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Controlling Portion Size

by Edward Abramson, PhD

If you observe carefully, you’re likely to find that you eat more than you need. There are several steps you can take to reduce the size of your portions without being hungry or feeling deprived. Dr Edward Abramson, author of Body Intelligence: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, and Feel Great Without Dieting, has some advice for you!

First, and most obvious, is to emphatically say “no” when asked, “Supersize that?” If you just can’t pass up a “bargain,” bring along a friend, order the larger size, and split it between the two of you. Otherwise, remind yourself that the regular portion will satisfy your physical hunger. Several studies have demonstrated that when you eat a food until you’re no longer hungry, it stops tasting good. The extra food in the jumbo size wouldn’t have provided any additional enjoyment; it would have just left you feeling bloated and angry with yourself, so you shouldn’t feel deprived when declining jumbo portions.

Second, recognize that controlling portion size requires that you read the labels carefully to avoid being misled. For example, a snack package of Grandma’s Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies has 200 calories, nine grams of fat, and twenty-eight grams of carbohydrates per serving, but if you read the label carefully, you’ll find that a serving is only one of the two cookies in the package. More than likely you’ll eat both cookies, so you’ll consume twice as many calories, grams of fat, and grams of carbohydrates.

Sam, a forty-six-year-old engineer who had lost twenty pounds, learned that the price of continuing weight loss was eternal vigilance. Having avoided desserts for most of the week, he decided to stop at a convenience market after dinner to indulge his love of ice cream. He was doing everything right: he had eaten sensibly so he could allow himself a treat, he had finished dinner so he wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t using the ice cream to soothe any emotional turmoil, and he was planning on giving the ice cream the attention it deserved to get the maximum enjoyment from it. He spent a few minutes in front of the freezer case examining its contents before choosing an ice cream sandwich made with two cookies. He did some mental calculations and decided that he could afford the 295 calories listed on the label. When he got home he noticed that the serving size was “1?2 sandwich.” The sandwich was perfectly round; there were no notches, dotted lines on the wrapping, or anything else to suggest that it should be cut in half. Sam struggled for a minute before deciding that he couldn’t afford 590 calories, cut it in half, and put one half in his freezer before enjoying the other half.

Check the label on a package of pasta. The caloric values are for a two-ounce serving yet most recipes call for at least four ounces and restaurants may serve seven or eight ounces. You have to read the nutrition labels very carefully.

Third, slow the pace of eating. One study found that eating slowly was associated with greater weight loss for women in a weight-control program. When you’re eating take smaller bites, put the knife and fork down frequently, talk more (remember, it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full!), and stop eating for a minute in the middle of the meal, while there is still food on your plate. Don’t distract yourself by reading or watching TV while you’re eating. Pay attention to what you’re eating. Notice the texture and temperature of the food and see if you can identify any spices that were used. If you focus on your eating, it’s likely that you will be satisfied with smaller quantities of food.

Finally, review your Eating Records paying particular attention to the “Excess” column. While overeating is a general tendency that occurs in many situations, see if there are any particular “Times,” “Foods,” or “Location/People/Circumstances” associated with the checks in the “Excess” column. If you find any circumstances that make overeating more likely, you can plan to substitute low-density (high-fiber, high-water content) foods when you are in that situation.

About the Author
Edward Abramson, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on eating and weight disorders who lectures to professional and lay audiences around the world. He is a professor of psychology at California State University and a former director of the Eating Disorders Center at Chico Community Hospital. Dr. Abramson has appeared on “Hard Copy,” “20/20,” PBS, “Good Day LA,” “Joan Rivers,” and other TV and radio programs, and his work has been written about in Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Self, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and other major publications. For more information, visit

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