Use these crazy simple cues to keep your portion sizes on track and make losing weight so much easier
You shouldn't always go for the smaller plate.
It doesn’t matter what diet you follow. To lose weight, you’ve got to know when to pump the breaks on your portions. But, obvi, that's easier said than done when faced with a giant bowl of pasta.
Portion sizes (of pretty much everything but produce) have increased so drastically in past decades that our eyes don’t know what "just enough" actually looks like, according to a 2015 Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition analysis.
The result: We overeat more calories than we think and wind up derailing our weight-loss efforts, says Julie Upton, R.D., co-founder of Appetite for Health.
Weighing and measuring your food can certainly help. But weighing and measuring also sucks. Instead, use these crazy simple cues to keep your portion sizes on track and make losing weight so much easier:
Try dishing out however much butter, oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise, or any other extras you plan to use in your dish, and then put the bottle away before you get cooking. You’ll automatically end up using much healthier portion sizes, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That's because most people don't realize that they're gong overboard on the sauces and sides when they're topping off their food, says Delbridge. It's a small change that can lead to a big reward in the long term.
Fat-free, low-cal, and gluten-free basically mean super-easy to overeat. In one study from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, people who thought they were eating low-fat foods automatically ate 28.4 percent more calories than those who knew they were dining on the full-fat version. Meanwhile, many packaged diet foods are so low in one nutrients—like fat, sugar, or calories—that they're ridiculously high in the other two or leave you hungry, Delbridge says. The result: Your portions get out of hand.
When piling food onto your plate, follow one simple rule: Fill half of it with vegetables, one-quarter with protein, and one-quarter with starches, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. For most women, increasing vegetable portion sizes automatically decreases portion sizes of more calorically-dense foods, like pasta and steak. "Vegetables play a crucial role in maintaining proper portion sizes. If you take something away, like fat or carbs, you’ve got to put something back in to prevent hunger," she says. "Veggies take up space on the plate, leading to psychological satiety, and are full of fiber, leading to physiological satiety."
Yeah, you’ve heard that eating entrees off of smaller plates can help you cut back. But not all portion-control strategies should be about eating less. "You can't make a decent salad on an eight-inch plate, sorry," says Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. "I love using my large shallow pasta bowls for gargantuan salads." Just make sure that the bulk of your salad is actually veggies.
When you chop up a chicken breast or sweet potato, it automatically takes up way more space on your plate—which can help you feel like your portion sizes are more satisfying, according to research from Arizona State University. And, since satiety is as much in your head as it is in your stomach, that’s huge, Delbridge says.
For more no-brainer portion sizing tips, check out our handy guide that will help you keep your meals in check.