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Our editors put viral portion control hacks to the test, and got some mixed results.

The Editors of Cooking Light
April 23, 2018

One of the biggest struggles for anyone trying to lose or maintain weight is portion control. And, while many of us have the same problem, the number of suggestions solutions out there can be overwhelming. Just do a quick search and you'll find hundreds of hacks and ideas that are supposedly guaranteed to keep you from overdoing it. But how well do they work?

We wanted to find out, so, we brought together some of our editors to test out a few of the most popular portion control hacks out there. Here’s what they had to say.

Distraction Free Dining

The Hack: Put down the phone, turn off your tv, and eat your meal distraction-free.

The Editor: Antara Sinha, Associate Social Media Editor MyRecipes.com

How It Went: It was great—for about five minutes. Then I got the itch to read anything—even the months-old magazines that were sitting at our table—just for some distraction. The second night was awful because I was eating reheated leftovers. Eating unevenly heated pasta is awful enough, but eating it alone and in silence is worse.

I was a little disconcerting by how accustomed I have become to watching Netflix or absent-mindedly scrolling through my phone while eating. I don't think I ate less than I normally do, but I definitely drank more water with my meal, and was more aware of the taste of the food I was eating.

For this "hack" to work, I think it's good to practice it when you have friends or family to eat with. Then you at least have conversation and company. You're definitely more in tune to what you're eating, and are less likely to mindlessly overeat as an excuse to sit through another Netflix episode.

Final Advice: I would definitely recommend this hack, because we're all so plugged in all the time these days. But it definitely works better if you try it out in the company of others, and with food that you're excited about enjoying.

Drink Up First

The Hack: Drink a full glass of water before every meal.

The Editor: Jaime Ritter, Associate Editor Cookinglight.com

How It Went: This was really hard to remember to actually do, because I’m generally terrible about remembering to drink water.

RELATED: How Rubber Bands Can Remind You to Drink More Water

I found that drinking water before eating made me feel more full, but it also made me feel a little sick, like I had too much water in my stomach. I credit this to being so hungry that I chugged the glass of water, instead of slowly sipping it. On the bright side, I didn’t eat as much at mealtime, and the perpetual state of hydration helped me feel more satiated all day.

Final Advice: I would recommend staying hydrated long-term, because it’s good for your overall health. However, chugging a glass of water before every meal feels like a chore and made me feel pretty bloated and gross.

Green Means Go, Red Means Stop

The Hack: Eat all of your meals off of red dishware, because red represents stopping.

The Editor: Chris Michel, Editor Cookinglight.com

How it Went: I was pretty skeptical about the whole red plate thing to begin with, but I gamely borrowed an entire dishware set that was very red, and proceeded to eat the bulk of my meals off of them for the week. I drank coffee out of a red cup, ate soup and cereal out of a red bowl, and made dinners on both large and small red plates. I also used my regular plates for some meals, so I could better compare.

Chris Michel

I more or less cleaned my plate every time I ate. When I make a meal I do my best to include reasonable portions, and I use another hack—a small plate—to keep from overfilling. So one night, the rest of my family used small plates, and I stuffed my large red plate to see if the color slowed me down.

Alas, it did not. I was very full after that meal, and I honestly didn’t remember I was going to try to stop eating all my food until I was nearly finished.

Final Advice: Red works about as well as any other color at helping you portion-control, which is to say not at all. It’s probably better to choose plate colors based on style preference, and just put a proper amount of food on your plate instead.

Write as You Go

The Hack: Keep a food diary.

The Editor: Kaylee Hammonds, Associate Social Media Editor Cookinglight.com

How it Went: I had to keep a food diary once for a nutrition class in college. I definitely lied in it (who wants to admit to a nutrition professor that they ordered in three times in one day), but now, as a tool to try to tackle portion control, I thought: "Yes. I am a sensible grown-up. I will do this and it will help."

So I wrote down everything I ate for three days. Three. Long. Days. Three midweek days where normal life-stressors could come and make me rationalize a starch-laden lunch, followed by a grease-filled dinner.

Recording everything that I ate did help, in that it made me feel shame about what I had eaten retroactively, but in the moment, in the present, I can’t say that it had a measurable effect on my ability to control portions. It did, however, make me take a long look at the patterns of behavior that resulted in my shame-filled entries—and that can’t be bad at all.

Final Advice: If you have more discipline and accountability than I do—then this just may be for you. However, if you're low in the shame department, I wouldn't necessarily point you this direction.

Check the Scales

The Hack: Weigh your food for a week

The Editor: Arielle Weg, Fellow

How it Went: It was definitely hard to remember when to weigh my food, and then also consider what foods should just be measured out compared to actually weighed. If I was cooking without a recipe, this was a major help. I found that my pasta portion was significantly bigger than it should be and my protein portion was also far too large. You can read more of the specifics about What Happened When I Weighed My Food for a Week. 

Final Advice: This wasn’t a life-changing experience for me, but I’ll definitely consider weighing my food in the future.

Your Palm Has the Answers

The Hack: Measure portion sizes with your palm.

The Editor: Grace Guffin, Editorial Assistant Cooking Light and Food & Wine

How it Went: This was difficult because I ate out a lot this week so I ended up not actually putting a lot of the items in my hand. I ate painfully unhealthily this week, but I guess my attempts at portion control helped me feel better about it. It was also really tricky to know what foods should be palm-sized.

My main takeaways were that I think the best way to get the most out of this method is by combining it with other methods of portion control—unless you want to find yourself starving after each meal and eating lots of snacks in between meals. I also would say with this method, I would have to make sure I’m always eating a vegetable, a starch, and a protein in order to really stay full. I think it worked best for me when I combined it with other hacks—eating on a small plate and drinking a full glass of water first.

I found it difficult to measure some of the things I ate this way, because you wouldn’t want to actually hold some wet, marinade, or sticky items in your hand. But I just estimated as best as I could. When I ate out, the portions turned out to be pretty large, so I usually just ended up saving about half of the food for later.

Final Advice: I would definitely recommend this hack to people as a portion control method. I liked that I never felt miserably full after a meal.