When you’re a kid, being a member of the clean plate club is practically a playground badge of honor. But when you’re an adult with a bad case of portion distortion, your membership is likely making it impossible for you to lose weight.
And we hate to break it to you, even if you think you’re eating the proper amount of food, you’re probably not. (Whomp, whomp!) But it’s not totally your fault; with each passing year, plates become larger and “normal” portions double in size, making it all the more difficult to eyeball proper servings of caloric fare like ice cream, almond butter, and cheese. But no matter who or what is to blame, that doesn’t change the fact that overeating can seriously mess with your blood sugar and lead to weight gain. There is a bit of good news, though: Simply cutting your portion sizes practically guarantees you’ll be able to fit back into your skinny jeans. In one study of 329 overweight people, 40 percent of those who practiced portion control for two years lost 5 percent or more of their body weight (for a 150-pound person that’s 7.5 pounds!) while those who didn’t measure their food out actually gained weight. Yikes!
To help you reel in your portions and live your healthiest life, we’ve compiled a list of the best science-backed tips and ingenious portion control products known to man. To shrink down to your goal weight, pick a tip or two that best fits into your lifestyle and then purchase a few products that can help you dole out the right amounts of your favorite foods. And speaking of slim down success, accelerate your results with the help of these 40 Ways to Lose Weight in 4 Seconds!
1. Make Your Own Snack Packs
In a recent experiment at the Cornell University food and brand lab, researchers gave study participants either a single bag containing 100 Wheat Thins or four smaller bags holding 25 each, waited for the munching to subside, then did a cracker count. The tally: Those given the jumbo bag consumed about 20 percent more. Outsmart your snack habit by pre-portioning everything from crackers and almonds to oatmeal and pasta as soon as you bring them home from the store. To stop yourself from going back for a second baggie of snacks, write the calorie count of the contents with a Sharpie nice and large! “Partitioning food prevents you from eating larger portions because stopping to open another package forces you to pay attention to how much you’re actually consuming,” says portion control researcher Amar Cheema. Not into that idea? Keep caloric nibbles out of your kitchen and load up on some of these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less instead. The less caloric a food is, the harder it is to overdo it!
2. Don’t Skip Meals
The more your tummy is rumbling the more likely you’ll serve yourself—and subsequently gobble down—far too much food! Aim to eat something with protein, fiber, and a bit of healthy fat every four hours or so. Not only will this strategy help you avoid overeating, it will also help ward off that debilitating mid-afternoon slump.
3. Change Up Your China
The bigger your plate, the bigger your meal. Why? While smaller plates make food servings appear significantly larger, larger plates make food appear smaller, which can lead to overeating. In one study, campers who were given larger bowls served themselves and consumed 16 percent more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Swapping dinner for salad plates (or even something closer to 9 or 10 inches in diameter) will help you eat more reasonable portions, which can help the pounds fly off your frame! To kick even more calories to the curb—and ensure you’re eating the right amounts from each food group—invest in a set of Slim & Sage portion control plates (pictured above). The pretty china patterns were all designed to help dieters divide their meal into quarters. Two of the quarters are for fruits and veggies; the others for whole grains and lean proteins. Want to get your hands on a set? Buy it here!
4. Start a Food Journal
Next time you’re craving some after dinner sweets, try mentally reviewing everything you ate earlier in the day. In a Physiology & Behavior study, participants who were asked to recall their last meal before doing a taste test ate 30 percent fewer cookies than those who were asked about their morning commute. “Remembering what you ate activates your brain’s hippocampus, which may play a role in decision-making to help you say no to consuming extra calories,” explains lead study author Suzanne Higgs. To tame your appetite, keep a food journal throughout the day and then review it before you reach for dessert. You may decide you don’t need that scoop of Chunky Monkey after all!
5. Use Your Muffin Tin For More Than Muffins
Occasionally indulging in some chicken pot pie or a slice of pizza isn’t the reason you can’t lose weight. Your pants feel tight because you’re portions of these caloric treats are massive. To help you eat your cake, and lose weight too, invest in a muffin tin. The catch? Don’t use it bake muffins! Instead, use the tray craft mini versions of comfort food classics like mac and cheese and tiny little pies. Paired with fruit or veggie salad, the bite-sized portions can help to keep temptation at bay and calories under control.
6. Use Measuring Cups & Scales
This way be an obvious old school trick, but using measuring cups and scales can help you learn what actual serving sizes look like. And just because you invest in these gadgets now doesn’t mean you have to use them forever. After you learn how many almonds make up a one-ounce serving and memorize what a cup of pasta should look like, you’ll be able to eyeball your portions more accurately moving forward.
7. Follow the “Half Plate Rule”
Aim to have a vegetable with every meal. Better yet, try to fill half your plate with veggies or a mix of fruits and veggies. They add volume and nutrition to your meal without a lot of calories. Fill the rest of your plate with equal parts whole grains and lean protein. Even if you can’t measure out all the components of your meal, sticking to the plate rule, ensures you’re getting the right ratio of nutrients for optimal health and weight loss. For more healthy eating hacks, check out these 25 Best Nutrition Tips of All Time.
