Eat Better Habits – Portion control

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“Eat the right things...Eat the right amount of those things”

Our goal should be to make sure we eat and drink mostly unprocessed, good quality, whole foods. But the next step is to make sure we eat the right amount of those foods. Because it is possible (though less likely) to gain unwanted body fat from eating too much “healthy” food.

Because of the sheer abundance of food these days, many of us have lost our ability to know how much food is “enough”. Just some of the reasons for this include:

  • We were brought up to “clear the plate of food”. This probably stems from a time when there was a scarcity of food. But these days, we no longer have that problem. Don’t be afraid to leave food if you have had enough.
  • Portion sizes in shops/restaurants are bigger than they used to be. We get used to being given more food, so we eat more food, so we expect more food next time.
  • Because there is so much food available, we hardly ever have to eat because we are actually hungry. Instead we eat because of culture/tradition, social reasons or simply because it is nice.

So in an ideal world, we should:

“Eat when slightly hungry, stop when slightly full.”

The hunger scale

So how do we know when we are slightly hungry or slightly full? One rough and ready way is to use the hunger scale below…

The hunger scale
  1. Starving! Could eat a horse.
  2. Preoccupied with hunger. Everything on the menu looks good.
  3. Feeling hungry and the urge to eat is strong.
  4. Feel a little bit hungry, but could wait a while to eat.
  5. Neutral. Not hungry and not full.
  6. Feel food in your belly, but could eat a bit more.
  7. Hunger is gone. If you stop here, you wont want to eat for a good few hours.
  8. Not uncomfortable, but belly is definitely full.
  9. Starting to feel pretty uncomfortable now!
  10. So full you will explode if you have a single extra bite!

We simply ask ourselves “on a scale of 1-10, how full do I feel right now?” Use the phrases above to match how you feel.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This scale probably won’t work 100% the first few times you try it. It takes a bit of practice and experience to figure out at first. But don’t worry. Because the important bit is not getting the answer 100% correct. Instead, the important bit is that you stop, listen to your body and start becoming aware of what it is telling you.

So give it a try. Before you grab a bite to eat, ask yourself “how hungry/full am I?”

And throughout the meal, take 5 seconds and keep asking yourself the same question. If the answer is 1-6, then go ahead and eat. If the answer is 7-10, then stop!

It doesn’t matter if you still have something on the plate. Or someone is trying to persuade you to eat/drink more. Eating should be pleasurable. And if you are starting to get so full that it is not nice any more…then stop!

Ideally, we want to avoid reaching 1-3 on the scale. When we are very hungry, we tend to lose willpower and just eat the nearest, easiest thing available. This often tends to be junk food. And because we are so hungry, we also tend to eat too much of it.

We also want to avoid reaching 8-10 on the scale. There is no need for it. There is plenty of food available. This is just greedy.

Where possible, we want to spend as much of our lives in the 4-7 range of the scale.

Use your hand to measure portions

Another fantastic method to get a handle on portion control is this guide from the excellent Precision Nutrition website.

The infographic shows you how to use your own hand to measure out the components of your healthy meal. Again, it is rough, ready and totally personal to you and your body! It really is fantastic.

Click on the picture to get a big copy to download and keep.

Portion control guide

Tips to help keep portions under control

  • Use the hunger scale above.
  • Use a smaller plate. It is amazing how much this single trick can help you cut down on portion size!
  • Don’t load your plate up with one big portion. Have a small serving. When you have finished, use the hunger scale and if you are genuinely still hungry, then feel free to go back for seconds. You will be surprised how often you don’t.
  • Keep food/drink you are not eating right now, away and out of sight in a different room. It will help you give an honest answer when you use the hunger scale.
  • Load up your plate with plenty of veggies first. Don’t add them afterwards as an afterthought. Prioritise these calorie light, but nutrient dense foods over others.
  • Use spoons to measure out any dressings. We use a lot less this way compared to pouring them out.
  • Slow your eating down! Have a conversation during your meal. Or sip a glass of water between mouthfuls. It takes time for our body to notice when it is full. If we rush, we can miss the signals and just keep cramming food in.


On a scale of 1-10, decide how confident you are that you can incorporate this new habit over the next week or 2. If it is 7 or below, either change to a different habit, or make this habit easier.

Then use the following document to help you change your habit for the better over the next week or 2.

You can either: