Losing weight is hard. If you’re feeling like you’re alone or failing at your efforts thus far, you’re in good company.
According to the CDC, Americans’ weights have continued to climb over the last 7 years. Though weight loss programs, trendy diets, and niche gyms have popped up all over the place, our weight continues to climb...
ThinkFit wants you to try something new (that’s actually pretty old): a portion control diet plan.
We’re not talking about limited options, kid sized portions, or depriving yourself of food.
You can eat the foods you love - you’ll just be eating less of them. You will feel satisfied after eating, not stuffed. Most importantly? You won’t be restricting yourself, which is a dangerous headspace to be in when you’re working to change your eating behaviors for the better.
Why does a portion control diet plan work for long term weight loss?
Controlling portion sizes is not a temporary fix: it’s a behavior change that leads to long term success. If you’ve struggled with portion control in the past, this post will help to unlock the not-so-secret strategies that make a portion control diet plan both approachable and achievable.
We’ve got 6 practical tips and we’ll tie in how to use portion control containers while meal prepping to increase your odds of success.
Our first hurdle:
Americans are increasingly spending more time and money on meals eaten outside of the home, but restaurant portions are not single servings. Your eyes may say yes, but your stomach will rarely agree. Most diners lament on being “stuffed,” racing to stand up at the end of the meal in an effort to gain more room.
Why does this happen?
The restaurant is probably giving us a normal-sized amount. After all, they’re not wanting to dish out more food than they need to, right?
Most restaurants now serve plates with enough food for two or three people. Two or THREE PEOPLE. If you’re having a horrifying flashback of fully eaten restaurant meals, take a pause and remember this tip for next time:
When eating dinner out, split a meal with a friend or choose an appetizer and soup combination rather than an entree. If you choose something off the entree menu for yourself, ask the waiter for a box before you dig in.
If you feel weird about asking for a box first, separate your served plate as soon as it’s set down. Cut your burger in half, move ½ the pasta to one side of the bowl, etc. You can box up the remainder of your meal to bring home and enjoy another time. You’ll avoid feeling overly stuffed and you’ll get two meals out of one - more bang for your buck.
Of course, the best portion control success stories start with cooking at home!
What pitfalls for portion control lurk in your home kitchen?
In the 1960’s, American dinner plates were 8.5 inches across, holding about 800 calories. In the 1980’s, plates stretched to 10 inches across and 1,000 calories before hitting 11 inches across in the 2000’s, holding 1,600 calories.
The current average dinner plate in the United States is now 1 ft. across, which holds a grand total of 1,900 calories. In comparison, European countries have stuck to the 9-inch plate, holding about 900 calories.
In what world does a person need 1,900 calories at a single meal? Unless you’re Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, you don’t.
Here’s where meal prep & ThinkFit comes in:
Due to new norms, snacking behaviors and expectations for portions, cooking & serving food at home can be a caloric hazard. That’s why having a healthy, prepped and portion-controlled meal at the ready is extremely valuable when working toward weight loss.
If you don’t have a plan or food at the ready when you start to get hungry, you are much more likely to make poor choices based on hunger and old habits rather than nutritional and caloric needs. Additionally, having your meals prepared helps you clear your mind of “What will I eat next?” and “I’m tired! I don’t want to cook! I’ll cheat just this one time.”
Let’s start with containers
We know plates can be a problem, and unfortunately the “bigger is better” mindset has migrated to the tupperware shelf as well. Most meal prep containers you’ll find in supermarkets, online, or in boutique fitness stores hold around 3-5 cups of food.
ThinkFit’s portion control container package includes two 1 ½ cup meal prep containers and four 2 ½ cup meal prep containers.
We did it on purpose.
Our meal prep containers were intentionally designed to fit healthy single-serving portion sizes. We’re trying to hit that 1960’s, European sweet spot for portion control.
If you’re using containers that are not portion-appropriate, you’re likely overeating even after all the work of recipe planning and meal prep. Finding you’re still eating until you’re stuffed or tossing food at the end of your meal prepped lunches?
Yeah, you’ve been over served - even worse - you did it to yourself.
Prepping Your Perfect Portions
In order to determine your ideal caloric intake based on your age, height, weight, activity and other factors, you should consult your doctor or a licensed & registered dietitian before attempting a drastic change to your diet.
However, dependent on your activity level, the average woman needs to eat 1,800 - 2,000 daily calories in order to maintain their weight. The average man needs to eat 2,200 - 2,500 calories to maintain their weight.
Why does this matter, though, and what does this mean for you?
A calorie is a unit of energy for your body. At its core, the purpose of eating is to take in the amount of energy that your body will burn each day. If we eat too many calories, we will have an excess leftover from our daily burning, resulting in fat buildup. If we eat less or expend more calories, we are able to lose weight as our body begins to run through our stored fat for energy.
We can’t emphasize this enough:
Portion control is about reduction and should not be seen or used as a restrictive dietary tool. You need calories to function and operate throughout your day. A severe restriction in calories can have highly damaging effects on your health, including triggering a “starved” response from your body which works to keep every precious calorie and pound you have - now and in the future.
This makes weight loss more challenging in the future, should you gain the weight back.
