Alisa Turner - Integrative Health Coaching

Need help with portion sizes?


Before starting to tackle potion size adjustments, I suggest tracking what you’re CURRENTLY eating for a week or so because if you don’t know what and how much is going in your body before you start making changes, you won’t really know what’s working and to what extent.  


Accuracy with tracking is key, especially if we are trying to nail down your optimal macro ratio, so get an inexpensive scale on Amazon to weigh/measure what all is going in your body.  This is a temporary and extremely valuable exercise.  It will help you get more comfortable reading labels, recognizing how many portions are on your plate, and implementing helpful strategies like portioning out packaged processed food into single-serving containers.  Use an app like MyPlate or MyFitness Pal for a week to keep track of it and pay attention to signs from your body – it may be signaling that it needs more or less food, more or less often, or a different combination of macros.  


This is not forever, but you can’t weigh and measure your food at a restaurant so for this inventory period it’s important that you significantly limit meals out, and that any eaten out be from a restaurant that posts its nutritional content.  This will be an enlightening experience in and of itself.  You’ll see very quickly how you can make a 350-500 calorie salad at home and somehow what seems to be a similar salad in a restaurant can easily be double or triple that.  


The above exercise serves many purposes, one of which is that it gives us a baseline from which to start implementing incremental changes which will be specifically structured for you — because the # of portions of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins a body needs is bio-individual; it varies based on many things like activity level, age, sex, medical profile,  basal metabolic rate hunger levels, blood type, metabolic profile, and many other factors.


That being said, a great place to start the experiment if you’re not working with a coach is by having one serving each of a clean protein, a healthy fat, and a whole grain on a plate that is already ½ full of veggies.  These graphics have some illustrations of what one serving size looks like.  You may notice:

  1. They may be smaller than you realized.
  2. They are NOT the sizes being served to us in most restaurants – yet another reason to start cultivating the habit of cooking at home by finding tasty foods that are easy to make with few ingredients that also freeze well.


Part of the reason we’re over-eating as a culture is that we’re being programmed to overeat by nearly every food stimulus we come across — restaurants, advertising, misleading packaging, the perceived “value” of supersizing by the food service industry, etc.  Not to mention the ‘highly palatable foods’ with flavor enhancers that are bombarding us on every shelf.

Additionally, what is considered a NORMAL portion size in our culture has changed, and some recipes even list larger serving sizes than they used to. (a brownie recipe that served 30 in the 1960’s version of the Joy of Cooking recipe now serves only 16!) See how portions have changed over the years (PDF)

Here’s a link to see how your portions measure up (PDF)


  1. PORTION OUT YOUR PROCESSED SNACKS — Don’t become obsessed with portions of whole foods, especially veggies. But do portion processed  snacks into 1 oz servings so they’re easy to track.  These “highly palatable” foods are extremely calorie dense, and yet they won’t fill you up.  Additionally,  the flavor enhancers and manufactured “mouthfeel” from the added fat/sugar/salt perpetuate a desire for more.   
  1. CHOOSE WHOLE HEALTHY FATS and WHOLE GRAINS – DON’T be afraid of nuts or oatmeal, but do be educated about them.  Fats have 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein.  And processed carbs do not have the same effect on the body as whole grains.
  1. THINK WHOLE FOOD FIRST –  It would be easy to eat an entire 2400 calorie bag of potato chips and still be hungry, BUT if half your plate was veggies loaded with fiber you are well on your way to nutrient dense satiety.  When you’re filling up sufficiently with appropriate serving sizes of fats, whole grains, and protein it leaves very little room for many calorie-dense snack foods.  
  1. PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING:  Inhaling food in front of a screen or in between meetings increases the likelihood of overeating because you’re not paying attention to subtle satiety clues and your brain may not even have time to register satiety.  So, try to slow down.  And DEFINITELY wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds.  
  1. CHEW WELL –  The longer you take to eat, the more time your brain has to register satiety, so the less likely you are to eat right through your cues.  Additionally, chewing can affect absorption of key vitamins and minerals, and nutrient deficiencies can cause cravings.  Saliva also makes the food more alkaline which is easier on the stomach and small intestine to digest and creates less gas. Chewing is Win-Win-Win!
  1. WATER & VEGGIES FIRST — Drinking water before your meal and eating your salad first can also help with portion control, especially if you’ve gone too long between meals and you’re hunger levels are too high.  Many people are chronically mildly dehydrated, and this can affect hunger cues, so in this way, taking care of the hydration first can help lessen the chances you’ll overeat. 
  2. GO HALFSIES – If  you’re eating out, split an entree with a friend or cut it in half and bring the rest home.  If you’re still hungry when you get home (20 minutes later), you can always finish it then.  
  3. USE A SMALLER PLATE – ‘Nuff said!  It baffles me how effective this simple mind game is.  
  4. DON’T LET HUNGER GET THE BEST OF YOU – The most common reason I overeat  is going too long between meals, and then inhaling the food too quickly because my hunger level is at a 1-2.  Make sure you always have some healthy snacks like homemade granola, nuts, fruit and peanut butter, or some carrot sticks and hummus on hand.