Trying to lose weight? Want to get rid of that gut?

Forget about all of those fad diets that severely restrict the number of calories or types of food you can consume. Studies have shown over and over again that they are ineffective in the long-term because not only will you gain back the weight you lost, but you'll probably pack on a few more pounds than you started out with.

When trying to lose or maintain your weight, no foods are forbidden so long as you practice portion control and exercise regularly. You see, portion control is the key to weight loss. It is important to enjoy a variety of foods. When you eliminate certain types of food completely, they become more tempting, which may push you to binge on them given the opportunity.

Portion Sizes Are Growing

Unfortunately, portion sizes have been growing steadily in North America over the past 30 years, which can make it very difficult to figure out what an acceptable portion really looks like.

While an average bagel weighed two to three ounces and contained 230 calories in the 1970s, it is now twice as large and contains about 550 calories. In the '70s, a serving of fries consisted of about 30 fries and 450 calories. Today, you get 50 fries and with them, a whopping 790 calories.

If you're wondering how you're supposed to eat normal portions of food in a world of super and mega sizes, don't despair; the following are some visual aids and tips to help you control your portions at home and when dining out.

However, keep in mind that these are basic guidelines. Since adequate portions vary from person to person, you may have to eat more if you're a big guy or if you find that you're still extremely hungry after eating the recommended amounts of food.

Give Yourself a Hand

4 ounces of cooked meat = palm of the hand

The palm of your hand can be used as a visual aid to determine an adequate portion of meat. The thickness of your palm must also be considered. As mentioned, correct portion sizes vary from person to person depending on such factors as level of activity, height, age, and muscle mass. However, since a man's hands are generally proportional to his size, the average man can use his palm as a point of reference.

Home Portion Control

Don't pack the table

Don't put too much food on your plate. You should begin by helping yourself to the amount you need to eat, keeping in mind that you can always go back for more. In order to simplify this task, don't put an overabundance of food on the table. If the recipe serves four but only two people are eating, store the extra portions immediately. In particular, avoid putting too many plates with different types of food on the table. If you "dig in" to a bunch of different foods, European style, you're much less likely to be aware of how much you're eating.

Cut portions in half

If your usual portions are too large, cut them in half. For example, if you usually have a huge sandwich for lunch, eat half of it and wait a few minutes. You may find that by allowing yourself time to feel satiated, you won't even be hungry enough for the second half.

Slow down

Always try to eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for the signal indicating that you're full to go from your stomach to your brain. By slowing down your pace, you'll avoid overeating.

Start cleaning

When you're finished, clear the table immediately. If the food is out of your sight, you won't help yourself to "seconds" that you're probably not hungry enough to eat anyway.

Put some junk in a bowl

Minimize the amount of junk food you eat. In other words, don't eat from an open bag of chips. Measure low-fat snack foods such as pretzels and popcorn into serving sizes before you dump them into bigger bowls when you're entertaining. You'll then be able to "eyeball" portion sizes and know when you're eating too much.

More meals, smaller plates

Eat five small meals a day instead of three big ones. You won't be as hungry at each meal and will be less likely to overeat. Plus, your body will metabolize the smaller meals more easily, which means that you'll burn more calories and lose more weight.

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Restaurant Portion Control

On the side

Ask for dressings, sauces and toppings on the side. You'll then be able to measure an appropriate amount.

Ask about portion sizes

Ask about portion sizes when ordering. Don't be afraid to ask the waiter how many ounces the steak is or how many eggs are in the omelet. If the portion is too big, ask if the chef can make it smaller. If not, split it with a friend or immediately put part of your meal aside and take it home with you. Keep in mind that you don't have to eat everything on your plate. Don't forget to eat slowly and use your willpower.

Bigger isn't always better

Don't "super-size" in fast-food restaurants. Since the portions are already huge, resist getting a bigger size even if it's a better deal. Also, keep in mind that fast food is made up of "empty calories." You'll consume a lot of them and still be hungry a short time later.

No more all-you-can-eats

Don't overeat at buffets. It's much harder to practice portion control when it's "all-you-can-eat." Avoid them altogether if you don't think you have the willpower to limit the amount of food you eat.

Other Visual Aids

Here are a few other visual aids you can use to determine appropriate portions of common foods:

· A medium potato should be the size of a computer mouse.

· An average bagel should be the size of a hockey puck.

· Three ounces of fish is the size of an eyeglass case.

· One ounce of cheese should be the size of two dominoes.

· One cup of pasta is the size of a baseball.

· 1 teaspoon of peanut butter or cream cheese is equal to the size of your girlfriend's lipstick cap.

· 1 teaspoon of salad dressing is the size of a half-dollar.

· 1 ounce of chocolate is equal to a pack of dental floss.

· 1 ounce of snack food (such as pretzels) equals one large handful.

It's All About Moderation

It's not what you eat so much as how much you eat. Allow yourself to have dessert or chips every so often if you crave them. Simply keep in mind what a portion of each one of these foods looks like in order to avoid overeating.

If you don't put it on your plate, you won't eat it and you won't have to worry about losing it later. And don't forget to exercise regularly — you want to keep the ladies coming, don't you?