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Portion Control for Weight Loss
Everything you need to know

Why You Need Portion Control (And How To Do It Painlessly)
Isaac Robertson
Written by Isaac Robertson
Last Updated on

It’s a common misconception that the best way to lose weight is cardio on cardio on cardio.

In actuality, a major part of losing weight and maintaining a healthy body composition is controlling portions.

When you work out more frequently, portion size becomes even more important as the temptation to eat more increases after exercise.

What Is Portion Control Dieting?

The Portion control diet is controlling how much you eat for meals and snacks (and don’t forget those pesky liquid calories).

If you want to stay in shape or lose weight, you’ve got to burn more calories than you consume (read all about it here).

Food portion control is just as important as regular cardio and weightlifting, if not more important, to reach your weight loss goals. You could starve yourself on fad diets like Beyonce’s infamous lemonade and cayenne pepper diet, the every-meal cabbage soup diet, or so-called cleanses.

It’s important to remember that adopting portion control isn’t equal to starving yourself or depriving yourself of enjoyment from eating.

You could take dangerous diet pills that mess with your digestive system, decrease nutrient absorption, and destroy your metabolism. Or you could diet the healthy way with portion control where it's helped a lot of people and celebrities shed weight.  

It's one of the diets we advocate alongside the Keto diet, intermittent fasting, and a few others.

How to Portion Control: Food Size Guide

Restaurants often serve portion sizes that are 3 to 4 times larger than the portions you should be eating - if not bigger.

You'll want to adapt your correct portion sizes to your diet, for example if you're doing paleo and eating a lot of veggies, you'll need bigger portions to make up for the lower calorie food to ensure you're eating enough.

We live in a culture where so often bigger is better, but this isn’t so when you’re looking to eat healthy.

Placing table for a mealEat mindfully, and treat your every meal like a special occasion. Challenge yourself to spend at least thirty minutes at the table.

Instead of attempting to memorize how much a cup or an ounce or a tablespoon is with no reference, hold up your hand.

Fruits And Vegetables - On the portion control diet, fruits and vegetables are the most important food group as they’re nutrient-rich and low in calories. Think up to 10 servings.

  • ½ fist = 1 portion of vegetables, fruit, or 100% fruit juice
  • 1 fist = 1 portion of leafy vegetables or whole fruit

Grain products - Grain Products are tricky because you want to cut down on the carbs, but you also want a healthy amount of bulking to feel full and digest well. Go for 6 or less servings.

  • Size of hand = 1 portion of bread, ½ a bagel, or cold cereal
  • ½ fist = 1 portion of rice or pasta

Milk And Dairy - You only need about 3 servings of dairy a day, and the portions are probably smaller than what you’d guess. We talk about it more in this article. The health benefits of eggs are great and is always easy to portion out, so no scales needed.

  • 1 fist = 1 portion of milk or yogurt
  • 2 thumbs = 1 portion of cheese

Meat And Proteins - Like milk and dairy, you need about 3 servings of meat and proteins a day.

  • Palm of hand = 1 portion of meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1 fist = 1 portion of legumes
  • cutlery
    1 cupped hand = 1 portion of nuts
  • cutlery
    2 thumbs = 1 portion of peanut butter

Fats - This is the danger zone, where we tend to go way over on portion size. Your thumb is your friend.

  • 1 thumb = 1 portion of butter, margarine, oil, or mayonnaise
bread and butter


Food Portion Control Tips

brown fish fillet

Dieting with portion control is about self-control in order to develop healthy eating habits. Here are a few tips to get you started and to avoid fast burnout and next-week binges.

1. Measure Your Food - Maybe it sounds a little extreme to break out the measuring cups, but it’s a good way to get started and to realize just how much you’re eating. After a week or so, you’ll be able to eyeball it. (1)

2. Keep A Food Diary - We want you to become more mindful of your portion sizes, so for the first week or so, try using a food diary to keep yourself accountable and to make sure you’re sticking to your limits on your caloric intake. Check out this handy dandy calculator to help you calculate what your intake should be here.

3. Shop Smart - Go to the grocery store with a list and a plan, and stick to it. Don’t even let yourself glance at or walk down junk food aisles. Your temptation might get the best of you.

