A Simple Tip for Portion Control

This morning I gave a presentation to  group of business leaders. And at the end I fielded questions from the attendees. And as is usually the case many of the questions had to do with nutrition.

One individual in particular asked for some help with portion control.

He said ‘I eat fairly healthy, I just eat too much’. What should I do?

This is not an uncommon problem many people face. They eat more than they know they should but find it hard to break the habit. And the answer to this guy’s problem is not to start weighing and measuring all his meals. Because although there are some people that will take the time and effort to do this, most will not.

And I want to provide solutions that will help the most people. I want to provide solutions that are easiest for most people to incorporate into their lives. And I want to provide solutions that don’t require an additional investment in time and money.

I know that’s asking a lot but if we can find a solution that satisfies all of these conditions than we probably have something that will be easy to get started on and continue with.

Curious what the tip was?

It was to use smaller serving plates.

Portion control can be as simple as a smaller plate.

Portion control can be as simple as a smaller plate.


And the reason is most people don’t weigh and measure their food. Most people don’t count their calories. And many people grew up in an era to finish everything on their plate.

So does this work?

Yes, it does. And it reminds me of a research study (I’ll dig up the citation for anyone that wants it) where a group of people were divided in half. The entire group was going to watch a movie and eat popcorn. Half of the group were given a small cup of popcorn. (imagine the Dixie cup you get at the dentist’s office) Now while this cup would only hold a couple of mouthfuls of popcorn this group was allowed to go to the back of the room as many times as possible to refill their cup of popcorn.

The other group of people watching the movie were each given a garbage pail full of popcorn. They were given more popcorn than one person could eat in a week let alone during a movie.

With treats, use the smallest container you can. The opposite of this guy.

With treats, use the smallest container you can. The opposite of this guy.

The key thing to recognize here is that both group were able to eat unlimited amounts of popcorn.

At the end of the movie the group with garbage pail of popcorn ate substantially more popcorn than the group with the Dixie cup that could be refilled as many times as they like.

So for the individual looking to reduce his portions this would be easiest thing for him to start doing. Instead of using a regular plate he should switch to a smaller plate. And if he needs to cut back further he could always to using a saucer.

What this study tells us is this guy will start eating fewer calories.

Bonus tip!

I like it when you can take the same idea and manipulate it somehow to get more effectiveness out of the idea.

Here’s how it works.

For everything that is good for you and that you are deficient (nutritionally) than you should use the largest dish or cup you can.

For example, if you never seem to drink enough water than first of all you need to start carrying a water bottle. Better yet, you should dig up the biggest water bottle you can find. The fine print is only do this with foods that are good for you and that you don’t eat enough of already.

A simple solution for portion control. And you can have your popcorn and eat it too.





2 Responses to A Simple Tip for Portion Control

  1. Jamie Kaskiw says:

    Hey Chris it is interesting, I bring my lunch to work everyday. ( I work in a grocery store I am surrounded by food every day but like someone who works in a bank they look at the money as not theirs. I look at the food as not mine). My point is co-workers like to give me grief on the number of small portions I bring to work every day. It is very successful. The reality is the plan falls apart once I get home. The challenge is the smaller portions when I am at home. Eating clean at home is harder. I try to look at food as fuel but have gotten off track. Home is so challenging.

    • Chris says:

      Hey Jamie: Great to hear you have found a strategy that works at work. When you get home we need to find another strategy to help you.

      You mention two different issues in your post. One is the challenge of smaller portions at home. The other is eating clean at home.

      Which one would be easier to address first? If it’s portion size than refer to the previous blog for some ideas on how to reduce portion size.
      If eating clean is the answer than we need to know a little more about this issue. Is it snacking before dinner? Is it not eating as cleanly for dinner? Or is it snacking after dinner out of routine rather than hunger?

      Let me know which issue is more pressing (portion v clean) and answers to the above and I can give you more help.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *