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The Secret to Portion Control

author image Rachel Grice
Rachel Grice is a contributing fitness editor for and a certified yoga instructor. Previously, she was the science section editor and titling associate for several other sections of Demand Media Studios, including fitness, nutrition and technology. She completed her undergrad education at the University of Southern California and has worked for Men's Health, FitPregnancy and People magazines.
The Secret to Portion Control
Get just the right amount of macronutrients. Photo Credit: LIVESTRONG.COM

Eating healthy can be a daunting proposition, especially if you’re new to the game. There are so many variables and factors influencing your body and your lifestyle. What should you eat? Are carbs OK? How much should you eat? Is eating past 7 p.m. verboten? What’s the magic number of meals per day? How many calories should you eat if you want to lose weight? How much protein do you need?

Video of the Day

Don’t get overwhelmed; there is a simple way to take control of your diet. Portion control. (PS: Have you joined our 4-Week Portion Control Challenge yet?)

You’ve likely heard, “Watch your portions!” But what does that really mean? And can it really help you simplify your approach to eating? Yes! Here’s Danika Brysha, founder and CEO of Model Meals, a healthy meal delivery service, to explain.

Read more: A Quick and Easy Way to Estimate Portion Size

What’s So Great About Portion Control?

Think about portion control this way: When you’re out at a restaurant and the waiter brings you a huge plate filled with food, two main things are likely to happen.

  1. You’ll consume more calories than you intended.
  2. You’ll underestimate how many calories you actually ate.

Portion control gives you a system to accurately determine how much you should eat at each meal. On top of that, you can also be tracking all your meals on an app like LIVESTRONG.COM’s MyPlate app. That way you’re 100 percent sure that you’re eating just the right amount of calories, carbs, protein and fat.

Despite the fact that the phrase “portion control” sounds like some strict oversight plan, it is really pretty simple to master. And once you get it down, you won’t have to think about it as much; it’ll become second nature.

It’s not about deprivation or restricting what you eat, it’s about teaching yourself a new way of looking at what’s on your plate and what you put in your body. You need a balance of carbs, protein and fats to function optimally.

Portion control gives you a visual way to get all those macronutrients in balance. You’ll be surprised that eating this way at every meal can keep you satiated and energized throughout the day.

Creating Healthy Meals With Portion Control

Like Danika describes in the video above, all you need is your hand to measure out portions. That’s right! No need to bring your food scale or measuring cups with you everywhere you go. Using her strawberry chicken salad as an example, here’s how to make a quick and healthy lunch option:

1 cupped handful of strawberries (carbs)

Use a cupped hand to measure carbs.
Use a cupped hand to measure carbs. Photo Credit: LIVESTRONG.COM

1 palm-size serving of chicken (protein)

Use your palm to estimate protein portions.
Use your palm to estimate protein portions. Photo Credit: LIVESTRONG.COM

1 thumb-size serving of almonds (fat)


1 fist-size serving of spinach (vegetables)

Use your closed fist to estimate vegetable servings.
Use your closed fist to estimate vegetable servings. Photo Credit: LIVESTRONG.COM

Voilà! Now you have a healthy, well-portioned salad to enjoy!

Enjoy your delicious and nutritious salad.
Enjoy your delicious and nutritious salad. Photo Credit: LIVESTRONG.COM

NOTE: Men will likely need to double this portion size in order to meet their daily caloric requirements.

And even though we all love salads, you don’t want to feel trapped into eating one for every meal of every day. So to inspire your culinary side, here are some quick, easy ideas for meals throughout the day:





And if you just don’t have time to make every meal every day when you’re ready to eat, meal prepping is a great way to save time while stressing less about what you’re going to eat. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Read more: The Truth About Losing Fat and Getting in Shape

How to Join the Portion Control Challenge

1. Bookmark this easy-to-use guide to estimating portion sizes, created by nutrition coach John Berardi, Ph.D. In it he describes how to measure your portions using just your hand. Here is the gist of it:

  • Your palm determines your protein portions.
  • Your fist determines your vegetable portions.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carbohydrate portions.
  • Your thumb determines your fat portions.

2. Print out the graphic below and hang it on your fridge as a mealtime reminder. Each time you’re preparing to eat, make sure your plate features:

  • 2 palms of protein-dense foods with each meal (1 for women)
  • 2 fists of vegetables with each meal (1 for women)
  • Optional: 2 cupped hands of carb-dense foods (1 for women)
  • Optional: 2 thumb-size portions of fat-dense foods (1 for women)
Here is how to easily measure your portions.
Here is how to easily measure your portions. Photo Credit: Gracie Wilson/LIVESTRONG.COM

3. Download LIVESTRONG.COM’s free calorie-tracking app MyPlate for iOS or Android. Measuring your portions is only one part of a successful weight-loss or weight-maintenance strategy. Once you’ve portioned out your breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack, enter it into the app to make sure you’re staying on target for the day’s calories, carbs, protein and fat.

4. Join the LIVESTRONG.COM Challenge Facebook group. We’ll be posting lots of helpful info and recipes, answering all your questions and connecting you to other members of the community who are joining you for the challenge.

5. Post photos of your meals each day to the Facebook group so that you have an effective and accurate record of what you’re eating as well as to get support and inspiration from other members of the community to help you stay on track.

Read more: A Quick and Easy Way to Estimate Portion Size

What Do YOU Think?

Will you be joining us for the 4-Week Portion Control Challenge? Have you joined the Facebook group yet? Have you ever tried to lose weight before? Or do you currently measure out your macronutrient portions or count calories? Have you tried any other weight-loss strategies? What worked for you? What didn’t? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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