big hamburger meal
Diet & Nutrition
Weight Loss

How to Watch Your Portion Sizes

To control your weight, you need to do more than just choose a healthy mix of foods. You should also look at the kinds of food you eat and how much you eat at a time. Here, from the experts at the National Institutes of Health, are some smart strategies to help you determine whether you’re eating too much, or just enough:

What is the difference between a serving and a portion?

A serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s food label and it varies from product to product. A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or at home. Sometimes the serving size and portion size match; sometimes they do not.

For example, according to a food label, 1 cup of macaroni and cheese is one serving. But if you make yourself a large bowl of macaroni and cheese, that portion is much bigger than one serving. The same may be true if you pour yourself a large bowl of cereal for breakfast. You should be the judge of how the portion you choose to eat relates to the serving size noted on the food label.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts label (food label) is printed on most packaged foods. The label tells you how many calories and how much fat, protein, sodium (salt), and other nutrients are in one serving of food. Most packaged foods contain more than a single serving.

Keep in mind that the serving size on the food label is not a suggested amount of food to eat. It is just a quick way of letting you know the calories and nutrients in a certain amount of food. The serving size may be more or less than the amount that you should eat, depending on your age, weight, sex, and activity level.

For example, on the label a serving size is 1 cup, but the package has 2 servings. This means that if you eat the whole package, you need to multiply the number of calories and nutrients by 2 to find out how many calories you are eating.

How can I keep track of how much I am eating?

A food diary can be a good way to keep track of how much you are eating. Write down when, what, how much, where, and why you eat. This action can help you be aware of how much you are eating and the times you tend to eat too much. You can keep a food diary in a notebook, on your cell phone, or on a computer.

If you find that you eat even when you are not hungry, try doing something else instead of eating:

Take a break to walk around the block.

Read a book or magazine or listen to your favorite music.

Try doing something with your hands, like knitting or playing cards or checkers.

Try drinking water or herbal tea without sugar or eating a low-fat snack such as an apple if a craving hits you.

Through your diary, you can become aware of the times and reasons you eat less healthy foods or more food than your body needs. This can help as you try to make different choices in the future.

How can I control portions at home?