Portion Control: Real Life, Real Food


After sharing with you my history, how I lost weight eating real, whole foods, and then the tips and “rules” I implemented to lose the weight and keep it off (part one and part two), I thought I’d share with you what I actually eat in a typical day (or two).

In order to keep it simple and visual, I took pictures of the food I ate over the course of a couple of days (except for lunch- apparently I forgot to take a picture on day 2…). You will see that although I emphasize protein, I do have grains and carbs at each meal – I’ve just cut down drastically the amount I used to eat.

I want to mention that if you Google “portion control” you will find lots of well-respected sites with pictures and articles showing that a piece of chicken should be the size of a deck of cards, or that a serving of pasta or rice the size of a hockey puck. These visuals have never worked for me, probably because food never seems to be those sizes to me on the plate (square chicken? flat rice?).

Or possibly because I have no idea how big a hockey puck is.

If these mental pictures work for you- wonderful! If not, maybe my photos and thoughts on real life portion control will be helpful.

I think I’ve mentioned I’m a creature of habit in many areas of my life and breakfast is one of them. I love eating my homemade granola topped with cranberries, walnuts, and chia seeds each morning. I don’t have to think about it, it’s satisfying and I know it’s healthy.

By the way, I’m aware that Sally Fallon (of Nourishing Traditions fame) calls granola (unsoaked at least) one of the most dangerous things you can eat (digestion-wise). You can imagine that did not sit well with me. {smile} Until I have a problem that I think forgoing my morning granola will help, I’m not going there.

All by itself in the photo above, though, that doesn’t look like too small of a portion, does it?

Which is why I took this picture (after I poured my milk, unfortunately). The bowl on the left is a typical cereal bowl which holds about two cups and has never seemed that big to me in the past.

I keep a 1/3-cup measure in the granola because that is the typical serving of this nutrient-dense cereal (important for children- they will pour the granola like a flake cereal and fill the bowl!). I don’t fill it all the way so it’s about 1/4-cup and that’s what you see in the left bowl. Even with milk this bigger bowl would still be only half full.

Compare that with the smaller (1-cup ) bowl on the right which seems full after pouring the milk (I add a couple tablespoons of dried cranberries and 3-4 crushed walnut halves). Visually and mentally, it seems like a larger amount in the smaller bowl.

Moral? Use smaller bowls when you can. It does help.

If I do have something else for breakfast (usually on the weekends) it’s an egg with toast or this peanut butter and homemade jam on homemade toast. My homemade bread is not as big as store-bought loaves and I always take the smaller end pieces, so you can see this is about the size of a half-piece of typical store-bought bread (especially the larger loaves).

I include half an apple which I might eat then or a couple hours later, depending on what I’m doing that day.

I should mention that all our mornings start with a cappuccino that Brian makes shortly after we wake up (I’m so lucky – but you can be, too, if you follow his steps in this video!), and most days includes another cup between 9 and 10am. Both these drinks have milk (mine are more cafe au lait than straight coffee) which is more protein (I find protein = fullness and satisfaction for me), plus it is one of my tips to use liquids to fill me up when I’m feeling hungry between meals.

Though I have only one lunch picture, this is pretty typical – leftovers. I have no problem eating leftovers at all. Sometimes knowing I can have more of something I love the next day is the only way I can eat a small portion at dinner!

This is a 1.2 cup container (Snapware Glasslock containers– which are the BEST I’ve found with airtight seals and side snaps that don’t break as easily as some that shall remain nameless…but are found at World Mkt…DON’T buy them) that is filled about 3/4 full with a bean and pork stew. Half an apple and a small piece of bread round out the meal.

I usually do add butter to my bread, but this stew was a “dipping stew” so I knew I’d be using the bread that way. Sometimes I butter and sometimes I don’t.


Between 3:30 and 4:30 I get hungry. Remember tip #3? Drink afternoon tea. With tea all I need are a few nuts (did you know a serving of almonds is only about 8 or 9?) and a granola bite made with almond butter. Many times I eat only the granola bite or just the nuts, but this day I must’ve been feeling pretty hungry.

This little green bowl is one of the measuring “prep bowls” I mentioned in my tip #5. It’s a 1/4-cup bowl, but has a line at the 1/8-cup mark as well. Nuts are a great protein and are nutrient-dense (meaning there’s a lot of nutrition packed in them) – good things, but which leads to high calories. I use this 1/8-cup measure to make sure I don’t go over that amount, which is easy to do with these little guys.

Dinner for day one was a chef’s salad using a cup of lettuce, onions, carrots, olives, smoked salmon, feta, and a hard-boiled egg dressed with a simple homemade vinaigrette. It was a substantial salad that filled me up – I actually remember not being able to eat all of it.

This was a quick meal we pulled together, hence the Kettle brand salt and pepper potato chips (my favorite!). Notice the chips in a small bowl – tip #2: never eat out of a box or a bag. You can see there’s about 8-10 chips, just enough to not feel deprived, but well within a small serving guideline.

