Proper Food Portion Sizes for Weight Loss

Learn how to eat the right amount of food to slim down

Scooping a portion onto a dinner plate
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Do you eat the proper food portion sizes to lose weight? When you fill your plate at meal time how do you decide the right amount of food to eat? These questions bother every dieter and even those trying to maintain a healthy weight. Finding the best answer is the key to successful weight loss. Unfortunately, many dieters get it wrong.

Portion Size vs. Serving Size

If you check the Nutrition Facts label to find the correct portion sizes of food, you might be in trouble.

The serving size listed on food packages is not the recommended serving size. In fact, it is not the portion size, either. Serving size is simply the amount of food that is typically consumed in a single eating occasion, according to guidelines provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The definition of portion size is different. Your portion size is the amount of food that you actually eat. Your portion size may be larger or smaller than the FDA serving size printed on the food label.

For example, let's say you snack on low-calorie microwavable popcorn. A serving size, according to the Nutrition Facts Label is four (4) cups. There are two servings in each full-size bag. So if you eat the whole bag, your portion size was eight (8) cups—double the serving size.

Or what if you eat a bowl of grapes? The recommended serving size of grapes is one cup or about 16 grapes. How many cups are in a bowl?

It really depends on the size of the bowl, but if you eat a bowl of grapes, your portion size is probably more than a cup, probably around 2 to 3 cups of grapes.

Why Portion Sizes Matter for Weight Loss

Adding the correct portion size to your daily food journal is critical when you are trying to lose weight.

If you confuse serving size and portion size, your calorie counts will be wrong for the day and you might not lose weight.

For example, let’s say that you use a diet app to record that microwavable popcorn snack. When you find the food in the app's food database, you'll probably see that it lists a single serving (4 cups) as the default portion size. If you don't personalize your portion size (you consumed 8 cups) the wrong number of calories will be added to your daily intake. The inaccurate calorie count may cause you to eat more and you may not lose weight as a result.

Correct Portion Sizes to Lose Weight

There is no right or wrong amount of food to eat when you want to lose weight. The proper portion sizes of food are the portions that allow you fuel your body with energy and nutrients, feel satisfied and remain within your calorie limit for the day. Correct portion sizes depend on your age, your weight, your activity level and in some cases your medical history. 

So how do you know how much food to eat? You can use recommended serving sizes as a guide. These guidelines are developed by different health organizations and they vary slightly from agency to agency. But the recommendations are not personalized for you.

To get personalized guidelines for the amount of food to eat, visit the USDA SuperTracker website. After you enter your size and weight goals, you are provided with a personalized eating plan with food group targets. With this plan, you'll know how much fruit, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy to eat each day. You'll also get specific information about how to make sure you're eating the right amount.

Tips to Control Portion Sizes

Once you know how much to eat, you may need to take steps to control portion sizes to reach your goals. You can use these tips to eat the proper portion sizes at meal time.

  • Use portion control dishes. You'll find portion control plates, serving spoons and even beverage or wine glasses online and in some department stores. The dishes usually have clever designs that help dieters eat the right amount of each food group. 
  • Measure food with a scale. Throughout your diet, but especially in the beginning, it's helpful to use a digital scale to measure your food. That way you know exactly how much food you're eating. You can also use other methods to measure food portions if a scale is not handy.
  • Be wary of portion pitfalls. Certain foods are easy to overeat. Cereal, for example, can be a weight loss disaster for many hungry dieters. Figure out what your target foods are and make a decision to always measure these foods before you eat them.
  • Use small plates and bowls. Smart dieters never eat directly out of the box or bag. It's nearly impossible to eat the correct portion sizes for weight loss when you're not paying attention. So put your snack or meal on a small plate. Smaller dishes make your food look more substantial.

Eating the correct portion sizes of food can make weight loss easier and more effective. Use portion control tips and personalized recommendations for reaching your daily targets so that you not only lose weight, but have the skills to keep the weight off for good.

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