No doubt you’ve heard this advice before: To keep your portion control in check, simply split whatever you’d usually eat in half. It makes sense in theory—you lose weight if you eat less—but is eating half of your usual really the right way to go about it?
It’s not a bad idea, says certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CEO of NY Nutrition Group. "'Portion distortion' is one of the leading causes behind weight gain and obesity," she says. "Whether it's not understanding what a correct portion is or knowing what it is but not being able to control it, overeating is huge issue."
Eating out makes it tough to watch your portions, too, since restaurant meals can easily be twice or even three times the size of what you actually need to eat, she says. "Considering at least 50 percent of the population dines out more than once a week, it's fair to say that most of us don't do so well with eating correct portion sizes," she says.
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Registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees, noting that if you see food on your plate, you’re going to want to eat it all. It doesn't matter whether it’s an oversized portion or smaller-sized meal.
So splitting your meals in half is a good way to keep yourself in check, especially if you eat out a lot, Moskovitz says. But it’s even more important to focus on the quality of your food, not just the quantity. Here’s why: Eating half a muffin is better than eating a whole one, but eating half a muffin still doesn't provide enough nutrients for your body, she explains. Eating smaller portions will help cut calories and likely lead to weight loss, but if you're not getting enough veggies, fruit, lean meat, and whole grains, splitting your meal in half will just leave you undernourished and hungry, Moskovitz says. (Torch fat, get fit, and look and feel great with Women's Health's All in 18 DVD!)
To keep your calories in check while still making sure you're nourishing your body, load up half of your plate with vegetables. "This will naturally cut down your portions of carbs and fats, slashing calories," she says.
She also suggests drinking at least one glass of water before every meal to help you feel fuller faster and ensure you’re not confusing thirst for hunger, which is a common issue.
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When you eat out, Angelone recommends sharing an entrée with someone and getting yourself a side of veggies. "Most people don’t eat enough portions of vegetables and fruits, so no need to share that dish," she says. It’s also a good idea to check in with yourself while you're eating, Angelone says. When you don't feel hungry anymore, stop eating.
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Eating more slowly and using a smaller plate to give off the illusion of having more food can help, too, Moskovitz says. Finally, make sure you're not going more than four hours without eating to help regulate your appetite and prevent overeating later on, she says.
The bottom line: If you find that you always leave restaurant meals feeling like you totally overdid it, try the half-portion trick. Otherwise, it's worth trying the experts' other tricks.