There are many simple online tools that you can use to estimate your ideal calorie intake based on your goals. This one from Healthline is fairly straightforward, but if you choose the “Lose Weight Fast” calorie count option, pay attention to your mood and energy levels for the 1st week. If you find yourself low on energy or in a depressed state, bump your calorie intake back up to the “Lose Weight” calorie calculation.
Now that we’ve gotten that beaten into your diet subconscious, what’s next?
Prepping the Ideal Meal for You
The amount of protein you need for your meal prep is subjective on your sex and weight, ranging from 3-6 oz. for a healthy portion. For most animal proteins, the palm of your hand is a great reference size!
We enjoy beef, chicken, salmon, eggs, lentils, tofu and edamame; a healthy portion size will easily fit in our 1 ½ cup containers.
However you decide to meal prep, make sure veggies take up ⅓ to ½ of your meal. A serving size of veggies or fruit is the size of your fist for dense fruits and veggies, and the size of your outstretched hand is perfect for lettuce or water-based melons.
We recommend leafy greens, broccoli, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, snap peas and green beans; a healthy portion size will easily fit into our larger 2 ½ cup containers.
If you need help exploring more veggie options, checkout our last post, Top 10 Best Vegan Meal Prep Websites.
Carbohydrates should make up about ¼ of your meal. You can measure a serving size with a cupped hand. Some of our favorite starches are brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta, quinoa and black beans; a healthy portion size will easily fit into our larger 2 ½ cup containers.
Last and least (yet still important) are healthy fats. The trick is to heighten the flavor of a meal without edging you over your calorie count.
Use the Rule of Thumb:
A portion size of fat is the size of your thumb, which is about an ounce or tablespoon. Cheese, oils and nut butters are fine, but foods like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds are ideal.
Add these to your proteins & veg as flavor enhancers and sauces, or use our smaller containers for whole nuts, halved avocados, or to keep your dressing separate from your salad till you’re ready to enjoy.
If you’re new to prepping, start small as to not initially overwhelm yourself! We recommend starting with 3 prepped meals, which is perfect in our 6-pack of Portion Control Containers. You’ll have 2 containers for each meal, or containers for 2 meals + snacks.
Top 6 Tips to make Portion Control your Standard
We’ve explained why a portion control diet plan works and how to use it with meal prep to make your weight loss efforts doubly effective. Luckily, there are 6 strategies we know will work whether eating at home, at a friend's house or out for the night. Tried & tested from the ThinkFit team:
1. Lose the Plates
The big ones, that is. Take a ruler to the plates you own and toss anything wider than 9 inches (unless it’s for serving guests). In a Cornell University study, participants eating from large bowls unknowingly served themselves 31% more ice cream compared to those who used small bowls.
A 500-calorie meal on a bigger plate appears unfulfilling to the mind, compared to the same 500-calorie meal on a smaller. Reduce the plate size or container, and you’re less likely to overserve yourself and subsequently overeat.
2. Be a Protein Junkie
Eat more lean protein! Protein increases your metabolic rate and fills you up more than any other nutrient. It’s also great at fighting cravings! Some easy protein examples to add to your meal prep include hard-boiled eggs, hummus, nuts, beans and chicken.
3. Eat like a Veggie Monster
Before anything else, fill half of your plate with veggies such as broccoli, spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts. These items provide high nutritional content while minimally impacting your daily caloric intake. They also have the added benefit of making your plate look more colorful and fresh next to your grains and protein!
4. Cook at Home
Prepare and eat most of your meals at home or bring them with you! It’s easy in a meal prep bag like ours. This way, you know what is going into your body and can use portion control to regulate what you’re eating.
Added sugars, salts, and fats often lurk in those tasty restaurant meals - duh, that’s why they taste SO good - but you aren’t likely to baste a steak in a half-stick of butter or dump ⅓ cup of brown sugar on your sweet potato. Home cooking: learn to love it.
5. Become a Label Lover
Look at the labels of the foods you eat or research portion sizes before mindlessly eating. For those of us who love nuts as a healthy snack in the afternoon, how big of a portion size are you serving yourself?
Are the nuts in a bowl or are you eating handfuls at a time? It may be shocking to hear, but a single serving of almonds is 23 individual almonds. Think you’re hitting that while taking fistfuls from the bag? Unlikely. Always portion nuts and other high fat items out prior to digging in.
***Many chain restaurants are now required to post calorie sizes directly on their menu. It can be a bummer but also seriously enlightening to finally understand how much we’re being served. ***
6. Enjoy Eating
Set aside time to eat your food mindfully. If you eat while catching up with a friend, reading, working on your laptop, or like many of us - bingeing Netflix - you’re likely to binge eat as well. This type of mindless eating prevents you from fully appreciating the tastes or the sum of calories/energy entering your body.
Eating as an activity is not a terrible thing - just make sure it’s the main event, not the background noise.
Not only is a portion control diet plan easier than most fad diets you’ve attempted, it works long term and in any environment. Do you have a portion control diet success story? Any meal prep tips or recommendations for our community?
Connect and share with us below and be sure to bookmark our post so you always have access to our guide, tips and tricks!