8. Drink More Water
Adequate water intake is essential for all your body’s functions, and the more you drink, the easier it is to cut back on calories (without going hungry) and lose weight. In one University of Utah study, dieting participants who were instructed to drink two cups of water before each meal lost 30 percent more weight than their thirsty peers—likely because the water filled up their bellies and curbed their appetites.
9. Look at Your Hands
If all else fails, next time you’re whipping up a meal or pulling together a snack, look down at your hands and remember these three portion control cues: 1.) A serving of fat should be about the size of your thumb; 2.) a true serving of rice or pasta is about the size of your fist; and 3.) lean meats should be about the size of your palm.
10. Cook In a Mug
If resisting the urge to indulge in a second serving is more than you can handle, consider making single-serve desserts and meals—in a mug! Thanks to their simple instructions, minimal equipment and blink-and-it’s-done cooking time, microwave mug recipes are uber trendy right now—and are an effortless way to keep portions in check.
11. Get a Pasta Basket
Carb-a-holic looking to trim down? Jokari’s Portion Control Pasta Basket basket is about to become your new best friend. After you’ve used the basket to scoop out the correct amount of your favorite pasta you can set the basket directly into boiling water. When your noodles are done cooking, lift out the basket and the water will drain out right into the pot, so all that’s left to do is pour it onto your plate and enjoy! (If you prefer skinny noodles there is a hole on the basket handle that helps you measure the right amount.)Buy it here!
12. Brown Bag It
Women who regularly “brown bag it” tend to eat less overall calories, according to a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics report. In the study, women who went out to lunch once a week or more lost five pounds less than those who brought lunches from home. “Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes,” the authors wrote in the study. For best results, try packing your lunch in a container (like this one) that has built in sections. Use the biggest one for your veggies, and the two smaller ones for your grains and proteins. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) Some of our favorite combinations? Garlic roasted broccoli (veggie), roasted sweet potatoes (carb) with grilled chicken (protein); and a mixed green salad (veggie) with quinoa (carb) and s blend of seasoned chickpeas and kidney beans (protein).
13. Up Your Protein
If you find yourself ravenously shoveling food in your mouth throughout the day, you’re likely not getting enough protein. In one University of Sydney study, people who ate a low-protein diet reported feeling hungrier and ate 12 percent more calories throughout the day than those who consumed more of the muscle-building nutrient. While 12 percent may not seem too awful, the researchers estimate that this could add up to an extra 2.2 pounds of weight gain per month. That’s more 26 pounds a year! The easiest way to add more protein? Make sure every snack you have throughout the day includes 5 to 15 grams of the nutrient. That might mean swapping out chips for an ounce of almonds (6 grams) or reaching for a Greek yogurt (15 grams) instead of an ice cream bar. For even more high protein snack ideas, check out these 25 Best High Protein Snacks in America.
14. Sip Smarter
If your dietary downfall is booze, this glass by Caloric Cuvee is a must-own. (You can buy it here!) In addition to the calorie-marked wine glass, the brand also makes Old Fashioned glasses and beer mugs with similar looking calorie cues. Some may say it’s a buzz kill, but we think the invention is ingenious! Sometimes seeing a visual reminder of what you’re ingesting is all it takes to help you make smarter decisions.
15. Try Measuring Bowls
Whether you’re ladling out soup, pouring cereal, or scooping yourself some ice cream, consider this bowl your savior. Thanks to its stealthy measuring lines, you’ll always know when you’ve reached the recommended serving size. Get a set of two here!
16. Consider Serving Size
Sure, this story is about portion size, but when it comes to keeping your portions in check, serving size is actually really important. What’s the difference? Serving sizes, which are often listed on the nutrition label, refer to how many servings are inside a bag or box of food. So for example, if a snack bag of popcorn has 130 calories per serving, and the bag has two servings, you’d actually be consuming 260 calories if you scarfed down the entire thing in one sitting. Read the label and proceed with caution because to consume far more than you bargained for. Looking for more ways to save calories? Check out these 25 Ways to Cut 250 Calories
17. Get a Nut Scoop
Nuts are one of those health foods that nine out of 10 people regularly overeat—like, all the time. Did you know that just 15 almonds pack 100 calories? Or that 17 cashews has 157 calories? Most people eat three or four times that amount, which spells trouble for those with weight loss goals. To ensure you’re always sticking to the recommended serving size—which is an ounce—invest in the trust Nut Bowl and Scoop by Jokari. The best part? The scoop doubles as a lid, to make for easy snacking on the go. Buy it here!
18. Limit Your Choices
If measuring or thinking too hard isn’t really your thing, simply keep a smaller variety of foods in your house. As strange as it seems, keeping your options limited can help ward off overeating.
The reason: too many options zaps your willpower. That means avoiding buffets and only stocking your kitchen with your go-to staples. This ensures you’ll have plenty of portion willpower reserved when a coworker shows up with cupcakes or there’s a giant dessert table at a friend’s wedding.