Day two’s dinner was pasta with sausage and homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce from the freezer. I have to say that pasta is not my favorite meal, but it is my daughter’s and so we have it weekly. When we do have it, I don’t mix the sauce with the pasta, but dish it up for everyone so I can have a little pasta and a LOT of sauce.

I’ve cut the amount of pasta I serve in our soup bowls in half (one of the things I did right away to start the weight loss). These bowls are part of our dish set and I used to fill them halfway with pasta (or rice) because it seemed like a small amount in these large bowls (using smaller bowls isn’t possible all the time). Now I serve 3/4 to 1-cup (or one large spoonful) portions like this and then add lots of sauce.

Yep, I usually use a spoon to eat it (is it soup? is it pasta? who cares!).

I eat what I like the best first (tip #8) and leave the rest if I’m full, which in this case was the pasta.

I’ve heard people say that leaving a little bit of food on their plate psychologically helps them to stop eating and eat less. I don’t know if this is the case, but I do know that there is a feeling of accomplishment (empowerment?) if I leave a bite of something I love, like chocolate cake.

Pasta? That’s easy to leave.

Do you have some tips for portion control? I’d love it if you’d share here in the comments or over on AOC’s Facebook page!


Read the entire series on Losing Weight with Real Foods:

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    • says

      Good question, Sakura – you’ve been around here long enough to know I love to bake goodies. :-) We do not typically have dessert after dinner, unless we are entertaining or it’s a special occasion. We have the piece of dark chocolate I’ve mentioned after dinner.

      The only other regular sweet is ice cream once a week in conjunction with our family cleaning night. When I make cookies, I put them in the freezer right away and that works for me not to be too tempted. I’d say maybe once a week I’ll have a cookie with tea for a snack instead of nuts.

      Dessert that’s not a special occasion is maybe once a month on average. For example, our strawberries are in season and I just harvested a large bowl so I will be making the season’s first strawberry shortcake here in the next week.

      Hope that answers your question!

  1. says

    Funny thing is I found this blog while recovering from food poisoning (kind of like you having the flu). I realized that I was always rounding up and having one more of everything thinking it was a normal portion…when really it was 2 1/2 portions by then. So this series of posts has been really helpful to me. Thanks!

  2. says

    Jami, this is very helpful. You have me finally thinking about what I am eating. I made your granola and I love it. I finally found ground flax seed today and will have it for the next batch. Have not been a fruit person either but today I came home with fruit and vegetables. I am slowly going through every post you have written and all your recipes. I admire your style on life. When I was younger, I sure could have used all the advice from your blog. I have enjoyed reading all your posts. Thanks for sharing all your wonderful ideas.
    Connie, IN/FL

  3. candice@adventurefoodlove.com says

    This is great. I have been working with people for years on this kind of stuff, and the visual aids are wonderful! Nice work.

  4. says

    Kettle brand salt & pepper chips are my favorite, too. If I buy them, I have the husband take them to work so I don’t overindulge. I’m really enjoying this series, Jami. Thanks for keeping it real. :) ~Lisa@HappyinDoleValley

    PS: I have a delicious strawberry shortcake muffins recipe that would go great with your freshly picked strawberries! Our berries are still not ready (900′ elevation), but they’ll be ready soon, though, and we’re looking forward to it!

  5. Roxie says

    I discovered your blog today and it’s wonderful! Your information comes very timely. I need to lose 20 kg and I’ve tried just about everything, except the most obvious: eat real food in smaller portions! Just looking at your photos has helped me enormously. I can finally eat everything that I like (yes I love real food, just eat too much of it), and still look forward to losing the weight. I tried paleo, vegetarian, weight watchers, 6 meals a day, low car, high carb… you name it! The photograph of the pasta bowl, with your hand holding the bowl, has helped me see just how little pasta one needs. In my world, I would have 2.5 of those portions plus sauce! Well today, after looking at the photos, I started halving everything I ate, and to be honest I didn’t even notice. I was not hungry at all. So I’m inspired! thank you for your efforts getting this information out. I look forward to reading more :)


    • Jami says

      Goodness, Roxie, I only just saw your comment today! I don’t know how I missed it. :( Anyway, I’m SO glad to know that my post is helping you toward healthier eating and eventual weight loss! That’s my goal and it’s so encouraging to know that it made sense to you and you are using my tips in your life. THANK YOU for leaving a comment to let me know (I typically DO respond within a few days!).

  6. Penny says

    I, like Connie, cannot stop looking at your dishes! Beautiful! Aside from that, great information. I like the “realness” to your approach and your honesty.

  7. Heather says

    A friend and I have been looking to lose weight eating whole foods with our busy lifestyles and families. I believe this is it for us! It fits our schedules, etc. perfectly yet keeps us on track to losing weight.

