6 Portion-Control Tips for Big Dinners

Overeating is less healthy and more expensive, but whether it is a dinner at home or with friends, I tend to struggle with portion control. I’m talking seconds and thirds with dinner and dessert, then midnight snacks as I clean the dishes. And if I am at a dinner party, these servings are usually a follow up to a mountain of charcuterie. It’s gluttonous, and it makes me feel bad. Needless to say, I am out of control when it comes to eating big dinners.

I think that my problem is that I don’t do well with the option to get more. When I eat alone for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I am very good at only preparing, or buying, a healthy portion of food. I never have an option for seconds or thirds, and I almost never prepare or buy dessert. However at dinner with my partner or with friends, there’s usually copious amounts of food that allow for seconds and thirds, and because I never usually have to fight that temptation, I almost always overeat and finish the meal unable to comfortably sit still. In the past, when I was a teenager, it would not have been uncommon for me to eat so much that I would need to lay down…

Although I am not that bad of an overeater anymore, I still have plenty of room for improvement, and here is how I plan to do it.

Eat Slow Like A Sloth

Once we start eating, it can take up to 20 minutes for the brain to register that the body is full, and as a result, we should eat slower so that we don’t accidentally overeat before our brain has a chance to slow us down. 

This brain-belly lag is an obvious reason to eat slower, but it’s not the only reason. 

In 2015, a study showed that the group of adults who ate soup slowly reported feeling fuller than another comparable group of adults who ate quickly. Perhaps the length of time we eat also helps the brain measure how full it feels? Maybe it isn’t just cues from our gut that tells us we’re full, maybe our eyes and our sense of time spent eating affect our perceived fullness as well? 

Whatever the reasons, scientists are still not fully sure why, eating slowly helps us eat less, feel more full from a comparable amount of food, and if we do it often enough, it gives us a higher probability of having a lower body mass index. 

To try to eat slower, I am going to:

  • Chew more ( maybe even count my chews )
  • Frequently put my utensils down while I eat
  • Breathe a few times between bites
  • Eat more fiber ( it takes a long time to chew )
  • Eat with chopsticks
  • Take smaller bites
  • Avoid distractions ( less TV and Social Media while eating; more on this below)
  • Eat mindfully ( think about my bites and savor the flavor; more on this below )

To learn more about the benefits of eating slowly, check out this article by Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS.

“ The benefits of slow eating include better digestion, better hydration, easier weight loss or maintenance, and greater satisfaction with our meals. Meanwhile, eating quickly leads to poor digestion, increased weight gain, and lower satisfaction. The message is clear: Slow down your eating and enjoy improved health and well-being.”

Avoid Distractions While You Eat ( Less TV And Social Media )


One of the benefits discussed above about eating slowly was that it helps us feel more full than if we ate the same amount of food quickly. Also, as discussed above, this phenomenon may, in part, be caused by a mechanism in our brain that signals how much it’s eaten based on how much time it has spent focusing on the act of eating. Feeling full is not just a signal that our brain receives from our stomach, there’s more to it than that.

As a result of our brain’s perception of time spent eating playing a role in how much we eat and how full we feel, you can start to see why distracted eating gets such a bad rap.

But don’t just take my word for it, this 2013 review of 24 studies concluded much the same; distracted eating seems to cause a moderate increase in the amount eaten in a meal, and an even greater increase in the amount that people ate later that day. In other words, distracted eating makes you eat more in a sitting, and it makes you think that you ate less.

To pull this back to this article about my portion control problem at big dinners, I’ve come up with the following.

  • Eat less in front of the TV when I am with my partner; I can watch TV afterward.
  • Talk more about the food that I am eating. ( Dinner parties or at Home )
  • Remember my tips for eating slower
  • Remember to be mindful when I eat ( think about every bite and savor the flavor; more on this below )

Eat Mindfully


Mindfulness is defined as ” a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

To mindfully eat, you must do the above while you eat.

A 2014 review of 21 studies discovered that 18 of the studies found that mindful eating helped to decrease binge and emotional eating.

Also, as discussed above, paying attention to your food helps you eat less and feel more satisfied with what you eat. Seeing as mindfulness is a way of paying attention, it should help you eat less and feel more full.

Limit Alcohol


When trying to eat less at big dinners, limiting alcohol is a good way to avoid a surprising amount of empty calories. ( calories that cause weight gain without any nutrition )

What’s more, scientists have found that alcohol causes hunger and eating. A 2017 study even found that alcohol stimulates parts of the brain that are associated with starvation.

Tips to Avoid Alcohol:

  • Drink Coffee: Coffee taste horrible with most types of alcohol, and barring any cream or sugar, it has no calories.
  • Drink Kombucha, flavored carbonated water, or regular carbonated water: Most of us drink alcohol because it taste fun! So, try to find something fun to drink instead. If it is calorie free, that is ideal, but as long as it doesn’t have ethanol, you should be free from the infamous alcohol induced face stuffing, and that’s the important part.
  • Drink Tea: If there is no decaff coffee, or if you prefer tea, drink some tea with dinner.

Make A Plate And Eat Intentionally

When I eat appetizers at a dinner party, I usually pick at them intermittently as I wait for dinner. For example, with a pre-dinner charcuterie board, I often prepare myself a cracker with cheese and hot pepper jelly once or twice a minute. In a thirty-minute wait, that can add up to hundreds of calories.

Similarly, when I eat take-out at home, I sometimes have several take-out boxes in front of me and it can be really hard to know how much I eat.

In both cases, I can be more intentional about how much I eat by making myself a plate before I start eating. Some may even recommend that I use a small plate so that it looks like a lot more food than it is. This small-plate technique is good for me with appetizers, but my main dish needs to be at least one big plate or I will feel quite unsatisfied.

Another best practice is to leave the food out of hands’ reach after I make my plate. If I’m too close to the appetizers or take-out boxes, food will slide onto my plate. No getting around it, I need space from my food; which reminds me of another good piece of advice; don’t eat standing in the fridge.

Desert Palate Cleansers


The second something sweet touches my lips, I lose control. I’m like a shark that smells blood. The only thing that helps is cleansing my palate after a serving of dessert.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Go to washroom and rinse your mouth ( extreme )
  • Drink some carbonated or normal water
  • Listerine patch or gum
  • Swish water, tea, alcohol or w/e else you have around in your mouth


I hope this guide helps you control your portions at big meals. Thus far, it’s worked pretty well for me.

If you have any other tips, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below. Thanks in advance 🙂

All the best,

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