Portion Control – How to effectively manage your intake when eating

In our previous article, Seven Tips to Help You Build Healthy Eating Habits, we listed seven tried and tested strategies to help you on your healthy eating journey. In this article, we will look at one of those strategies, Portion control, in details. We will talk about the importance of portion control and how to effectively balance calories intake for optimum nutrition.

What is Portion control?

Balancing calories or simply knowing how much food to consume in one sitting can be very difficult. To do this effectively requires first understanding the difference between serving size and portion size. And yes, they don’t mean the same thing. A Serving size is a standardized amount of food and represent quantities that people should typically consume according to a Nutrition Facts label. The Portion size on the other hand is the amount of a food you choose to eat — which may be more or less than a serving. So then, balancing appropriate amounts of different foods is the key to healthy eating. However, managing intake is becoming more and more difficult because of the distortion in the common serving and portion sizes.

Portion distortion

Nowadays, the foods sold at restaurants and fast food centers are getting bigger and bigger. The plates are enormous, the cups are humongous, and snacks are sold in king sized packages. In fact, dinners usually prefer the larger sizes and complain when they are given regular (which is seen as smaller) servings. It’s even more difficult to avoid eating bigger at home. Why? The sizes of our bowls and dinner plates, have grown too.

Because everything is so big, we tend to think that bigger is better and this assertion distorts the way we see or think about food. Some meals appearing “average” in size can add up to a whole day’s worth of calories. For example, an order of dry rice, fried fish, fried plantain, and all the condiments (even if you substitute bulgar wheat for rice) can contain as many as 800 calories. Add a few bottles of stout/beer/soft drink and you’re getting close to 2,000 calories in one sitting. And this isn’t unusual in Liberia.

Lunchbox bulgar wheat

Calculating appropriate portion and serving sizes

How to determine your DRI – The daily recommended intake (DRI) of food is different for everyone and depends on the age, sex, current weight, activity level and health goals of the individual. However, the NHS recommends an average of 2000 calories a day for women and 2500 calories for men. If you would like to know your DRI, click here. This should be taken into consideration when plating your food but you shouldn’t stress yourself about eating the exact number of calories because it’s really difficult to know exactly how much calories is contained in each ingridient.

A good rule of thumb is to always check the label of packaged food you consume daily. This way, you will have an idea of how much calories you consume and what types of nutrients you retain from the food you consumed. Other ways to do this is to make half of your plate green vegetables and the other half lean protein and whole grains. Filling half of your plate with green vegetables before you serve the rest of your entree is one of the easiest methods of portion control.

You should also practice serving your meals on smaller plates. Your plate will look full, but you’ll be eating less. Keep your serving plates on the kitchen counter or in a pantry or cabinet so that you will have to get up for seconds. Putting your food out of easy reach and out of sight will make it harder for you to overeat. If you’re not sharing your meal when eating out (especially if it’s a large serving), eat half of what you’re served and take the rest home to enjoy as another meal. You can even ask for the box when your plate arrives and pack it up right away to avoid eating all.

So, as promised, here are ten realistic tips to help you control your portion.

10 tips to control your intake

  1. Most times, one and a half cup (baking measurement cup, not that rice cup o!) of cooked grain or high carbohydrate (rice, pasta, or snacks such as chips or pretzels) food will be between 200-400 calories depending on the type of carb and how it was prepared. However, by looking at it, it should look like a rounded handful, or a tennis ball.
  2. One serving of meat or poultry is like the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  3. One 3-ounce (84 grams) serving of fish should look like a checkbook
  4. One-half cup (40 grams) of ice cream should look like a tennis ball
  5. One serving of cheese is equivalent to six dices (like the ludu dice)
  6. One serving of a pancake or waffle is equivalent to a compact disc
  7. Two tablespoons (36 grams) of peanut butter looks like a ping-pong ball
  8. One cup (90 grams) of chopped raw fruits or vegetables looks like a woman’s fist or a baseball
  9. One medium apple or orange looks like a tennis ball
  10. One-quarter cup (35 grams) of dried fruit or nuts is equivalent to a golf ball or small handful.

Use these tips when serving your meals and snack and we can assure you that you won’t overeat.

The goal of this article is to help you understand the types of food the body needs and in what portion you can size them to lose weight, gain weight or maintain your current weight. If you want to get more details on balance and healthy living, you can download our free balanced living guide compiled by Ade Suah, a ecornell trained Nutrition and Healthy Living Consultant.


Published by Ade Suah

Hello and welcome to my site. My name is Christollie Ade Suah and I am a full time Mom, working a full time job and running a small business full time. With so much to do and so little time to do them, I constantly find myself struggling to balance different aspects of my life. So I created the Liberian girl blog as a resource center where health conscious professionals like me can find information and tools to help them balance competing priorities and achieve their goals. This blog covers topics around health and wellness, business, career and parenthood. My goal is to inspire you into taking actions daily that'll improve your life. If you would like to join a network of health conscious people and get notified of new content and products, click the subscribe button below. Thank you for visiting and look forward to growing with you.

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