
Corporate Profits Over Logical Portions
Restaurants, both fast-food and dine-in locations, are always figuring out new ways to make as much money as possible. This means they cut a lot of corners when it comes to proper nutrition. That’s because it’s simply good business to get as much as you can for as cheap as possible, which often leads to a far lower quality of foodstuffs.
When shareholders and stock prices are involved, this is even more of a priority.
Perhaps the worst aspect of corporate greed is how they market the sheer amount of food you can get for only $5, or whatever the current “deal” is from the chain. In most of these meal deals, you’re consuming two to three times the amount of calories you should have in a single sitting.
While there are some out there who genuinely portion out the fast food, not everyone has that same level of control. I know I don’t separate a Taco Bell Deluxe Box deal into logical portion sizes.
Keep in mind that nearly 40% of the US adult population is obese. Thanks to delivery apps such as DoorDash, it’s even easier now to stay that way without restraint.
I’m not saying that you should avoid restaurants and such like a vegan platter at a steakhouse. But you do need to exercise portion control if you truly want to lose weight. Or, at least burn off as many calories as possible to “afford” the extra food you eat.
How I Manage Portion Control to Lose Weight
I’ve lost 80 pounds by carefully keeping an eye on my caloric intake versus my output. In other words, I make sure I try to burn off everything I consume. In fact, my Net 600 Calorie Diet focuses on increasing physical activity to burn roughly twice the amount of calories eaten per day.
I do all of this without feeling like I’m starving myself.
For instance, 1/2 cup of Trader Joe’s Teriyaki BBQ Chicken and a 2/3 cup of Trader Joe’s Chicken Fried Rice delivers about the same amount of food as any frozen diet meal you can buy at Walmart. In some cases, it’s even more food while providing a better nutritional value.
As a rule of thumb, I try to keep meals anywhere between 300 and 400 calories. Then, I’ll snack throughout the day if I feel peckish. And yes, this is enough food to lose weight without feeling like I’m starving.
Sure, I’ll have the occasional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But I’ll also serve myself up six ounces of carrots for a snack, which is about one-third the number of calories with a fraction of the carbs.
What can I say? I love carrots.
Also, keep in mind that my diet focuses on losing weight while improving overall physical fitness. Once I get closer to my goal weight, I will have to adjust my diet strategy. It wouldn’t be advisable to continue burning twice what I eat while expecting to keep the muscle mass I’ve created. Not to mention that eventually, I’ll be too tired to continue the same physical activity if there’s nothing in the tank to burn.
But every diet will need a period when you have to change the plan depending on your ultimate goals.
Do You Monitor Your Portion Sizes?
At the end of the day, portion control has a lot of health benefits ranging from simple weight loss to ensuring proper nutritional intake. The hardest part is making sure you’re committing to a lifestyle change. That’s where most people view dieting as being “hard.”
It’s easy to lose weight; it’s difficult to keep yourself motivated to do so. Your body knows what it needs to do. You just need to get your brain to follow suit.
What kinds of tools do you use to monitor your intake?