The Power of Portion Control

10.25.2011 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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Now that our kitchens are stocked with healthy food choices, we will tackle the second principle of a healthy diet: Portion Control. Also check out Jane's previous blog for a summary of the three principles of a healthy diet!

The Power of Portion Control

The most blatant example I’ve experienced with the power of portion control happened to be a Redskins player several years ago. As the Redskins team dietitian, this player approached me to proudly report he had lost 40 pounds in the past four months by making only one single change in his diet; cutting his portions in half.

He didn’t change anything about WHAT he ate. He literally put a line down the middle of his plate at restaurants and ate one plate of food instead of his typical two helpings. For things like pizza, sandwiches, ice cream, cookies, he would ask himself, “How much would I normally eat?” Then he proceeded to eat half that number.

I find that many of my clients are making smart food choices. However, they are sabotaging their weight management efforts by eating too much of a good thing. For the next few weeks we will be focusing on portion control and strategies you can employ to reduce your portions without leaving you hungry and deprived.

Map for Success:

Before any successful behavior change you need to assess where you are before you can make a plan for where you want to go. This is a crucial step to successful change, yet it is often neglected.

The most powerful dietary tool to make this assessment is a food record. The majority of overeating is unconscious eating (i.e. the handful of chocolate Kisses from our co-worker’s candy jar, the crust off our children’s sandwich, the handful of pretzels we eat while preparing dinner, etc.)

Did you know the typical mother consumes an extra 400 calories a day by eating the “leftovers” from their children’s meals and snacks? If this is an extra 400 calories above their needs, it will add up to 40 pounds in 12 months!

This week’s nutrition goal is to keep a 7-day food record. The purpose is to get a clear understanding of what and how much food you are consuming on a daily basis.

Grab a notebook or set up a document on your phone with four columns as follows:

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The Natural Weight Regulator

The part of the food record that may be new to you is rating your hunger/fullness. This is a very important step to identify non-hunger eating and to determine proper portion sizes.

We are born with this amazing, natural weight regulator called our hunger-full signal.

If you have ever spent time with an infant you know that when they are hungry they let you know by crying. The whole world can be crumbling around them, but the instinct is so strong nothing will quiet them until they are fed. This is how strong our hunger signal is when we are born.

On the opposite end, that same infant will seal his/her lips so tightly when they are done eating. It is impossible to bypass this seal or if it does, the food usually is spit right back out. This is how strong our full signal is when we are born.

Research has shown we break this natural weight regulator by the age of two years old! A toddler may be told, “You can’t be hungry; it’s not lunch time yet.” This is teaching the child to listen to external signals, (the clock) instead of internal signals (hunger).

Also, the message to ignore full signals when we encourage children to finish their plate even after they say they are full. (Learn more on feeding children and helping them build a healthy relationship with food. Visit

Diets are the ultimate “internal weight regulator breaker”. Think about it – a diet tells us when, what and how much to eat. How can a diet book know our needs more than our own body?

The good news is we can relearn to feel and honor these internal weight regulators and ultimately achieve a healthy body weight.

The non-diet/intuitive eating approach to weight management is what I have used with my clients, including athletes, for over a decade to help them achieve their optimal body weight.

To learn more about this approach to weight management, visit:

Keeping A Food Record:

- It is important to record seven consecutive days - even the days you consider, “bad days”. I prefer to call these “challenging days.” These are the days we can learn from.
- Record everything you put into your mouth. Remember this is just a record of your current eating habits, no judgment. You will use this data as a blueprint or foundation on which to build your future nutrition goals.
- Carry the record with you throughout the day. Record your food and beverages immediately. If you wait until the end of the day you may forget some important data.

Filling Out the Columns:

Time – This will be important when we discuss “timing” in future blogs.
Food and Beverages – Be as specific as possible. Sometimes small modifications of food/beverage choices can make a difference. The more details you include in your record, the more you will have to work with.
Amount – I encourage you to measure out how much you eat when possible. Use measuring cups, food scales, info on packages, etc., when possible. When this is impossible, use the following chart to estimate amounts:

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H/F Rating – Anytime you are about to eat something, rate how hungry you are on a scale of 1-10. (See chart below.)

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Enjoy your food, write it in your food record and then rate how full you are. For every eating occurrence, you will have two numbers (like in the sample food record above).

You have all the instructions for this week’s goal. I promise it will be well worth the time and effort it takes to do this exercise! Feel free to post any questions, challenges or tips you are having in the comment section below.

Make it a healthy week!

This post on portion control was sparked by a WOW member's question on our Facebook page! Have your own nutrition questions or comments for Jane? Leave them below and she will try to answer them in upcoming posts!

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