Understanding portion control is one of the easiest ways to reduce calories, eat more balanced meals, and eat healthier. What we eat, and in what proportions, is important not just for weight loss but for good health. If you’re looking to lose weight (or maintain your current weight), what you eat is just as important as how much you walk.
Many supposedly “healthy” foods are actually fairly high in calories and have surprisingly small portion sizes. Learning to understand portion sizes and how much of various foods you should eat can go a long way to helping you to stay healthy and fit. This piece will cover how to identify portion sizes, as well as ways to ensure you’re eating proper portions of each item in your meals.
What’s an actual portion?
Restaurants often serve huge plates with massive amounts of food on them. This can cause people to misunderstand what an actual “serving” ought to be. To understand how much food is in a proper “serving,” you can start by using a food scale or measuring cup and comparing it to food resources like the USDA nutrition database or a food-tracking app like MyFitnessPal (which can be synced to Pacer!). It might sound strange, but give it a try! You’ll be surprised what one serving of many of your favorite foods actually looks like! You don’t necessarily have to do this every time you eat, but doing this once or twice can help you realize if your current portion sizes of foods or snacks are dramatically too big.
Once you feel you have a good understanding of what should be on your plate, you can begin to eyeball the portions using your hand or the relative size of other objects. For instance, your closed fist represents the size of about one cup, which could be a portion of soup or raw vegetables. Your palm, or a deck of cards, is roughly equivalent to 3-4 ounces of meat or fish.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy restaurant meals or the occasional treat. Once you’re armed with the information you need, you can make better choices. If your restaurant meal is way bigger than it needs to be, you can always take a portion home to eat later. It’s like getting 2 meals for the price of one!
Check the label for serving sizes
It’s not just restaurants that are contributing to our skewed view of serving sizes. You would think that one bag, one box or one bottle of many foods would equal “one serving,” but that’s often not the case! Check the Nutrition Facts label on foods you eat on a regular basis to see what an actual serving is. It’s never safe to assume that even what appears to be a “single-serving” sized package is really that.
One way food manufacturers try to manipulate your expectations is by splitting a packaged food item into multiple servings so the calorie count listed on the package seems way less than it actually is. A small bag of popcorn may claim to have only 120 calories per serving, but if you read carefully you may see that the bag contains 2.5 servings. If you just glance quickly at the calorie count on the label, you might not realize that the entire bag contains 300 calories instead of 120. You can avoid the urge to eat multiple servings of foods by splitting up and bagging individual portions in sandwich or snack bags. This way you can take your favorite treats to work or on the go, but you won’t be tempted to eat the whole bag.
Again, if you have foods that you eat on a regular basis it’s often a good idea to measure out exactly what one serving looks like. You can use measuring cups or a scale if you have one. Once you get a sense of what it looks like, you can eyeball servings in the future. Just realize that eyeballing “one cup” of cereal, for example, may be harder than it looks!
Many people like to grab a quick snack from time to time, but most of us don’t take the time to check the actual serving size on our favorite snacks. A serving size for a box of cookies might be as little as one cookie!
Make healthy snacks on your own, or set aside smaller portions to snack healthier. You can try these 100-calorie snacks as a starting point. By choosing lower-calorie foods (like cut veggies), you can eat much more of them in your 100-calorie portion. That helps you feel full longer and feel more satisfied with your snack.
Try make-ahead meals
Making a week’s worth of lunches or dinners all at once might seem like a daunting task. With a little planning, however, you can prepare individual meals ahead of time which will save you time and help you with portion control. Eating out can be expensive, so you can often save a lot of money by making your own meals as well. Better for your body and your wallet – it’s a win/win!
Organizing and executing a meal prep strategy isn’t as much work as it might seem, and is a great way to fill your fridge with ready-made meals that you know contain the right serving sizes of proteins, vegetables and starches to fit your needs. If you’re taking a rest day off, prepping meals and snacks is a great way to stay fitter even when you’re not walking. You don’t need to prep anything super fancy – your meal could be something as simple as a healthy sandwich with a side of fresh vegetables. When you’ve prepped and measured ahead of time, you eliminate the need to give any further thought to portion size when you’re ready to grab your lunch and go.
In a world of super-sized restaurant meals and misleading food packaging, it is easy to understand how we’ve strayed from knowing what a real serving should look like. Learning to understand healthy portion sizes and taking steps that make it easier for you to manage your servings are key to achieving better health.
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.