It didn’t dawn on me that my portions might be a problem until I started reading and thinking about “auto pilot.” Because so many of the decisions that we make each day are instinctive—meaning we don’t actually think-weigh options-choose before we act—many of the decisions surrounding the food we eat are made long before we even take our first bite. In many cases, it happens so fast that we don’t even think about it until after the food’s gone.

The speed of the transaction is part of the goal, too—both for the people selling you unhealthy food, and for your brain. Manufacturers of cheap processed food want you to hurry up and order, buy, and devour before you have a chance to second guess your choice. Your brain wants to constantly feed you things that have a track record of filling you up, leaving you satisfied, and making you happy. Your brain’s not wrong for wanting this, you just also know that the choices your autopilot is leading you toward are causing you to gain weight, which is something you don’t want.

That’s why you need to find ways to both retrain your brain and give yourself the time and space to make better choices…and this starts with your portion sizes. Yes, that familiar phrase…”portion control.”

Portion control is easy…until it isn’t. It’s easy to think “oh, I’ll use a smaller plate!” and “I won’t eat out of the bag anymore!” until, well, you’ve eaten your dinner on a child’s plate and not only are you starving, but you’re annoyed, too. You know whose dinner belongs on a child’s plate, sis?

Who, sis?

A child, sis. Not us. Not. Us.

There’s just gotta be a better way, right? Absolutely. Let’s talk about it.

1) Don’t just portion control your entire plate—be mindful about your sides, too. It’s one thing to think about portion control as being a manner of controlling the entire dinner plate. It’s another thing entirely to think about being careful with how you portion out the pieces of your plate.

Let’s face it. Some of the things we like to eat, though they’re tasty and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, aren’t especially filling. We want to fill our plate with things that will give us the best “full feeling” we can get for the amount of calories we’re aiming to consume, and that means thinking about what we put in that plate, regardless of its size.

Think about your average dinner. No matter what it is, think of last night’s dinner. How much of it was protein? How much healthy dietary fat was in it? Could you have reduced the amount of carbs in it?

By all means, shrink your plate! But also shrink the portions of that meal that you know to be less filling, in favor of increasing portions of the ingredients that you know to be more filling. Before you know it, you’ll be eating less, but feeling much better.

2) Sometimes, a simple switch makes a world of difference. Switching from whites to whole wheat helps you achieve the goal in the first point. White pastas, breads, and rices have had the protein and fiber removed—this is why they’re white instead of brown, because the protein part was brown!—which results in them hitting your blood stream super fast and giving you a sugar rush, ultimately causing you to crave more of them and then…eat more. A simple switch can help you cut that vicious cycle. Before you know it, again, you’re eating less, lessening the hold sugar has on you, and feeling a hell of a lot better about it.

3) If you can’t feel satisfied after eating a respectable sized amount of it… don’t buy it. Sometimes, the things we buy out of habit, we also wind up gorging on… out of habit. And, honestly, it’s not entirely our fault. If we eat to be filled, and buy things to eat that taste good to us…things that often have large quantities of sugar, then yes, we should expect to find ourselves not only overeating, but overeating out of habit.

The most glaringly obvious example of this is breakfast cereal. Ain’t nobody getting full off of one serving size of Fruity Pebbles, fam. And you know it.

Though you might love them, they’re not doing you any favors. Swap out your breakfast cereal for something more savory, like steel cut oats or fruit and Greek yogurt. (Greek yogurt with flax seed and honey is a personal favorite of mine.)

4) Don’t keep leftovers. I know, I know, many of us cook extras to set aside for lunch the next day. If you’re one of those, put your leftovers in the freezer under a few things. But the rest of you? Cook less, buy less, and, ultimately, eat less. The premise behind this is simple—if it’s not in the house, if it’s not available to you, the perhaps you’ll opt to skip seconds.

If that’s not an option—and trust me, in many houses, my own included, this is the case—then skip seconds and go for a piece of fruit, instead. Or, take a walk, take a shower, do something to distract you from the craving you might’ve had. Before long, you’ll be in bed realizing that you avoided that extra helping without feeling tortured about it.

5) Be realistic about your food needs. Sometimes, the desire to overeat at one meal has to do with what you ate at the previous one. Portion control is easiest, without a doubt, when you’re not making your decisions based on a compulsion due to a feeling of “OMG I’M STARVING” which almost always turns into “I NEED TO EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT.” If you realize that you’re dying by dinner time, change up what you eat for lunch, or find a way to incorporate a meal between lunch and dinner. (Linner? Dunch?)

Making sure that each meal can help sustain you to the next helps you make more mindful choices instead of “desperate” ones, resulting in less torture, more satisfaction, and all while cutting down on how much you need to eat!

What did I miss? What are your favorite tips for managing your portions?