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Portion Control: Why is it so important?

Written by Kyrstin Draney, dietetic intern at Meredith College.

Picture this: you’re out to eat, trying to make a healthy choice about what to have for dinner. You say “no” to the special of the day: creamy shrimp Alfredo, and quickly flip past the burger section of the menu. With much thought, you find and order the roasted chicken, served with sweet potatoes and veggies. You’ve got it! 

As the waiter arrives and delivers your meal to you, you receive a plate the size of your head - topped with an enormous amount of protein, a mountain of starch, and some veggies decked in sauces.

Whether you were expecting it or not… this, right here, is your portion.


So… Why is portion control important?


If something like the previous scenario has ever happened to you, you may know the answer to that question. Usually, when we have an uncontrolled portion, we have uncontrolled amount of calories available to us, which can be dangerous. A review published in 2013 stated that larger plates of food can lead to us eating up to 45% more than what our average intake would be1. That’s a lot! Most data and studies support the claim that we will almost always eat more if we are offered larger portions.

In rare cases, though, this may not always be negative. Imagine that in the previous scenario, the waiter arrived with an even bigger plate filled with raw veggies and mixed greens. Portion control is dire except for one food group: non-starchy veggies. Have at ‘em!

Portion control is important because it allows for you to have a tight handle on how many calories you are presumably taking in. This means eating what your body needs instead of mindlessly overindulging!


Portion vs. Serving


These two words may be used synonymously when describing specific topics, but should not be used interchangeably when describing food and the meals that we eat.

Do not fret! Within every portion of any meal there are servings. MyPlate is a great visual in order to help you understand what each food group’s serving should look like.



Understanding these servings, and serving sizes, is going to be your savior in tricky situations like these because it will help you dictate your portion size.

To learn more about serving sizes, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate.


How Duke Diet and Fitness Center helps individuals with portion control?


Here at Duke’s Diet and Fitness Center, most of our efforts are to make sure our clients understand and abide by portion control. We do this in two ways: controlling portions and education. With the assistance of Registered Dietitians, each of our residential clients plan a delicious menu that is portion controlled for every week. Throughout their time at the DFC, clients are also encouraged to attend classes that instruct them how to create portioned meals, as well as understand serving sizes and how to apply them at home or dining out situations.


Portion Control Tips



Don’t let big portions get the best of you! Portions can be out of control when dining out, and may even be an issue when cooking meals at home. But know this: there are plenty of ways to counter problematic portions.

Visualize your portions! Study the MyPlate diagram or purchase a pre-portioned plate that has determined food groups. Learn and understand what different measurements may look like! Refer to the comparisons below to help assist you.


Invest! Measuring cups are so underrated! They can be an easy, useful tool to make sure you’re not overdoing a specific food. Keep your measuring cups handy, or purchase some that you’d be interested in showing off! Check out the World Market for some great counter-pleasing options: http://www.worldmarket.com/search.do?query=measuring+cups

Food scales are another great way to make sure your portions are controlled. Food analysis food scales are also available and can be a great option to assure you’re portioning out your food correctly. We’d recommend something like the “perfect portions” nutrition scale (include link)

Prep! Meal prepping for the day, week, or an event can assist you in controlling portions. Having pre-portioned meals takes the thought out of how much you should serve yourself at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Plan to follow a recipe, so you know where your calories are coming from – and prioritize some time to get things cooking. When you’re done, get yourself some mason jars or Tupperware to stock your fridge or freezer for the future.

Track! Mobile apps can be your best friend when tracking portions. Not only are they going to give you a record to be accountable for, but they’ll help you understand serving sizes because that is how they are measured in each database. Sometimes just plugging in your meal can be eye opening to how many calories you may or may not be consuming. We recommend My Fitness Pal and Lose it.

Split it! When dining out, split your meal. Eat one half and either share or box the other. If you plan on taking the other half home with you, box it immediately -if half of your portion is out of site, it’ll be out of mind!

Veg it up! As mentioned above, vegetables are the food group lowest in calories and most of us don’t get enough (in fact, it’s hard to get too many).   Swap out calorie rich foods, sides, and snacks with non-starchy veggies. Not only can you eat a bunch, but they’ll fill you up better because of the water and fiber content. Not to mention they’re full of wonderful body-pleasing vitamins and minerals!



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With more than 40-year years of experience in delivering wellness and weight loss programs, the Duke Diet and Fitness Center has established itself as one of the leading weight loss and total body health destinations for health conscious individuals seeking a residential style health program focused on natural weight loss.

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