Mastering Portion Control

Spring Fitness

Mastering Portion Control: A comprehensive guide to healthy eating

Portion control is a very important part of maintaining a healthy diet and achieving weight management goals – might it be weight gain or -loss. In a world where portion sizes have significantly increased over the years, without us even noticing it, understanding how to regulate the amounts of food you consume is crucial for overall well-being.

This guide will have a look at the importance of portion control, practical tips for measuring portions, strategies for implementing portion control in different settings as well as the benefits it can have on your health and lifestyle.

Understanding portion control: Portion control refers to the practice of managing the amount of food you eat as well as amounts of calorie-containing drinks you drink, during the day. This includes meals as well as snacks. This involves being mindful of serving sizes and avoiding overeating, even for healthy foods.

With the prevalence of oversized portions in restaurants , fast food chains and packaged/ pre-cooked foods, many people have lost touch with what makes up a healthy portion size. In a seminal paper published in 2002 with the title 'The contribution of expanding portion sizes to the US obesity epidemic', Young and Nestle drew a parallel between the increases in portion sizes of restaurant foods, grocery products and recipes in cookbooks and the rise in the prevalence of obesity.1

Importance of portion control:

  • 1. Weight management – controlling one's portion sizes can help overeating, which is a leading cause of weight gain and obesity. In 2010, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that 'strong evidence documents a positive relationship between portion size and body weight'.2
  • 2. Balanced nutrition – by limiting portion sizes, you can ensure that you're consuming a well-balanced diet with the right balance of nutrients.
  • 3. Blood sugar control – portion control plays a crucial role in managing blood sugar levels, particularly with limiting starches for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance
  • 4. Digestive health – overeating can strain the digestive system, leading to discomfort and digestive issues. Proper portion control supports healthy digestion
  • 5. Mindful eating: practicing portion control encourages mindfulness during meals, fostering a deeper connection with your body's hunger and satiety cues.

Practical tips for portion control:

  • 1. Use visual aids – familiarize yourself with common portion sizes using things on hand like measuring cups, food scales, or everyday objects eg palm size or fist sizes.
  • 2. Read and understand food labels – pay attention to serving sizes on packaging as well as the amounts of calories as well as nutrients it contains. Also read through the ingredient list to understand what the product consists of as labels can be misleading and might give you a misperception of what it actually contains. This might help avoid unintended consumption of multiple portions in one go.
  • 3. Plate model – An examination of weight-control strategies reported by obese participants trying to lose weight in the 2001–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination survey showed that the most prevalent approach was to eat less food.3 This fits with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that people eat less overall and avoid oversized portions2 . Although the most obvious strategy to counter the effects of large portions is simply to eat less of everything, this may be hard for consumers to adopt and sustain. Nor is it necessary for people to eat less food overall to manage their weight. If people substitute vegetables and fruits and other nutrient-rich, low-energy-dense foods for foods higher in energy density, they will be able to eat more food for a given number of calories. We want to lower the energy-density of foods and increase the nutrient density.2,4 For example: fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables/ green salad, one quarter or less with grains or starchy vegetables and the other quarter with lean protein and limit the addition of fats and oils to create a balanced meal.
  • 4. Mindful eating – During a systematic review and meta-analysis on randomized controlled trials on weight loss programs based on mindul and intuitive eating, Ruben and his colleagues found a significant weight loss effect of mindful/ intuitive eating strategies compared with non-intervention controls. Mindful eating techniques include: slow down during mealtimes and enjoy each bite. Also pay attention to hunger and fullness cues and stop when you are full. Don't finish the plate just because all the food is there. This also counts for snacking, become aware if you are snacking just to snack or is it really hunger. First try having a glass of water when starting to get hungry and if it does not go away, then have a snack.5 Most of the time we also mistake thirst for hunger. This will also avoid overeating at meals but also throughout the day.
  • 5. Be careful of liquid calories – beverages like soda, fruit juices, diluted drinks and alcohol can pack quite a significant number of calories without providing satiety. Opt for water (plain or unflavored sparkling) or other low-calorie options, still not overdoing sugar free options of fizzy drinks.
  • 6. Be careful of portion distortion: When having meals away from home or having take-outs/ packaged foods, be careful of portion distortion and aim to split oversized portions over two to three meals or share with friends.
  • 7. Use smaller plates and bowls – making your plates smaller, can trick your brain into feeling satisfied with smaller portions as you will visually be seeing a full plate.
  • 8. Plan – Make sure you do planned shopping so that you only have the needed food ingredients at home. Then try meal prep where needed if there is no time for cooking during the week. Pre-portion meals and snacks to avoid mindless eating and ensure you are consuming appropriate serving sizes. This will also make packing lunchboxes easier as you can just grab and pack.

