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The Magic of Portion Control
Part 3: Taking Measure of Your Food Intake

For a week or two, it's a good idea to actually measure out your food. You've probably heard how to eyeball portions — a three-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards or an audio tape; one cup of rice or pasta is the size of a tennis ball; half a cup is as much as the average woman can hold in her cupped hand; an ounce of cheese is the size of your thumb, etc. It's really better to be more exacting by using measuring cups, spoons and a scale whenever possible. If you're used to dishing out big slabs of meat and heaping rice or potatoes on your plate, you may be stunned at what a half-cup of rice and three to five ounces of meat or fish actually looks like. That's okay — you can double up on the vegetables (and if you're putting butter or sauce on them, make it just a teaspoon or two... and measure that out too). You may also use a smaller plate instead of the supersize dinner plates they have nowadays. What's a serving of spaghetti? One cup (two half-cup servings of pasta), plus a half-cup of sauce. If you accompany it with a couple cups of salad, a half-cup of cooked veggies and an ounce of garlic bread, you have a rational, portion-controlled dinner. Also remember that each slice of bread counts as a serving, so when you have a sandwich, that's actually two servings of grains. There's nothing wrong with this — when grains form the base of a meal, two servings is okay. It's only a problem when the portions get out of control (for example, if the bread consists of huge, extra-thick hunks, that's obviously more than two servings).

(Article continued below.)

Let's talk beverages. For most beverages, a serving is eight ounces. Juice is an exception — that's just six ounces. Your cups and glasses probably hold way more than that, though. There's an easy way to find out. Take an eight-ounce measuring cup and fill it to the eight-ounce line (not to the very brim) with any liquid. Now pour the liquid into your favorite mug or glass. Is it only half full? It may actually hold 16 or 20 ounces! (Even if you are just drinking calorie-free black coffee, this is good to know — you may be consuming far more caffeine than you realized.) You may want to downsize your cup to a more realistic size.

You'll only measure your meals for the first couple of weeks at the most. Measuring is merely a learning tool. After that you should be able to eyeball your portions easily. You only need to go back to measuring when you're in doubt, or when you notice your portions sneaking up in size.

What about eating out? Most restaurants serve obscene amounts of food. Dealing with this is simple — ask for a take-home bag the moment you get your meal. Pack away at least half of what's on your plate before you even start eating. This saves you money, too, since you now have two meals instead of one. If you aren't able to take the food home, then dump it, give it away or just leave it. You're a grown-up. You don't have to finish absolutely everything on your plate. And if your idea of a morning snack is a bagel or croissant, keep in mind that they're blown up versions of what they once were. The typical bagel these days is four servings of bread and over 500 calories. A croissant is even worse. You may want to find a snack that's more appealing than a quarter of a bagel.

Be aware of portion control when you're at the market, too — especially if you frequently eat already prepared, convenience foods. It's shocking what those nutrition labels claim as one serving. You'll often find that one ready-made burrito is actually listed as two servings! Whoever eats half a burrito? If the label's telling you that one serving is 327 calories, you'll have to double this figure to find out how many calories that burrito really has (in this case, it's 654). The same thing with muffins — look at the label and you'll often find that one muffin is often listed as three or four servings. Or those bags of potato chips — how many servings do they contain? What you think is a single serving bag may actually contain three servings. Did you know that a serving size of ice cream or frozen yogurt is half a cup? That means a pint of ice cream is actually four servings, not one or two. Do the math before you buy, and measure out the portions when you get home.

Downsizing the amount of food you're eating is definitely going against the trend of ever-increasing portions. But then, being a healthy weight is going against the trend of ever increasing body sizes. It may take some time to adjust to eating the correct portions of food, but it's also one of the simplest ways to control your weight. Learn how to do it and you may never have to diet again.

Here's an article from the Mayoclinic.com website that lists serving sizes for a number of popular foods.

Back to Start >> Don't Diet — Just Eat Less >> Page 1, 2, 3

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