Portion control can be an effective tool for weight loss. It involves managing the amount of food a person eats during meals. Methods include using portion plates and keeping a food diary.

A portion is the amount of food a person puts on their plate before or during a meal. Food portion sizes directly affect how much food an individual consumes and can affect how they maintain a moderate weight. This generally refers to the medically recommended weight range for a person’s height and age.

A person can use portion control to aid in weight loss if necessary and to help maintain a moderate weight.

This article further explains portion control. It also provides 12 tips on how to use it for weight loss.

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Portion control is when a person manages and controls the amount of food they eat during meals. They determine and select a certain amount of food for each meal to control their caloric intake. This can help them to reach or maintain a moderate weight.

The number of daily calories needed for weight loss varies with each person. It depends on factors such as:

  • age
  • current weight
  • height
  • metabolism
  • gender
  • levels of physical activity

People need a certain amount of calories daily to provide their bodies with energy for:

  • growth
  • movement
  • repair
  • activities
  • automatic muscle movements, such as heartbeats

There are several methods to plan caloric intake for portion control. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) provides several resources.

People may wish to speak with a healthcare professional to determine a medically recommended weight. They can also help recommend an eating plan before a person makes significant diet changes.

However, there are several tips people can use for weight loss with portion control.

People can use smaller plates to help manage how much they eat. Standard portion sizes look larger on a smaller plate. This can help people avoid feeling dissatisfied and prevent overloading their plate.

A 2021 review looked into past research into the effectiveness of different portion control tools. It found that smaller plates only consistently helped reduce a person’s food intake when used with reduced-size bowls or cutlery. However, they also recommended further investigation.

Most portion control plates designate how much of the plate a person should fill with each type of food:

  • 1/2 for vegetables
  • 1/4 for protein
  • 1/4 for carbohydrates

A 2022 review looked at the use of portion control plates. They found most research indicates that using such a portion control plate is effective in helping people change their portion size.

However, a person does not need to purchase specialized plates to use what some refer to as “the plate method.” To use the plate method without a portion control plate, follow these tips:

Measuring cups can help people gauge specific amounts to eat. Although individuals can buy cups designed for portion control, they do not necessarily require them.

People can use any cup, mug, or container that measures a specific amount as part of a portion control plan.

A serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s label. Different products have different serving sizes. Labels may list serving sizes as cups, grams, ounces, slices, pieces, or numbers.

The recommended label serving size may differ from the size a person should eat for portion control. This is because the recommended serving size may not reflect the amount of calories a person needs to eat. For example, one serving may be equal to 280 calories. An individual may need to eat more or less than that to meet their caloric intake.

If a person has questions about serving sizes and portion sizes, they can speak with a dietitian.

The British Heart Foundation recommends a person wait 20 minutes before returning for a second portion of a meal. This can be an important part of portion control, as an individual may feel like they want or need more food when their body is actually still processing what they just ate.

Keep in mind that it can take a little while for the body to feel full after eating. This is why it can be important to wait for some time, such as 20 minutes, before continuing to eat more.

Adding extra carbs can double the portion of this type of food. If an individual feels they would like something extra on the side, such as bread, they should reduce the serving of carbs already on their plate.

Research, such as this 2022 review, has found that the ideal portion of carbohydrates in a meal would be about a quarter of what is on the plate.

People may be able to measure out portion size using their hands. One example is measuring out food relative to parts of their hand:

  • Carbohydrates: 1 palm-sized portion, such as rice or beans
  • Protein: 1 hand-sized portion, such as fish or chicken
  • Fruit: 1 palm-sized portion
  • Vegetables: 2 palm-sized portions
  • Cheese: 2 finger-sized portions

When eating out, people should avoid larger or supersized portions. Individuals may find that portion control and weight loss are easier without extra food already on their plates.

This means a person can refuse the bread basket on the table. They can also consider whether they really want or need the french fries with their burger. Requesting to remove certain items can make it easier for a person to manage their portion and not eat more than what they need to.

An individual can ask for half of their meal as takeout before they begin eating. They may even wish to share a meal with someone else to reduce the portion size.

Eating more slowly allows a person’s brain time to realize their stomach is full. According to the NIDDK, this may take at least 15 minutes.

A 2019 study examined how a person’s eating rate can affect their post-meal responses. It found that the people in the group with the slower eating rate felt fuller after a meal. This supports the idea that eating slower can be an effective strategy for portion control and reducing a person’s food intake.

One small 2018 study investigated the effect of drinking water before a meal. It showed that a glass of water before eating can help people feel fuller despite eating less.

This study, conducted on young adults without obesity, found that drinking water before a meal may be an effective weight loss strategy, as it may cause people to eat less. However, it also states that the exact mechanism of this is currently unknown.

Keeping a food diary or tracker app can help people be aware of how much food they consume. This can, in turn, help manage their food portions.

It is important that a person is completely honest in their food diary. It is the only way for them to truly see what and how much they are consuming. When keeping a food diary, they can consider tracking the following:

  • How much: List how much food or drink they consume each time they eat or drink.
  • What type: Write down the exact type of food or drink they consume. This should also include extras such as sauces or toppings. The more specific a person can be, the better.
  • Who with: List whether the food or drink was when alone or with other people. This can help a person to understand whether they eat or drink more in certain circumstances.
  • Activities: List what activities are occurring at the time of eating or drinking. This can include watching television, working, or playing a game.
  • Feelings: A person can also include how they feel at the time. Mood can affect how much people eat.

Eating directly out of a food container can skew a person’s perception of how much they consume. Taking one serving from its container and eating it off a plate can help people manage portion size. It can also help to either put the container away or move away from it to eat the served portion.

Visualizing how much food a person eats can be an important part of portion control. It can also help them acknowledge the exact amount they need to eat to feel full.

The following are answers to some questions people often ask about portion control.

Can portion control help you lose belly fat?

People can lose belly fat with weight loss through diet and exercise. Portion control can be an effective strategy for weight loss, as well as for a person to be able to maintain a moderate weight.

Do portion control plates work for weight loss?

A 2022 review showed that portion control plates can help reduce portion size. However, they cautioned that there is little research into how people actually consume the portions. They also noted that the plates should be part of a wider diet plan.

Weight management resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for weight management, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?

Portion control is where a person actively manages the amount of food they consume for each meal. They may use several methods, such as using their plate as a guide, measuring the food they put on their plate, and keeping a food diary.

Portion control can help people maintain a moderate weight. Scientific research has shown that certain tips and methods can help improve portion control.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional for more information on effective weight loss strategies based on their individual circumstances.