The obesity epidemic, while improving, is still perhaps the most pervasive public health crisis facing the United States today. Obesity can negatively impact most aspects of your life and achieving a healthy weight can do the opposite. One of the best ways of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is to look at your meal portions. In fact, portion size is one of the more important factors of eating healthy. As we noted in our article on healthy hacks for potato chips, kale chips are healthy, but 2,000 calories of kale chips is still 2,000 calories.

Eating too much of even the healthiest food will offset any of the dieting benefits you would have otherwise received. This is why portion control is so important to a healthy diet and weight loss. For many of us, dinner is the largest, richest meal of the day and the most tempting to overindulge. So, we’re going to look at a few tricks that’ll help you manage your portion sizes!

Get a Sense of Portions and Servings

When you’re making your dinner plate or cooking, you’re often able to pick the portion size and make it healthier. This can be very difficult to do if you’re unsure of the ideal portion size. Soups and vegetables can be incredibly tough to gauge, though even single items like a piece of steak or fish can be difficult. This is where a suggested serving size comes in handy.

Though often used synonymously, serving size and portion size are not the same. Portion size is how much food you take or eat. A serving size is the suggested amount that is healthy to eat at once. The portion size can be more or less than the serving size, but the goal is usually to have them be roughly the same. Suggested daily serving sizes for the various food groups are:

  • Vegetables — 2 to 3 cups
  • Fruits — 1½ to 2 cups
  • Grains — 5 to 8 oz
  • Dairy — 3 cups (low-fat or fat-free)
  • Proteins — 5 to 6½ oz
  • Oils — 5 to 7 tsp

Now, these are just general suggestions, and you can go over or under from time to time and still be healthy. The best suggestion is to talk to your doctor or a dietician, if you want to find suggested serving sizes for your own needs.

How Can I Keep Track?

Luckily, you’re not expected to measure out everything exactly. While it’s possible, most people don’t need or want to be that specific. Instead, it helps to have a guide to measure out and roughly gauge your portion size and compare it to the serving size. Luckily, a handy guide does exist. Much like the serving suggestions above, these are rough approximations, but it uses something all of us have and are very familiar with — our hands!

  • The tip of your finger = 1 tsp
  • Your whole thumb (from tip to where it meets the hand) = 1 or 2 tbsp
  • The center of your palm/a handful = 1 to 2 oz
  • Your entire palm, to the edges = 3-4 oz
  • Your fist = 1 cup

Again, these are rough estimations, but they can help you quickly guess how much food you’re taking and adjust your portion size from there. Just be sure to account for hand and finger size. So, if you have larger hands and fingers, take slightly smaller portions based on the handy guide. There are other guides, some more specific for the types of foods or based on different, easily visualized items, but this is a great standard to use.

Cook for Yourself

Now that you know how to gauge portion size, there are a few ways to help yourself keep the portion size down without still feeling hungry. The first of these is cooking for yourself. When you cook at home instead of going out for dinner, you not only have more control over the ingredients in your food, but also the planned portion size for each dish. Whereas a steakhouse may aim to give its costumers steaks the size of footballs, at home, you can cook yourself the recommended three to four ounces and make each ounce count. You can also replace some less-than-healthy ingredients with healthier alternatives, which would allow you to have a larger portion size.

Slow Down and Eat More Mindfully

As we revealed in 2 Truths and a Lie: Popular Health Hacks, practicing mindfulness when you eat can help you feel fuller and lose weight. One way it does this is by helping us really think about our food as we eat it, helping us to decide on the healthiness of food and the portion size we’ve picked. Mindfulness can also help you feel fuller. By slowing down, you give your body time to recognize when its full.

Drinking Water Before Dinner

One of the easiest ways to curb your hunger and make smaller portions look appetizing is to drink water before dinner. Seriously, it can be that easy. Water is a great way to fill up your stomach and feel satisfied since it has zero calories. This way, when you do get a smaller plate of food, you won’t feel like you’re dieting, you’ll just feel full. At the same time, our bodies are bad at telling the difference between thirst and hunger. By drinking water, you may relieve that thirst that you were mistaking for hunger.

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Ultimately, monitoring your portion sizing is one of the most impactful changes to your eating habits that’s also pretty easy to do. By finding a healthy portion size and following these tips, you’ll be eating healthier, while feeling just as full and satisfied as before!