Portion Control for Better Diabetes Management

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Taking control of the portions of food you eat is a key strategy for controlling your diabetes. Portion control can help you lose weight or limit the intake of food that’s bad for you. Watching and limiting what you eat is especially important if you take a non-insulin injectable, but everyone with diabetes can make use of portion control.

The two main keys

Knowing and controlling the portions of the food that you eat is essential both for managing your blood glucose and for managing your weight. Because high glucose can lead to diabetes complications, you need to know and limit which foods raise your blood glucose the most. And it’s only when you know and limit the total amount of what you eat that you can you bring your weight to the right level.

The importance of portion control for people taking a non-insulin injectable

Diabetes drugs called non-insulin injectables help people who take them to reduce their blood glucose levels. A positive side effect is that they typically lead to weight loss. But clinical studies show that they help significantly only when you consciously change what and how much you eat.

What kinds of foods raise your glucose the most?

Studies show that starchy foods like potatoes and grains have the greatest effect on your blood glucose level. Sugar also makes your level rise. Fiber, which like starch and sugar is a type of carbohydrate, has less of an effect. Then comes protein, which has a minimal effect, and finally fats and oils, which have no effect on your level.

How much food leads to weight gain?

You gain weight when you eat more food than you need. While this depends on many factors including your height, age, gender, and activity level, the one constant is eating too many calories per day. So the answer for you is simple: if your weight is going up, that’s too many calories.

How many grams of carbohydrate are too many?

A very low-carb diet will keep your blood glucose down to a healthy level. In the book Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, the diabetes doctor recommends no more than six grams of total carbohydrate for breakfast and no more than 12 grams each for lunch and dinner.

The tools for success

You need a meter to regularly check your glucose after you eat. You will also need a nutrition scale to weigh your portion. An online nutrition calculator can help you see how many grams of calories and carbohydrates are in a portion. Be sure to use the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods, including what it calls the serving size. Next is a digital personal scale, which shows your precise weight – be sure to check your weight every day to keep you motivated.

Mindless eating

When we don’t pay full attention to eating, we overeat. I used to eat at my desk while catching up on my email or checking a website or sometimes standing at the kitchen sink to grab a quick bit directly from a package. Now I sit at a table in silence. If you eat with others, let them talk while you concentrate on your meal.

Get the doggie bag first

When you eat out, ask for a go-to box (formerly called a doggie bag) before you start eating. If the portion or the plate looks big, ask for the bag as soon as the food comes. Studies show that we value things that we own more than what we don’t have, so you are more likely to ask for the bag before you start your meal. You don’t yet feel that you “own it,” so you are more willing to part with it then.

Skip the fattening portions

When you place your order at any restaurant, ask the waitperson to skip the bread and the potato or rice starch in the entrée. Those portions fill you up with too many carbs that are mostly empty calories. I always ask for and almost always get a bowl of fruit or cottage cheese and a double portion of veggies as more nourishing substitutes for the bread and the entrée’s starch.

Use a helpful illusion

“People could try using the size of their bowls and possibly serving spoons to help them better control how much they consume,” according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Smaller bowls and spoons could help people with portion control and eventually, weight loss. Even nutrition experts served themselves 31 percent more when got a larger bowl, and they weren’t aware of it.

Buy smaller packages

When you shop for packaged food, buy it in smaller packages when you can. I know that when I switched to smaller containers of yogurt, I ate less and was just as happy. A study in the journal Obesity gives research support to my experience.

Slow down, you eat too fast

Three University of Rhode Island researchers compared how much people ate when they gobbled down their food and when they savored their meal, reporting their findings in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They concluded that they ate smaller portions of food “when the meal was eaten slowly, and satiety was higher at meal completion.” Try putting down your fork or spoon until you finish each bite to eat slower.

Control your cravings

Portion control is one of the first steps in managing cravings. Dr. Joyce Nash, a clinical psychologist, told me that anxiety often causes them. She says that chocolate is the most common craving, but mine is cheese and milk. Dr. Nash suggested that I just don’t bring them home. So, this is one tactic to use – keep your go-to snacks you end up craving out of sight, so they stay out of mind.

Considerably smaller snacks can be just as satisfying

A quarter of an hour after eating a small snack, people in a study reported feeling just as satisfied as those who ate a larger snack. Those in the larger portion group ate 77 percent more calories than those in the smaller portion group. If you just distract yourself for fifteen minutes, you can eat only one-fourth as much.

Eat mindfully and share your goals

When you eat mindfully, you are less likely to eat too much food. When you set your eating goals and tell your friends about them, and when you record what you eat, you also make your chance of success much greater. Using these portion control tips will help you manage both your weight and blood glucose, two keys to much better health.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.