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Portion Control: Definition, Examples, and Coaching Tactics

What is Portion Control?

Portion control is about managing the amount of food that’s served and consumed during a meal. It plays a crucial role in controlling calorie intake for weight loss. As a coach, understanding portion control is necessary for educating your clients about healthy and sustainable nutrition that supports weight loss and long-term weight maintenance. 

Portion control skills are also highly beneficial for muscle gain and general health. Learning to recognize hunger and satiety signals allows people to eat the appropriate amount of food for their needs and fitness goals. 

Examples of Portion Control

  • Using smaller plates and bowls to limit the amount of food a person can serve. An added benefit is tricking the mind into thinking there is more food than there is.
  • Measuring food with cups and a weight scale instead of eyeballing. While the latter is easier and more natural, research suggests that most people aren’t good at estimating food portions.

    Measuring takes some time but ensures accuracy and teaches people to better estimate the calories they consume.
  • Not eating food directly from its package, as that makes it more challenging to determine how much one eats and typically leads to overeating.
  • Filling half the plate with fibrous (low calorie) vegetables. That way, even if a person eats more food, it’s easier to control the calories.
  • Drinking a glass of water approximately 20 minutes before eating can promote satiety and naturally reduce calorie intake.

Coaching Tactics For Portion Control

1. Educate Clients About Eyeballing and Visuals

Teach clients about food volume and how having visually identical serving sizes could mean vastly different calorie amounts depending on the food. 

For example, a full bowl of mixed greens can be as little as 50-75 calories, whereas even covering a quarter of the plate with rice can be 100+ calories.

On that note, explain how different preparation methods impact calorie content. For instance, fried rice has more calories and fats than boiled rice. 

Additionally, using the hands as measurement tools can work great. General guidelines include:

  • A portion of protein – the size of the palm
  • A portion of veggies – the size of a fist
  • A portion of carbs – one cupped hand
  • A portion of fat – the size of your thumb

Check out Precision Nutrition’s resource for a more detailed explanation and visuals.

2. Encourage Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is another fantastic way to eat better and control their calorie intake without going on a diet. 

Some rules for your clients include:

  • Eating slowly and savoring each bite
  • Eliminating distractions while eating (no scrolling on social media or watching TV)
  • Stopping the meal halfway through to assess hunger levels
  • Assess fullness level after the meal
  • Waiting for five minutes before going for seconds

3. Get Clients to Record Their Meals

Have you ever had a client who claimed they ‘barely eat anything’ but ‘just can’t lose weight’? If so, you’re not alone because this is fairly common.

Most people think they aren’t eating much because they can’t accurately estimate how big their meals are, forget to account for small snacks throughout the day, and don’t consider liquid calories––for example, sodas, juice, energy drinks, and fancy coffee beverages. 

By having your clients record their meals in a notebook or app, they become more aware of how much they eat. Plus, it helps create a good habit of logging food, which can eventually evolve into calorie and macronutrient tracking.

4. Create Meal Plans for Clients

Another option that can work great for your clients, particularly busy ones who don’t have much time or energy to think about their diets and make you more money, is to create meal plans.

Outline what each meal should be, include a reasonable number of alternative food options, and include some flexibility to enjoy junk food (say, around 10-20% of their total calories).

5. Provide Ideas For Healthy Food Swaps

Another way to help your clients with portion control is to ask them about their favorite foods throughout the day and provide healthy, lower-calorie alternatives.


For example, if the client enjoys:

  • Soda ⇒ recommend diet soda
  • Potato chips ⇒ recommend baked vegetable chips
  • Fried foods ⇒ recommend grilled foods
  • Sugary cereal ⇒ recommend oatmeal with berries

FAQ

1. What is a simple way to explain portion control to clients?

Besides explaining the value of portion control and the desired outcome (feeling full but not stuffed after eating), use visual cues like protein source the size of the palm, veggies the size of a fist, carbs the size of a cupped hand, and fats the size of a thumb. This is an excellent starting point for most people to learn about their ideal food intake and compare it to how they currently eat.

2. What tools can clients use to assist with portion control?

A kitchen scale and measuring cups are fantastic tools for assisting with portion control and ensuring accuracy, particularly for clients who track their calories and macronutrients. Certain apps can also estimate a meal’s nutritional value by taking a photo or pointing the camera at the plate.

3. Should portion control be strict all the time?

While portion control is a good way to approach most meals, people should have some dietary flexibility and enjoy the occasional treat within reason.

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