Portion Perfection

It’s a mantra repeated, in one form or another, by countless authorities on obesity and weight loss: Serve up smaller portions.


Despite the seeming simplicity of this rule, it faces many obstacles in our daily lives. These may include tight schedules that lead to rushed meals, cooking habits that emphasize large quantities to maximize leftovers, or a simple lack of awareness regarding what constitutes an adequate serving size. According to an article earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times, several companies, many of them startups, are betting that portion-size reminders will make a difference in people’s behavior — or at least that consumers will believe such reminders can make a difference. The article profiles a company called Precise Portions, which sells dinner plates on which space is designated for vegetables, starches, and proteins. One design labels these areas overtly, while another features a discreet “vine design” that could be seen as purely decorative by unsuspecting guests. Other products include bowls and drinking glasses marked with portion sizes for various items.

There is some evidence to suggest that people often follow visual cues when deciding how much to eat. As noted in an article here at DiabetesSelfManagement.com,What Really Determines What We Eat,” controlled studies have determined that people tend to take a larger helping of a snack when it is presented in a larger serving bowl. They also tend to eat more popcorn when it is given to them in a larger container — even if it tastes terrible, by their own admission. And if a bowl of soup is constantly replenished automatically so that its level never goes down, people will eat significantly more soup than if they are eating from a normal bowl and are free to refill the bowl whenever they please. It should not be surprising, then, that a simple tactic such as cordoning off areas of a plate could be similarly effective.

But portion-denoting plates and bowls also face limitations. One may simply be eating habits: If we are accustomed to refilling our cereal bowl when we want more, the mark on the side of the bowl may not stop us. Another possibility is that given modern lifestyles, the daunting task of cooking a meal with abundant vegetables and separate starches and proteins will prove discouraging and lead to unused plates in favor of quick-to-prepare meals and restaurant take-out. The discipline required to consistently cook for portioned plates, one could argue, dwarfs the discipline required to limit portion sizes.

What do you think — have you tried tricks or gimmicks to limit or, in the case of vegetables, increase the sizes of portions you consume? Have you found physical food constraints or other methods — such as self-talk or paying attention to your body’s physical cues — to be more effective in controlling how much you eat? Would you pay for plates designed to limit portion sizes? Leave a comment below!

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  • Shewolf Mom

    I have been thinking about purchasing portion dishes for the last few months. I think they would help me raise my portion awareness, whether I chose to stay within the lines or double it. At least I would know it. My goal would be to turn these proper portions into my new eating lifestyle so as it becomes second nature and I wouldn’t have to think about it at every meal. I wouldn’t cook to fit the dish, as I cook for four people. After a while, I would use the dishes for a once-in-while portion self-check. I hope I would enjoy and appreciate eating the protions instead of seeing it as depravation (limited). It seems there is a lot of food that fits on the dishes and along with getting balanced nutrition.

  • Diabetic Survival Kit

    Consider portion sizes when you cook and do not cook or shop for extra. Put the appropriate size portion on the plate and if there is no more food your brain will understand that when the food is eaten you are done. As soon as you are done, leave the table. If you want to have left over for the next day, package them up and put them away before sitting down at the table.

  • Rocky

    For portion control I use the oval chinese plates which are about the size of salad and dessert plates. For bowls I use small 1 cup size or close to it. None of thse work if I’m not paying attention to what I put on my plate. The portion control dishes, I think, help focus awareness on how much you are eating but they don’t control it. As always, you control what you eat and how much. This sounds like another “help” for those of us who need all the help we can get.

  • Deb

    For a dinner-type meal I use the Meal Measure, which sits on top of the plate to be filled with food from the stove or to be microwaved. (The Meal Measure itself can’t be microwaved, so you remove it and let the food settle onto the plate.) It has an open section for a 3 oz. portion of meat, 2 1/2-1 cup sections for vegetables, and a 1/2-1 cup section for starch. It’s handy if you have a specific portion size in your meal plan, or for the Plate Method, which I use. If it’s something like spaghetti, I use a one-cup measure which also has a line at the halfway point, so I can measure out 1 cup of spaghetti onto my plate, then measure 1/2 cup of sauce on top. I do the same thing with granola and almond milk for breakfast.
    I used to use a Nutri-scale and weigh everything. It was handy because it kept a balance of the nutrients you had yet to consume that day, but measuring by cups and spoons is much easier! I do have a small scale on which I weigh portions of meat and cheese.
    I don’t cook for portioned plates; I cook for planovers, so I get several days’ meals out of half a pound of spaghetti and a jar of sauce. I always cook a bag or a couple of boxes of vegetables and use the leftovers the next day. I also like to have cooked rice and baked potatoes in the fridge. I can set out plates with Meal Measures and dish up portions very easily.
    I lost more than 10% of my weight using portion control, and kept it off. When I had to change my diet after my gallbladder was removed, portion control made it easy and helped me lose more weight.
    I don’t go back for seconds on anything because I take what I need the first time. Except for chocolate. I don’t know how I used to eat only 3 tiny pieces of Dove a day when I was losing weight. Not happening now.