Reader’s Request: portion control and sizes

Real talk:

Serving size per bag of plantain chips: 1

Plantain chips  1 of 1

Serving size per bag of trail mix: 3

Trail mix  1 of 1

Serving size per bag of turkey jerky: 1

Perky jerky  1 of 1


Please tell me I’m not alone.

For this reader’s request, I thought that we could talk about portion control. As you can see from the above examples, I’m not exactly a pro at executing this for all foods, but for the most part I’ve found a good balance for myself. Instead of focusing on personal experience, however, I’m going to share some tips and tricks I picked up during my studies as a Weight Loss Specialist. (Head’s up: I’m not a Registered Dietitian and cannot prescribe specific eating plans for special populations. Under my knowledge, I can safely advise proper portion control techniques for healthy foods. If you have specific questions, seek out the help of a local RD.)

One of the main focuses of my training was to learn effective techniques to coach clients of proper portion sizes and how to execute this (aka portion control). (This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” things because I’ve been known to shove brownies in my face before walking in the gym doors to train a client.)

Some tips for portion sizes:

This is a great slideshow with visual tips

And a graphic I found here:

Portion control chartfull

I’ve learned that it’s a sustainable option for me to eyeball portion sizes instead of measuring them out. During my weight loss journey, there was a point where I measured and weighed ingredients before they went into our meal. (I was also learning how to cook at the time and wanted to be very precise about ingredients.) It turned food into a math project and sucked the joy out of creating recipes and meal ideas. So, I nixed it. Over time, if I notice that my *eyeball* portion sizes start to increase, I’ll bust out the measuring cups again for little things (oats, almond butter) to bring myself back to reality.

Just like anything, you have to find and do what works best for you.

Some tips for portion control which can be a little trickier:

-Eat when you’re hungry, and drink plenty of water throughout the day so your thirst cues aren’t being mistaken for hunger. When I wait too long to have a meal, I’ll usually face plant into the plantain chip or trail mix bag while I cook dinner. Sometimes, I’ll notice I’m extremely hungry during the day if I haven’t been drinking enough water. It’s helpful to carry a water bottle around all day. Not only does it encourage me to drink more, but Livi will see me drinking from my water bottle and ask for her own.

-Aim for a balance or mix of types of food. If I notice that I’m starting to overboard on portion of a particular food, I’ll switch gears. (For example, if I’m slamming a thousand tortilla chips with guacamole, I’ll make a salad to go along with it.) Aim to include a variety of high nutrient low density foods (little caloric toll for the volume), and hydrating foods (such as fresh veggies and fruit).

-Check the label and stay mindful of how many servings are in a container of food. This doesn’t mean that specified serving size is all you eat, but remaining aware of how many servings you’re actually consuming. Measure ingredients if you find that it works for you.

-Don’t beat yourself up about it, and remember that it’s the forest and not the trees. Having a little extra of a particular treat/snack/whatever is not a big deal if you aim for a mix of whole, healthy foods most of the time. For example, each time I go to the zoo, I can basically expect to eat most of a giant bag of kettlecorn with my little sidekick. 😉 


Do you measure or portion out your food? Any tricks you use to stay mindful of portion sizes? What’s your favorite snack food or treat that you consider to be one *real* serving? 



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  1. April on August 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I hear you on those dang plantain chips! I don’t believe there are six servings in there at all.

    I definitely try to use comparison items (ping pong ball, baseball, etc.) for monitoring my servings. For things out of a bag or box, I will count out what they consider a serving size to be and then adhere to that, however, sometimes I don’t believe they are right. My next bag of plantain chips, I am counting out those babies to see if there are really six servings!

  2. Livi @ Eat, Pray, Work It Out on August 11, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    A *bowl* of ice cream or froyo is always one serving to me haha

  3. Amber Schumann on August 11, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    A pint of ice cream is OBVIOUSLY a single serving and meant to be consumed in one sitting–it fits so perfectly in one hand whilst the other hand completes the perfect team of operating spoon-to-pint-mouth.

    I mean, who wants to be the guy that created a packaging format that requires consumers to fight every ounce of themselves to PUT THE ICE CREAM BACK IN THE FREEZER once the single portion has been consumed?? Seriously…. o_O

  4. Jane on August 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I laugh at a bag of trail mix that says I can get 8 or 10 servings out of it. And my hat is off to anyone who makes it last that long!
    Love & Radiant has “Veggie Krunch” kale chips they serve in orange bags. The package says 2 servings per bag but it is easily one! And so tasty!

  5. anne on August 11, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Yes! Those plantain chips are so addictive! I have these cute bowls that show 1/4 cup etc measurements that I got from Anthro, so I can monitor my intake since I’m definitely not the best and portion control. I’m also the same way with nut or nut butters and anything carby and crunchy! I favor whole fruit, goat yogurt and sweet potatoe wedges for snacks or desserts these days- and it’s so much easier with whole natural foods vs with processed foods.

  6. SC on August 11, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    OMG, those plantain chips – I have forced myself to stop buying them for that reason alone. And it makes me so sad every time I see them in the store 🙁 I always try to convince one of my friends to buy it (so we can share it in an attempt to keep me from scarfing the entire bag down), but it never really works… Also, I retain so much water weight the day after eating them 🙁 Do you ever worry about water weight? I feel like I stop worrying about water weight if I’m doing vigorous exercise everyday (because hey, I need the carbs), but otherwise, it really shows!

