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Minimize portion size to maximize weight loss

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Sep 3, 2015

090115-ewtbw-portions-300x163[1]Over the years, if there was one thing that grew right along with the American public’s waistline, it was the portion size of our food. Or should that statement be reversed?

Either way, as our waistlines and portion sizes expanded, the number of people diagnosed with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension has swelled to epidemic proportions.

Some will say the weight gain is due to not enough exercise or sitting at a desk all day or snacking on processed foods. Those things can certainly be part of the problem, but as a dietitian, I’ve always felt what really got the ball rolling was increasing portion sizes of our food. From the popularity of all-you-can-eat buffets to free refills of soda, trying to keep your weight reasonable while living in an obesity-promoting environment is tough.

“Portion control is arguable the simplest and easiest habit you could adopt as part of a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight, especially soon after you’ve lost weight,” said Dr. David B. Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “You know what they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The key is to trick your brain into loving portion control.”

The portion size of our food has gotten to the point where most people don’t know what a normal portion size should look like. We just willingly accept that when you place an order for a small pizza for yourself it arrives looking like it could feed a family of four.

Why is it important to be mindful of our portion sizes?

A key word in the above statement is “mindful.” Mindful eating is the awareness of what you’re eating and how that makes you feel throughout the meal. Do you mindlessly eat without realizing how full you are before it’s too late? Instead, become more mindful by paying attention after each bite as to how satisfied you become during the meal, and then once you begin to feel slightly full, stop eating.

“Portion control is about eating just enough food in order to stay fueled and fuller longer,” Dr. Samadi said. “When we overeat, it leads to irregularity in blood sugar levels. The main thing to remember is you shouldn’t feel hungry or feel stuffed from overeating. Balance is the key here – start with trying to cut the normal portions of what you would regularly eat. Small changes matter.”

No one says you have to eat everything on your plate. In fact, studies have shown when large portions sizes of food are put in front of us, we will eat more of it. Large portions sizes means more calories, which add up quickly, and the more calories we eat, we gain weight. By being mindful while eating, really paying attention to our body’s signals of fullness, we can put down the fork once we recognize that feeling and feel satisfied.

How does portion size help with weight loss?

Paying attention to portion size of our food will pay off in reduced weight gain and better health. Think about it this:

  • If you eat more calories than your body burns for energy, you gain weight.
  • Consuming an extra 100 calories a day for a year, without increasing exercise, can lead to a weight gain of 10 pounds.
  • Just eating 10 calories a day extra of unexpended energy puts on an extra pound a year.
  • By practicing portion size control we can still eat all foods but do so in moderation without gaining weight.
  • Here are some examples of how practicing portion size control will help with calorie control:


    I am not advocating eating this type of food on a regular basis, but it shows that when we make the choice to eat large amounts of food – not balanced with increased exercise – we will consume more calories and weight gain will likely follow.

    What does a normal portion size look like?

    This is the million dollar question. Because of “portion distortion” of our food over the years, many of us have no idea what a normal portion size looks like. We have been conditioned to and have accepted the “super-size me” meal deals and the “big gulp” drink cups as being normal. It’s almost like we’ve tried to see who can outdo one another when it comes to eating more food, and will brag about all the food you can eat for such a cheap price. In the process, it has hurt our health tremendously and we all pay the price for that.

    A good way to help evaluate a normal portion size is to visualize. To help visualize various portions sizes it’s helpful to use something common that we carry with us at all times – our hands. By using our hands to help us visualize appropriate serving sizes, we can become more familiar with what a normal portion size should look like and use that as a “handy” comparison. The chart below demonstrates this:


    The more you practice portion control along with mindful eating, the more likely you’ll notice your weight stabilizing, if not reducing. Add on exercise, and you’ve got a winning combination. You can still enjoy pizza, ice cream, or other foods you like, but by controlling portion size, the amount, you’ll have satisfied any cravings and yet still be in command of your calorie intake.

    “Eating clean has been touted as the approach we should all start to adopt,” Dr. Samadi said. “Portion control is a big part of this. If you are eating clean, but eating too much of even the healthy stuff, it could be hindering you from reaching your weight loss goals. In order to lose weight, your body needs to burn more calories than you consume. This means you can’t eat giant portions and expect great results.”

    Serving size comparison chart: Dairy Council of California.

    This article was originally featured on Osage County News ©. To read more, follow this link.

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    Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

    Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.