Portion Control and Eating Your Favorite Carbs

By: Kimberly Cruz, LWDI Intern

A commonly discussed topic among many adults is diets and foods that should be avoided in order to reach a goal. What if I was able to talk to you about all of your favorite carbohydrate filling meals, the ones seen as “off limits” of your “guilty pleasure”.  For example, a few of my favorites include baked potatoes, Mexican rice, and ice-cream. It is possible to lead a healthy lifestyle while still enjoying your favorite snacks and comfort foods. Weight management can be possible through portion control and understanding the appropriate amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates (carbs) that an individual should consume.  

It is important to first consider the role of carbohydrates in the body, along with protein and fats. Carbohydrates supply the body with readily available energy for use in normal body functions and physical activities. It is beneficial for people to understand what carbs look like and the difference between complex and simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates are foods like whole grain bread, pasta, potatoes, or squash; they take more time to digest which will release energy slowly into the body. This is due to the slow process of the breakdown of fiber, a nutrient found in most complex carbs, which promotes extended periods of energy. Simple carbohydrates are foods like table sugar, fruit juice, or syrup. Simple carbs give the body a quick burst of energy that lasts for a short period of time.

Portion Control 

Food Pyramid Replacement - MyPlate: The USDA's Food Recommendations
Figure 1

The prevalence of obesity has doubled over the past 40 years. Rates continue to rise creating a worldwide healthcare crisis. Becoming overweight or obese usually occurs when a person’s intake of calories from food exceeds energy expenditure. Overtime, excessive weight gain can lead to other co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.  Introducing portion control could be the start of a healthy lifestyle and provide an alternative solution rather than dieting or surgery. MyPlate is shown in Figure 1 above. This is a representation of what a plate should look like at every meal. Half the plate is made up of fruits and vegetables. 

Helpful tips to guide portion control by simply using your hands can be found in Figure 2 below. Tips and tricks like these can help an individual better understand how to portion food and make it easier to enjoy your favorite foods. If chicken alfredo pasta is one of your favorite meals but trending diets have made you think it would not fit into your diet, the chart below could be used to help with portioning. Looking at Figure 2, a good portion size for pasta noodles are about the size of your fist which can be equivalent to one half cup. The chicken used for the pasta could be measured by the palm of your hand; the sauce could be measured by using the portion size of the cheese model. No foods are forbidden! Practicing portion control allows you to still have, and enjoy, your favorite foods without feeling guilty.

Portion sizes | Daily Mail Online
Figure 2

Plate Size Matters

Figure 3

Over the last few decades, the standard size of a dinner plate has increased from 9 inches to 12 inches; this difference is illustrated in figure 3 above. The actual plate size however is not where the problem is, the problem is people fill those extra three inches with food. A lot of people are taught they need to consume everything on their plate in one sitting. So, the larger plate size, combined with this mentality, has led to an overall increase in food consumption. Plate size has the potential to reduce how much food is put on a plate and therefore consumed.  

Plate sizes have the potential to reduce how much is consumed from being self-selected. 2 Using a smaller plate is one strategy that can aid in reducing portion size. It has been shown people usually eat more when given larger portions.3 Bigger portion sizes grew over time and has been taught through family and friends. Some research has shown that an individual’s portion size may potentially be influenced by friends and others they are surrounded by when they eat. Certain people may benefit from sharing meals with a friend group or having a support system to help them on their journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Where to go from here?

Portion control can help provide an understanding that carbohydrates, fats, and protein should all be included on your plate to achieve a healthy, balanced meal. Tips and tricks used for portion control can not only help overweight and obese populations, but also those who struggle with diabetes and other health conditions related to dietary habits. It is important to build a support system with people who want to take this journey on with you and be a source of encouragement. Being more aware of how much you eat instead of what you are eating can help to see food from a healthier perspective. Eating intuitively, having balanced portion sizes, and being aware of different plate sizes are all factors that can help someone lead a healthy lifestyle.


Maartje P. Poelman, MSc, Emely de Vet, PhD, Elizabeth Velema, MSc, Michiel R. de Boer, PhD, Jacob C. Seidell, PhD, Ingrid H. M. Steenhuis, PhD, PortionControl@HOME: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluating the Effect of a Multi-Component Portion Size Intervention on Portion Control Behavior and Body Mass Index, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 49, Issue 1, February 2015, Pages 18–28, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-014-9637-4

Hughes, J.W., Goldstein, C.M., Logan, C. et al. Controlled testing of novel portion control plate produces smaller self-selected portion sizes compared to regular dinner plate. BMC Obes 4, 30 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40608-017-0167-z

Versluis, I., & Papies, E. (2016, May 06). The Role of Social Norms in the Portion Size Effect: Reducing Normative Relevance Reduces the Effect of Portion Size on Consumption Decisions. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00756/full

Publishing, H. (n.d.). Carbohydrates – Good or Bad for You? Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/carbohydrates–good-or-bad-for-you

MyPlate Graphic Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/resources/myplate-graphic-resources

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