4. Start With Water And Keep On Drinking - It makes perfect sense: drink a large glass of water before eating, and you’ll literally become fuller faster. Drink throughout the day as well. Often, dehydration masks itself as hunger when all you really need is some refreshing H2O. (2)

5. Wear A Belt - No one wants to move their belt a notch after a meal. Wearing a belt will help you avoid overeating because your belly can only stretch so much before you become uncomfortable.

woman drinking a glass of water


If you feel tired even after a good night's sleep, you might be dehydrated. Drinking water may help you wake up.

6. Use Small Plates - You’re essentially playing a little trick on yourself. It looks like you’re eating a lot more when your plate’s full, and it also helps you measure out healthier portions. Heck, you can even use smaller utensils. 

7. Put That Fork Down! - It’s an easy little trick: set your utensil down between bites instead of shoveling it down.

8. Eat Mindfully - Try out new recipes and then really savor your meal. Let the food sit on your tongue, chew it thoroughly, and enjoy the variety of tastes. This will help you eat slower so you’ll notice that feeling of fullness before you’ve overeaten.

Woman eating her lunch with a fork

It's not about perfect. It's about effort. And when you bring effort every single day, that's where transformation happens.

9. Love On That Soup And Salad - Soup and salad are ideal for the portion control diet. This is because vegetable soups and salads are low in calories while vegetable soups are filling.

They also make you slow down, as you’re going spoonful by spoonful. For salads, just make sure to avoid overly creamy or sodium-packed soups and to go light on the salad dressing.

10. Make Meals A Special Occasion - Don’t eat standing up at the counter, and definitely don’t eat while working or watching TV. These situations will cause you to eat faster and much more than you ordinarily would. Challenge yourself to spend at least thirty minutes to an hour at the table.

11. Consider A Cheat Meal - Being on a diet shouldn’t be miserable, and it should be a lifestyle choice you can keep up long-term. Because of this, every once in a while, let yourself get dessert. Eat something you’ve been craving. There’s nothing wrong with spoiling yourself from time to time, and it’s much better than altogether quitting your diet. (3)

12. Meal Measure Portion Control Tool - This tool is great because it measures your food out directly onto your plate.

It doesn’t require you to eat out of separate dishes for each food group and each section is clearly labeled fruit, vegetable, starch, or protein. Just place the tool on your plate, fill it in with your food, and then remove it and eat.

13. Yumbox - The Yumbox is absolutely ideal for portion control on the go and packed lunches.

Meal Measure Tray Portion Control

Like the Meal Measure Portion Control Tool, it clearly indicates what foods go where with the proper portion size. The tray inside Yumbox is perfect for portion control and also encourages variety in your diet with the option for 4 or 6 compartments

​Portion control doesn't mean you have to eat tiny portions of everything. You don't want to feel like you're on a diet, but you have to eat fewer calories.

​Lisa Young, PhD, RD

Final Thoughts on ​Food Serving Sizes?

The portion control diet isn’t a diet in the pop cultural sense of the term.

It’s a diet you won’t fail at because it’s about making healthy decisions and forming healthy habits, not deprivation.

The first few weeks may take some adjustment, but in time, your body will adjust to the portion sizes. You’ll stop gaining weight because you’ll finally be eating the way you’re supposed to be eating.

Regardless of whether you’re looking to lose weight, maintain weight, or just become healthier overall, paying attention to portion control will improve your physical well-being. It’s one of the simplest ways to eat healthier as it does not put you at risk of weight cycling, and if you stick to it, soon it will come naturally.


​References

​1. Women's Health Mag, 19 Ways to Measure Perfect and Healthy Portion Sizes, retrieved from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/a19986045/portion-size-guide/

2. Sarah-Jane Bedwell, 3 Reasons Why You Should Drink a Glass of Water Before Each Meal, retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/3-reasons-to-drink-water-before-each-meal

3. NBC News, The do's and don'ts of cheat meals, according to nutrition experts, retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/do-s-don-ts-cheat-meals-according-nutrition-experts-ncna786516

About the author

Isaac Robertson

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

  • Controlling the amount of food we eat has serious weight loss benefits. That’s why for my wife’s birthday, I bought her some measuring cups. Lol

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