Monthly Health Message:

Controlling Food Portions for Improved Health

April 2009

Karen Ensle, Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Many Americans want to lose weight but feel overwhelmed about how to change their food intake, eating habits, and exercise patterns. No one likes to hear "eat less--exercise more." If a weight problem exists, then it is obvious that a person has issues with eating, amount of daily physical activity, and coping. The issue of being overweight needs to be recognized and addressed. Most of our population eats much more than they need to and, when health experts question them, the answer seems to be the same. Cut down on portion sizes and calorie intake and your body weight will be reduced.

Studies have shown that those who clean their plate often overeat. Besides the amount of food eaten, how fast one eats is a problem for many. The faster we eat, the more we eat, and it is usually done unconsciously. Our environment encourages us to eat large portions. Restaurants often "supersize" portions and grocery stores offer products in various sizes to meet large appetites. Aunt Millie bakes her favorite cheese cake, and when family and friends visit, she cuts and serves huge portions to show her "love." This kind of loving gets us into trouble fast and leads to intake of unhealthy fat and sugar calories, which leads to extra pounds.

Make an appointment with your health care provider and select a strategy that will guarantee success in losing weight and changing your lifestyle to be healthier. Some "small step" strategies include:

Eat More Slowly. Put the fork down in between bites and take your time eating. If your usual meal time lasts less than 30 minutes, chances are you are not giving your body the chance it needs to recognize that it is filling up. You are likely to be eating 200 or more unwanted calories by the end of the day. Slow down by putting a watch or clock in front of you, chew and savor each bite, and turn off the TV. Focus on eating and enjoy the experience.

Eat More High Fiber Foods. This includes veggies, fruits, and whole grains that fill you up and contain relatively few calories. Eat bigger, more filling, portions of lower calorie foods by emphasizing vegetables and fruits and eating these foods before a meal. Visualize a dinner plate and make sure your plate is half filled with veggies and fruit, one-fourth filled with whole grains or starch, and only one-fourth filled with lean protein.

Re-size Portions. If you are an overeater, you do not have a realistic idea of what normal portions look like. Adjust your perception from "super size" to a more normal size portion. Train yourself by using smaller plates, smaller spoons, and smaller cups. Try pre-portioned, single-serve, healthy-type frozen meals only for several days (be sure to have a salad or soup before, a piece of fruit after, and an 8 ounce healthy beverage like skim milk, unsweetened tea, or water). Purchase items in smaller packages -- or repackage items into single serve zipper bags. Re-size those supersize portions to "regular" size by following the MyPlate.gov food guidance system.

Change Where You Eat. Avoid large, high-calorie portions. Sources include restaurants, parties, office gatherings, and snacks. Even watch how food is served at home. Be conscious of what you eat. Slow down and savor each bite and eat more low-calorie foods. Keep food as far away from yourself as possible -- stand away from buffet tables, serve food in the kitchen and not at the table, ask for the bread plate to be removed, ask for a "doggie bag" to come with the meal, and save half of your meal for later (or for the dog). Also limit alcohol because it is, not only high in calories, but it also stimulates appetite and weakens your will power.
These tips can help you focus your time and effort on making small changes for better health. It's certainly better than hearing "eat less, exercise more."


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences