Top tips for better portion control

When you’re trying to adopt healthy eating practices, the issue of how much to eat can pose significant stress. I like to encourage my clients to tune in and listen to the needs of their unique bodies rather than follow any “rules”, but even if you’re not interested in learning mindful and intuitive eating (yet!), the tips below can help you make wiser choices.

But first …

The perils of supersizing

Eating too much food in one sitting is hard on the body. Here’s why:

  • Food is meant to be spread throughout the day. Overdosing on too much food at one time causes pain, upset and sluggish digestion.
  • Thinking there is some type of emergency, your adrenal glands go into “fight or flight” mode and release adrenaline and cortisol, which is the body’s natural response to stress.
  • When your blood sugar levels finally plummet, you experience wicked cravings for more food – specifically simple carbs or sweets.
  • Research has found that immune system function is affected for at least five hours after consuming large amounts of simple carbohydrates.

The solution:

1: Focus on eating whole foods including protein, healthy fats and vegetables until you are satiated (that feeling where you are about 80% full). Don’t deprive yourself as this almost always backfires, causing you to eat more food later in the day. Also, avoid pre-packaged, processed foods as much as possible. Most processed items have chemical additives that make it difficult for us to limit consumption (cue crunchy crisps and biscuits!).

2: If portion control is more of an issue when you go out to eat, have a healthy snack before you leave so the bread basket is less tempting (or simply ask the waiter not to bring it to the table). Plan to take part of your meal home for leftovers. Most restaurants serve huge portions and won’t be surprised if you keep half on a separate plate to enjoy later.

3: Include healthy fats in your diet. This will help you feel satiated longer (and allow your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins it needs). Ideas include: avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter and ghee, in moderation. Having a salad? You’ll feel full for longer and will absorb more nutrients if you add some fresh avocado, seeds or a drizzle of olive oil.

4: Using smaller plates can be helpful. When you put food on a large plate, you almost automatically want to fill it … and finish it! By using smaller plates (and bowls) you may find that you eat less, but still feel comfortably full. Whatever your plate size, aim to fill at least half of it with fresh salad or vegetables and then add a palm-sized portion of protein, a cupped handful of carbohydrates (ideally the complex kind) and a thumb-sized serving of fats.

5: Don’t skip meals. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make. Start your day with breakfast (preferably with protein to help you feel full longer) and pre-prepare lunch. It’s also a good idea to bring a healthy snack for late-afternoon. Remember: portion control is very difficult when you’re starving!

6: When snacking, place the snack on a plate (or bowl) rather than eating right out of the bag or container. This creates awareness of how much you’re eating and ultimately allows you to manage your portions with ease.

7: If you’re out for dinner and desire dessert, plan accordingly. Order a smaller main meal or light, healthy appetizers and skip or limit alcohol – they key is moderation. Don’t feel like you “can’t have it”, just decide what you would prefer, make the choice and enjoy it!

8: Slow down. By slowing down and enjoying our food more, we end up eating less. Remember to chew each bite multiple times, not only to savour its flavours, but also to help your body break down the meal.

More helpful hints to kick portion distortion

  • Don’t over order – go for salads, soups and appetizers which are typically more reasonably sized than entrées.
  • Choose high-fibre foods like vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to keep you feeling full and energized.
  • Chew well to aid digestion and to give your brain time to register you’re full before you overeat  (20 minutes at least).
  • Get enough water. Often, we mistake thirst for hunger.
  • Carry your own snacks. Stock up on snack-sized containers and fill them with baby carrots, air-popped popcorn, or nuts.


Disclaimer:  The information contained in this document is for general education purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease or medical conditions. Check with your health practitioner before making diet and lifestyle changes.