  7. Yaara Leve on August 11, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I have major issues with portion control! I’m such a volume eater. That’s why my diet consists of so many greens and veggies–because you can eat a ton for low calorie. The downside is I’m constantly bloated and always have a food belly. I always wonder if maybe I actually ate more caloric-dense food–that doesn’t cause so much bloating–like almond butter or oats–but just less of it–maybe I’d be less bloated. But then I worry that I wouldn’t be satisfied because it’s less food. It’s just an ongoing battle–lol

    • Priya on August 11, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      i am the *exact* same way! tons of produce for volume, but still eat a lot of other food = food baby/bloat all day!

  8. Crystal on August 11, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I love Perky Jerky! Just picked up a couple bags at Target this afternoon. And yes–I always eat the whole bag at once lol.

    One thing that has always irked me: portion sizes of ice cream. Who eats half a cup of ice cream??

  9. Erin Motz on August 11, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    OMG I SO AGREE!!! Those trail mix bags with 8 servings. No. But I love the graphic– super helpful! Pinning 🙂

  10. Valerie on August 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Absolutely LOVE Perky Jerky! Thanks for the post about serving sizes I feel like its a place where a lot of people mess up. Even eating large quantities of “healthy” food will lead to weight gain.

    • Priya on August 11, 2014 at 11:47 pm

      where do you get it??

      • Stacey on August 12, 2014 at 9:39 am

        You can get it at Target.

        • Fitnessista on August 12, 2014 at 10:33 am

          amazing, i didn’t know they had it. i usually get it at whole foods

  11. Chicago Jogger on August 11, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    I love that forest quote – so true! I legit just discovered plantain chips and they are dangerous for me. One serving for sure…

  12. RachelG on August 11, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    This is a really interesting and important post, but man alive is it difficult to be good about portion control throughout the day. Even after I started eating healthier I realized that I was eating too much of the good stuff and wasn’t losing weight. It was frustrating not understanding why I was doing what I thought was the right thing but I wasn’t seeing any results from it. Honestly, I’d get so mad at girls (like, people I didn’t even know, lol) who could eat cheeseburgers or handfuls of chips and never gain weight. What I’ve learned and still need to remind myself of sometimes is that everybody and every body is different and processes/reacts to food differently. I have gotten a lot better at portioning out snacks at home rather than keeping full bags of snacks at work (CHOCOLATE COVERED ALMONDS!!).

    Thank you for this post, Gina! <3

  13. Ashley @ A Lady Goes West on August 11, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Yes, I definitely measure out my portions for my breakfast, snack and lunches by using consistent tupperware containers. I fill them up the same way most days, so that I never have too much. However, when it comes to dinner at home, I’m a little more loose with my portions.

  14. Laura @FitMamaLove on August 12, 2014 at 2:03 am

    I’m with you on the plantain chips! Maybe there are two servings in that bag, max! I also notice “eyeball” portions getting larger over time and then (very sadly in the case of almond butter) have to whip out a measuring spoon every now and then.

  15. haley @Cupcakes and on August 12, 2014 at 8:23 am

    i have such a hard time with portion control. it just seems that some small portions aren’t very satisfying. i like to have some water or chocolate coconut milk (my favorite) with my portions so that it feels like i’m satisfied with less than the whole bag 😉

  16. A.G. on August 12, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I’d like to request a Focus On post…about Pound!! Just recently started taking it, and it’s so fun! My HRM said I burned 345 cals in 45 minutes last class – not too shabby.

  17. Sandra F. on August 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one with portion control problems 😉 It’s so hard sometimes! I tend to do well all day and even at dinner – it’s post-dinner and late night that my stomach starts to say “feed me!” and it doesn’t want fruit 🙁

  18. Nicole @ Squash on Squash on August 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Roasted almonds. There is no way that 1 serving is such a small number of them 🙁
    Also, I can eat mango and blueberries by the ton.
    I basically try to not bring the whole bag/container of whatever i’m eating by me if I’m studying and snacking, because then it just becomes mindless snacking. GoLean crunch is a prime example… 🙂

  19. Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment on August 12, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    These are really good tips! I also use a food scale to help determine portions sometimes. I find it helpful.

  20. Brittany on August 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    I’m not good with portion sizes either — especially with snack foods like trail mix. A lot of times I buy a portion of trail mix from the bulk bins rather than a full bag from TJ’s because I know I’ll eat the full bag way too quickly.

    Love your tips and the little graphic.

  21. Katie @ Talk Less, Say More on August 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I had to stop buying the plantain chips because I could eat them ALL. I’ll let myself buy them once and awhile but they’re no longer something that I purchase every week!

  22. Melissa on August 12, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    I can’t even keep trail mix around because I have found it almost impossible to be “OK” with the actual/recommended portion size!

    I think that was the hardest thing about working with my nutritionist last year–getting reacquainted to the portion sizes of healthy fats. WHAT I was eating was OK, it was how MUCH. 2 tsp of almond butter is a “serving” of fat? hahaha do you know how little that really is?

    • Fitnessista on August 12, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      that tablespoon measuring size is a bummer one haha

  23. melissa on August 12, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Measuring it out by the teaspoon was even sadder! Oddly enough salad dressing in the same amount seems like NBD!

  24. emily @ two design cents on August 12, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I think a good way to get a grasp on portion sizes is to spend a week or so measuring stuff out-then you’ll have a general idea of the basic foods you eat. So when your man hands you a giant bowel of spaghetti you know to stop after eating half…haha that actually happened last night:)

  25. Debra @Escape-Average on August 15, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you! This is so useful. I have always struggled with the concept of portion control. Shall be printing this chart and sticking it on my fridge 🙂

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