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Controlling portion size

Updated on March 8, 2007

If you have read any of my other articles you will know that I am a big advocator of eating several small meals throughout the day rather than just a few large meals, but you may be asking yourself "What is smaller?" Most of us do not have a good grasp on how much food is too much and that misconception is a major contributing factor in their weight problem. That is why it is so important to look at the sizes of the portions you are eating. If you practice portion control, it is possible to eat almost any type of food and still stay within a healthy range of calories for the day.

Here are a few quick tips to give you an idea of portion size:

  • 3 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish are about the size of a women's palm, or a deck of playing cards.
  • 1/2 cup of cut fruit, vegetables, or pasta is about the size of a small fist.
  • 1 cup of milk, yogurt or chopped fresh greens is about the size of a small hand holding a tennis ball.
  • An ounce of cheese is about the size of your thumb.
  • A teaspoon of margarine is about the size of your thumb tip.

Eating out

Because restaurants often serve very large portions, practicing portion control is especially important when eating out. Some suggestions for cutting down on calories include:

  • Eat only half your meal and take the other half for lunch the next day.
  • Split an entrée or dessert with a friend.
  • Ask for substitutions (for example, ask for steamed vegetables or a salad instead of mashed potatoes.)
  • Ask for all sauces, dressings, and gravy on the side.

Read the labels

Consult the "Nutrition Facts" label on the food products you buy for the "serving size" measurement. If you look on a box of cookies, and the serving size is two cookies, that means one portion is two cookies, not six. When following a recipe, look for how many "servings" the recipe makes. If the recipe says "serves four," that means one portion is one-fourth of the total amount you prepare.

Getting the hang of it

I watch my grandmother make cookies and it amazes me, she never uses a measuring cup, a pinch of this a cup of that, she clearly can eye-ball what a cup of rice looks like- unfortunately most of us do not have this talent. It is a good idea to keep measuring cups around, if the package reads that a portion is one cup of cereal, measure out one cup (you might be surprised how much you were over eating before). By measuring things out for yourself you will get a good idea of what 3 oz of chicken look like (the recommended serving size), a cup of cereal looks like, a teaspoon of butter, and over time you will become accustomed to these measurements and will be able to eye-ball it yourself- although after 20 years of watching my grandmother make cookies I still can't make them without a measuring cup!

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