    • says

      So glad, Heather! It truly is a lifestyle that I would recommend to anyone – whether they need to lose weight or not. It’s just that a great side-benefit is your body finding it’s natural, lower set point. :)

        • says

          Well, I started really eating mostly all whole foods about 4 years ago, but when I decided to cut my portions in half, I saw results right away – just not a drastic loss. About 3-5 pounds a month. The surprising things was that I kept losing even after having reached the set point I’d always been at – I really only thought I’d get to that and be happy. But now I’m happier! It was over about 6 months that I lost the entire 25 lbs. to where I am now – a healthier set point. :)

          • Heather says

            I’m really hoping and praying this will work for me because I’ve tried everything diligently to only lose 5-8 lbs and that’s it … very disheartening :( I only have half of my thyroid but am on no meds since my thyroid levels are low, but on the normal side so they can’t put me on any meds. So, I don’t know if my weight staying is hormonal or what … frustrating to say the least! I guess eating whole foods is so much better than anything processed so it couldn’t hurt and the fact that I exercise 4-5 times a week doesn’t hurt either so … I guess we’ll see. When you say you cut your food in half, does that mean, in half from even what a normal serving size is? I think I would be hungry all the time if I cut normal serving sizes in half. I eat normal serving sizes now – 4 oz meats/proteins, 1/2 – 1 cup veggies, etc. … are these okay amounts?

          • says

            You can do it, Heather! I would suggest concentrating on eating good, quality, whole foods towards better health and not pounds right away – it’s a by-product of eating well. :)

            And to clarify, I cut in half what I had been eating not a ‘normal’ size (normal for whom? everybody’s different – my 5’9″ sister has a different metabolism and can put food away like nobody’s business, at 45 yrs. old at that, and is thin as a rail though she eats very healthy). My whole point was that ‘normal’ doesn’t work: we lose sight of appropriate portions because we live in the US where everything is big and because we compare to other’s portions. Since my weight was going up eating mostly whole foods, it was my portions that were going up and I needed to EAT LESS, not different. I eat 1/2 a grilled sausage now, only 1 piece of pizza, 1/2 a hamburger, 1/2 c. vegetables…and usually by-pass the bread/carb, or eat the smallest taste (and I mean small – a spoonful of rice, etc.). I usually found I was full at the meal – if I wanted more it was because it tasted good – but I might get hungry a couple hours later, when before I’d stuff myself and not need to eat for days.;) A small handful of nuts (about 10) tides me over – and drinking coffee, tea, or water.

            It’s such a freeing way to live – I can eat what type of food I want but I’m in control by eating small amounts…and my body rewards me by staying at it’s lower set point!

  8. Heather says

    I find that I’m full/satisfied at meal times, but like you, get hungry a couple hours later. I usually grab a piece of fruit, raw veggies or almonds with a cup of Oolong tea. I’m finding that this IS a freeing way to live because I can find whole food anywhere, even in restaurants – I just have to mind the portion sizes because you’re right, they’re HUGE! I find that my body doesn’t do well with many carbs … it makes my rear grow LOL I am really enjoying your recipes – for free! – and have printed off all of the ones I can find on your site. when will the e-books be available?

  9. Dawn says

    Thank you for posting pictures of your meals. I’m a visual person and seeing what you eat in a day really helps me understand how you can eat my favorite foods (butter, granola, PB&J, pasta) but, unlike me when I eat them, you stay lean. My portions have been too large. I’m going to invest in some smaller bowls and really watch my portions, because I don’t want to give up these foods (especially your recipe for homemade granola bark….YUM).

  10. cynthia says

    Were you very hungry in the beginning and you had to get used to eating this way? Or were you satisfied right away?

    • says

      Yes, Cynthia, I did (and still do) get hungry though it really depends on what I eat – meals heavier in protein satisfied me longer. That’s why I concentrate on making sure I have protein snacks available in small portions like nuts and homemade protein/granola bites. And lot’s of tea with milk! Feeling hunger is not always a bad thing – it means I’m not overstuffing myself and I’m ready for the next meal. And if I’m just an hour from a mealtime, a glass of water goes a long way to getting me there, too.

  11. francesca says

    Hello Jami,

    I wanted to let you know that I went out a bought a beautiful second hand dinner service today after reading your tips! Because it’s old, it’s much smaller than what I’ve been using and the psychological effect of eating of smaller plates is amazing! I cooked tuna, courgettes, mushrooms and noodles tonight and physically felt much fuller on less than I’d usually cook. Thank you so much for the tips! I have around 20lbs I want to lose and don’t fancy going down the calorie counting route, or going on a diet. I eat healthy food, but my downfall is eating too much of it! And I definitely need to curb my dessert and sweet treats. I think your tips are easy to stick to and make for a lifelong change, I can’t wait to see the weight start to come off!

    • says

      I’m so glad that you’ve found my tips helpful, Francesca! It’s so true and as you get your body used to eating less, it will become easier and you’ll wonder how you were ever able to eat more. :) And counting calories is still about how MUCH you can eat for the least amount of calories, which is why I don’t bother anymore – I don’t want to eat large amounts of anything, no matter how few (or many) calories it has. I’m rooting for you!

      • Francesca says

        Thanks so much! You really look fantastic by the way, as many have said it’s so encouraging to see that your method works. I completely agree about the calorie counting; plus, I have tried various counting apps in the past, and always felt I was tied to it and ended up thinking about food all day, which in turn made me hungrier 😛 I feel if I can still plan the meals I would usually have, but just cut the portions, the only time I’ll be thinking about food is when I’m plating it up!

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