Implementing portion control in different settings:

  • 1. Restaurants – When dining out, consider having smaller meals like starters instead of a full meal. Alternatively consider sharing larger meals. Ask for dressings or sauces on the side instead of on the food then you can control the amount you add. One can also try to have a look at the menu before you visit the restaurant and try to make a healthier decision before you get there.
  • 2. Social gatherings – practice mindful eating and portion control at parties and events by filling your plate with vegetables and lean protein first and indulging in treats in moderation. Also only take a plate and fill it once and don't grab and eat the snacks eg where platters are served. At buffet meals, try to have a look at everything there is first and decide which starch, protein etc you will be having and then go to dish up so that you don't end up with 3 starches on the plate and then there is no space for vegetables.
  • 3. Work environment – pack pre-portioned snacks and meals to avoid overeating at work. Packing a portion container of nuts compared to having a jar of nuts and then eating from that throughout the day. Keep healthy snacks readily available to curb cravings and avoid going to the tuck-shop to get chocolates or crisps for that afternoon slump. If there is someone celebrating a birthday party at work, also only try have something small and still eat your packed meals instead of skipping your packed meals and then eating from everything that they brought. Avoid eating at your desk while you are working. Try to take a break when eating a meal as well as snacking otherwise your brain doesn't register what or how much you have eaten, which can also lead to overconsumption. If you don't have a designated area to go and eat at, you can eat at your desk but then take a break
  • 4. Family meals: Encourage portion control among family members by dishing up appropriate portions for each, and immediately pack away any leftovers or divide into containers for lunch the next day. Don't keep any dishing bowls on the table with more food in as this can also lead to overconsumption. Eat slowly and enjoy the meal and conversation. Avoid eating in front of the TV or laptops/ cellphones.

Benefits of portion control:

  • 1. Weight loss and maintenance – By regulating portion sizes, you can create a calorie deficit that supports weight loss or - maintenance.2
  • 2. Improved energy levels – Avoiding large, heavy meals can prevent energy crashes or feeling lethargic and promote sustained energy throughout the day.
  • 3. Improved digestive comfort – proper portion control reduces the likelihood of digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas, and indigestion or heartburn. This also improves digestion as we don't overload our digestive system and put too much strain on it.
  • 4. Healthier relationship with food – Practicing portion control fosters a healthier mindset around eating, reducing guilt and anxiety associated with food choices. Instead of saying avoid all bad food and only eat salads, you are still allowed some treats but in moderation now and then.
  • 5. Improved health – Consistently practicing portion control can lead to long-term health benefits, including reduced risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol or high blood pressure and certain cancers. These conditions do not develop overnight and by continuously eating healthier food and smaller portions, we can prevent developing these even when these conditions run in the family.

Mastering portion control is a skill that we develop over time and is a skill that can transform our relationship with food and contribute to a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. By understanding the importance of portion control, implementing practical strategies and reaping the numerous benefits it offers, you can take control of your eating habits and pave the way for long-term health and well-being. Remember, it's not about complete deprivation but rather about making informed choices and enjoying food in moderation. Start small, stay consistent and embrace the positive changes that portion control can bring to your life.

Speak to your doctor for advice about how to lose weight, and about how South Africa's leading prescription appetite suppressant may be able to assist you.5 Don't delay making potentially lifesaving improvements to your health and start your journey with today.

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. This editorial has content that includes independent comments and opinions from independent healthcare providers and are the opinions and experiences of that particular healthcare provider which are not necessarily that of iNova Pharmaceuticals.

Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. Name and business address: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd. Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07. 15E Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. IN4694/24.


  • 1. Young LR, Nestle M. The contribution of expanding portion sizes to the US obesity epidemic. Am J Public Health. 2002;92(2):246-249. doi:10.2105/ajph.92.2.246
  • 2. U.S Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010
  • 3. Nicklas JM, Huskey KW, Davis RB, Wee CC. Successful weight loss among obese U.S. adults. Am J Prev Med. 2012;42(5):481-485. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2012.01.005
  • 4. Rolls BJ. Plenary Lecture 1: Dietary strategies for the prevention and treatment of obesity. Proc Nutr Soc. 2010;69(1):70-79. doi:10.1017/S0029665109991674
  • 5. Fuentes Artiles R, Staub K, Aldakak L, Eppenberger P, Rühli F, Bender N. Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2019;20(11):1619-1627. doi:10.1111/obr.12918