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Small Portions Keep Weight and Health in Check

February 2010

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

As portion sizes get larger, so do waistlines, which compromises our health, appearance, and self-esteem. No matter where we eat, portion sizes at the grocery store, restaurants, fast food outlets, movies, and at home have grown. Controlling food portions will allow you to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. Start by taking these small steps:

  • Portion Size vs. Serving Size - Portion size is the amount of a single food item that a person chooses to eat at one time. Serving size is a standard unit of measuring foods (a cup or an ounce are good examples). Portion sizes have increased over time, so make sure you check food labels. Often, a portion equals several servings as defined by the nutrition label on foods.
  • Be Aware of Large Food Packages - The larger a food package, the more food many people consume without even realizing it. Be aware of portion sizes by placing a portion of food on a plate, not eating from a bag or box. Try dividing up the contents of a large package into several smaller containers to help avoid over-consumption.
  • Drinks Count Too! - Try drinking a glass of water before your meal. Instead of an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage, try a diet soda, or club soda with fresh lemon or lime. By choosing no- or low-calories beverages, you will consume fewer calories.
  • Go Ahead - Spoil Your Dinner - We learned as children not to snack before a meal for fear of "spoiling our dinner." If you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or small salad, to avoid overeating during your next meal.
  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind - Make your home a "portion friendly zone." Keep tempting foods, like cookies, chips, or ice cream, out of immediate eyesight on a high shelf or at the back of a freezer. People tend to consume more when they have easy access to food.
  • Portion Control When Eating In - If your first portion is big enough, avoid going back for more. The smaller your plate, the smaller your food portions. Eat meals at home on a smaller plate and, before going back for seconds, wait 10 or 20 minutes. You might not want seconds after all.
  • Eat Your Fast Food on a Plate - When you order fast food, take it home and put it on a plate. You may be surprised at how full the plate looks. Also try child-sized portions, smaller burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, salads with low-calorie dressings, cups or bags of fresh fruit, low-fat milk, 100% fruit juice, and low sodium options. At sandwich shops, ask for leaner cuts and smaller amounts of meat; extra lettuce and tomato; and whole-wheat, oatmeal, or multigrain bread.
  • Eat Half and Save - Take control of food that ends up on your plate by splitting an entrée with others. Another good portion-control strategy is to ask the wait person for a "to-go" box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it's brought to the table. If you order an entrée, take the leftovers home, refrigerate, and enjoy them at another meal the next day. You’ll save both money and calories.

In summary, make sure you practice mindful eating. This means asking yourself how full you are after every few bites. For better health, stop eating when you feel full and control your food portions.