8 Tips for Controlling Portion Sizes


Why portion control matters

When you have type 2 diabetes, you need to gauge portion sizes correctly, so you know how many calories and carbohydrates you’re taking in and how they will affect your blood sugar.

Learning what a portion size actually is—and eating that amount—is tricky.

People are notoriously bad at estimating what, say, a cup of breakfast cereal looks like.


Limit portions, lose weight

Limiting portions can help you lose weight and ultimately prevent complications.

A 2004 study of 329 overweight people found that 38% of those who practiced portion control for two years lost 5% or more of body weight, compared with 33% of participants who did not (they gained 5% or more of body weight).

“Portion control is a continuing battle for me, but I am so much better at this than I was a few years ago,” says Donna Kay, 40, of Prairie Village, Kan., who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes five years ago.

Use these eight tips to get started.


Don’t skip meals

If you’re starving, you’re more likely to eat an extra-large portion. For most people, the best plan is to eat three well-designed meals and one snack.

“People need to eat a minimum of three times a day, avoiding going longer than five hours without eating,” says Nadine Uplinger, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and director of the Gutman Diabetes Institute at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia.

“You don’t need to get up in the middle of the night, but don’t skip meals.”


Measure and weigh food

Get out those measuring cups!

“Measuring and weighing are so critical,” says LuAnn Berry, RD, a certified diabetes educator at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center at Passavant.

“We’re such poor judges. We don’t know what 3/4 ounce of pretzels looks like.”

Know your “rules of thumb”

Did you know that 3 ounces of lean meat is equivalent to a deck of cards? And 1 cup of breakfast cereal is about the size of a fist?

This info is crucial, particularly when you need to choose the right portion size quickly.

For a handy cheat sheet, print and carry this serving size card from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


Serving size vs. portion size

What’s the difference? It matters.

Serving sizes per container are listed on the nutrition facts label.

For example, a small bag of pretzels may say that it contains two servings, so if you’re eating the whole bag—your portion size—you’d have to double the calorie, fat, and carbohydrate information per serving to know how much you’re consuming.


Use portion-control plates

What are they? These are handy plates with painted lines (or just smaller plates in general) that help measure carbohydrates, proteins, cheese, and sauces.

In a June 2007 study, researchers at the University of Calgary randomly assigned 130 people with type 2 diabetes to use those plates or regular ones.

Overall, 17% of those who used the plate lost 5% or more of their body weight, while only 4.6% of the control group did; 26% of those who used the plate were able to cut back on diabetes medication (because they lost more weight), compared with 11% of people who did not use the plate.


Develop good “eating out” habits

First, fill up your plate with green veggies, and get full on those before eating other food.

Then, when ordering a meal, ask the server to only put half the meal on your plate and pack the other half to go.

Finally, keep in mind that restaurants specialize in mega-portions; a 12-ounce steak can contain three to four servings of meat (two to three servings a day are recommended).


Plan your meals

Write down what you eat, think before you eat, and then eat slowly.

Snacks should typically contain no more than 100 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate, so plan ahead.

Some good choices include three cups of plain popcorn, 17 small grapes, a 6-ounce container of artificially-sweetened yogurt, 15 mini pretzels, or a tennis-ball size piece of fruit, according to Berry.

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