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The Importance of Portion Control

Eating less is essential for weight loss

Portion Control

Are you having trouble losing weight even though you're making healthier lifestyle choices — sacrificing sweets, swapping French fries for a side salad and sweating bullets at the gym? Do you continue to mount the scale, week after week, only to discover the same stubborn number staring back at you?

The problem might not be what you're eating, but how much you're eating, according to Jean Alves, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian with the Nutrition and Wellness Center at Rush University Medical Center. "I often find that portion control is the most challenging hurdle on a person's path to weight loss,' she says.

The skinny on portion size

A study from Cornell University found that the average U.S. adult eats 92 percent of whatever he or she puts on his/her plate. "As a general rule, if we see it, we eat it," Alves says. "In fact, we're likely to clean our plate, regardless of what we're eating, or how hungry we really are."

This tendency is particularly problematic when dining out, since restaurant-sized portions typically far exceed the amount of food we actually need.

"But even at home, we tend to over-serve ourselves and keep food in sight, which tempts us to eat further," Alves says. "To compound the problem, we also tend to eat while distracted — say, by the TV, our phone, or computer — so that we don't realize we've had enough until we hit the bottom of the chip bag, or our forks come up empty."

Rethink your eating habits

The good news is there may be some easy ways to help counter heavy-handed serving habits and unmindful eating. Alves offers the following tips for exercising better portion control:

  • Pre-plate high-calorie foods in the kitchen and leave the serving dishes off the table and out of sight.
  • Serve veggies and salad family style (placed on the table in a platter) to encourage yourself to take second helpings of high-nutrient, lower-calorie foods.
  • Make dinner an event by using nice dishes and glasses, and keep the television turned off. A more formal setting with fewer distractions may prompt you to pay more attention to what and how much you’re eating.
  • Use small plates and tall glasses to help you serve smaller portions.
  • Avoid having too many foods on the table. The more variety of flavors you have in front of you, the more you will want to eat.
  • Don't clear anything from the table or plate while you're eating. It helps to see empty plates, glasses, etc. to remind yourself how much you've eaten.

"These steps take just a tiny bit of extra effort, but they can make a big difference in your awareness of how much you're eating, and help you eat less as a result," Alves says. "They’ll also make meals more pleasant, and you'll enjoy eating all the more knowing that you're eating healthfully."