Six Ways to Shrink Portions Without Feeling Hungry

By Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Over the last several decades, portions in the U.S. have become larger and larger. It’s no coincidence that waistlines have also grown. In the 1960s, 45 percent of Americans were overweight or obese. Today that number is nearing 70 percent! So when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, what you eat matters, but so does the quantity of what you eat.

Studies show that the more food is put in front of people, the more they eat. Twenty years ago, a typical cheeseburger had 330 calories – today, it’s 590. The French fries you ordered on the side 20 years ago were a 2.4-ounce handful, totaling 210 calories – today the standard order is a heaping 6.9 ounces, packing 610 calories.

A Few Tricks Can Help You Cut Serving Sizes

We live in a culture that keeps piling more and more food on our plates. But here’s the good news: A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who shrank their portions by 25 percent slashed 250 calories a day, enough to help them lose half a pound per week while still feeling full. So, in addition to what you eat, pay attention to portion sizes.

1. Get to know portions
One of the best ways to begin controlling portions is to become familiar with what a healthy portion should look like. Here’s list of common foods and one serving equivalents.

1 cup of cereal flakes = fist; 1 pancake = compact disc; 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or potato = 1/2 baseball; 1 slice of bread = cassette tape; 1 piece of cornbread = bar of soap

Vegetables and fruit
1 cup of salad greens = baseball; 1 baked potato = fist; 1 medium fruit = baseball; 1/2 cup of fresh fruit = 1/2 baseball; 1/4 cup of raisins = large egg

Dairy and cheese
1 1/2 oz. cheese = 4 stacked dice or 2 cheese slices; 1/2 cup of ice cream = 1/2 baseball

1 tsp. margarine or spreads = 1 dice

Meat and alternatives
3 oz. meat, fish or poultry = deck of cards; 3 oz. grilled/baked fish = checkbook; 2 Tbsp. peanut butter = ping pong ball

2. Before eating, divide the plate
Here’s a simple rule to portion a plate properly: Divide it in half. Fill one side with fruits and/or vegetables, leaving the rest for equal parts of protein and starch. This way, you begin to see what a properly balanced meal looks like. Spaghetti and meatballs? Steak and potatoes? They’re only half a meal, incomplete without fruits and vegetables.

3. Turn off the TV, computer and other distracting gadgets
The more you watch TV or lock at your computer screen, the more you’re likely to eat. In a study comparing how much popcorn viewers ate during TV shows of different lengths, those who watched more television ate 28 percent more popcorn.

4. Set a skinny table
Did you know the way you set your table can influence how many calories you eat? That’s right, there are simple things you can change in your home environment to reduce your calorie intake. In fact, research shows that going from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch plate can cut back about two percent of how much you eat. Just using a smaller plate can fool your brain into thinking you are satisfied on fewer calories!

The same is true for smaller bowls and spoons. Smaller serving spoons were found to result in a 14 percent decrease in food intake, while smaller bowls led to a whopping 50 percent decrease.

5. Forget “family-style”
Studies also found that people consume food that’s on a table in much larger quantities than food that’s off the table. That may seem obvious, but so many of us leave food out on the table, making second and third helpings more likely. In one study, men ate 29 percent more food when a serving dish was on the table versus the counter. Women ate about 10 percent more when the serving dish was within reach. So fill your plate at the counter, then bring it to the dining table.

6. Dining out? Order a doggie-bag
Some of the biggest portion pitfalls happen when we dine out. Restaurants supersize everything from salads to sundaes. If you get a full portion size, doggie-bag half your entrée before you start eating.

Other ways to cut calories when you’re out and about: Ask about half portions or order from the child’s menu. Share your food with your companion(s). Eat a healthy appetizer and soup or salad instead of an entree.

Katherine Brooking, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, an expert contributor to numerous television programs and a writer. Her appearances include The TODAY Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health and many others. She covers health and wellness topics in SELF Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and New York Daily News. For more information, go to

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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