Portion Control: a Primer

Looking to lose weight? Portion control is key to success.


Photo by: fufunteg


When it comes to weight loss, how much you’re eating can be just as important as the foods incorporated into our diet.  If you’ve made changes to clean up your diet but still can’t lose the weight, it might be time to take a closer look at the portions you are taking in.

Serving Size Vs. Portion Size

Serving sizes are the measured values you see when reading a food label. The value given indicates a measured amount of food, and the rest of the info on the food label is based on that amount.

Servings are also used as a vehicle to make recommendations. For example, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 servings of dairy a day. In order to meet this goal, it’s helpful to know that 1 serving counts as 8 fluid ounces of milk or soymilk, 1 cup of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese.

While serving sizes are fixed amounts, a portion size is the appropriate amount of food you actually ate or should be eating. One ounce of chips or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter are examples of common serving sizes but they aren’t necessarily the proper or common portion that every person should be eating: some folks need more, while others less.

Portion Like a Pro

Don’t’ be that guy (or gal) that overdoes their portions. Here are 5 common portion pitfalls and tips for how to avoid them.


Portions of protein can be very difficult to assess because many don’t come with a label. To make this easier, compare the size of a piece of cooked protein like chicken breast, fish or tofu to an everyday object so you can more accurately assess how much you are taking in.

Portion Tip: 4 ounces of cooked protein is the size of an average smartphone (not the XL screen models).


Cocktails are one of the most commonly mis-assessed things in our diets:  the calories can add up fast. Moderate alcohol consumption equals one drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. That stacks up to a 12 fluid ounce beer with a 5% alcohol by volume (%ABV), 5 fl oz of wine (12% ABV) or 1 1/2 fl oz of hard alcohol like rum or vodka (40% ABV). It should also be noted that drinks with ABV’s above the standards mentioned above will have a higher calorie count.

Portion Tip: Pour out proper portions of alcohol in your own barware so you can eyeball portions when pouring a cocktail at home.

Added Sugar

Making sense of the added sugar in foods rightfully confuses many people. Seeing a gram value on a food label often doesn’t translate well, plus sugar from fruit and milk are also lumped into the total sugar value. The soon-to-be-released upgrades to the current label will begin their roll out in July of 2018, and thankfully these labels will assign a separate gram value for added sugars.

Portion Tip: Every 4 grams of added sugar is equal to one teaspoon.


Misjudging measurements of high-calorie ingredients such as oils can add hundreds of unwanted calories to your day. Choosing healthy plant-based fats is the way to go, but all these oils contain about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat so use sparingly.

Portion Tip: A tablespoon of oil is the size of a poker chip.

Cooked Grains

Since grains like rice, pasta and barley expand when you cook them, it’s hard to figure out how much you should cook up. Misreading portions for foods like this can lead to an over-consumption of starchy carbohydrates.  

Portion Tip: 1/3 cup of a dry grain will yield 1 cup cooked.

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