Easy Tricks to Avoid Portion Distortion

By Lisa Young, PhD, RD, CDN

The portion sizes of foods we commonly consume are too big. Look around and just about everything is available in jumbo sizes. Soft drinks, French fries, coffees, steaks, burgers, bagels, muffins, you name it, all have grown in size over time. Indeed, many food portions are now two to five times larger than they were 50 years ago.

Food Portion Sizes Have Steadily Grown Over Time
And Are Now Considered the New Normal

Why are portion sizes such a problem? Large portions are particularly problematic because the more food is placed in front of us, the more we eat. Eating more translates into more calories, and ultimately, into weight gain. And lots of it. It is no surprise that we now have an obesity epidemic around the world.

An extensive review from Bond University found that we eat more if we are served more. The researchers reviewed 88 existing studies on the topic. They found that when people are given a portion twice as big, they will eat around a third more food. That is significant and can lead to considerably higher calorie intake in the course of a day, a week, a year.

Steven Holden, one of the Bond University study’s authors, wrote on his blog: ”In addition to being substantial, the effect is robust, even pernicious. Larger portions lead to greater consumption even across conditions of bad food, where the portion size is not visible, and among people who should know better.”

So, the next time you go out to eat, or even eat at home, how can you not fall victim to this portion size trap? Here are five easy tricks that may help you achieve just that.

Choose the smallest size available
These days, many foods come in multiple sizes. The small size is your best option, and is probably not even small. Consider the smallest Starbucks cappuccino. It is 12 ounces and labeled “tall.” It is not even called “small” – a word often considered taboo in our more-is-better culture. Next time you have a choice of sizes, order a “small” or whatever the smallest size available may be called.

Steer clear of bulk sizes
Many of us like shopping at Costco and other discount stores where just about everything comes in bulk and jumbo sizes. Bigger sizes cost less per unit (or per ounce, which makes them appealing. However, when it comes to food, try avoid such offers whenever you can. If you want to buy paper towels in bulk, no problem. But limit the cookies that come 50 or 100 to a box, or giant muffins in an eight-pack. You and your waistline will be happier.

Mind your plate size
Plate sizes have increased right along with our food sizes and waistlines. Here is how you can use plate size measures to your advantage. Eat your salad (dressing on the side) off of a larger dinner plate, and use a smaller plate for your entrée. This can encourage you to eat more of a lower-calorie healthy salad, and a smaller portion of your main dish, which so often consists of meat and mashed potatoes. Similarly, try using a larger bowl for your fresh berries and a smaller bowl for your breakfast cereal, which most people tend to pile up to high.

Eat with your stomach, not your eyes
You know the expression, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” It certainly applies to how so many of us deal with our portion sizes. People pile on the food, take more than they need, and then they have overeaten. I suggest tuning in to your internal bodily signals and eat until you feel satisfied. Eat slowly and wait before going for seconds or feeling the urge to finish what is on your plate. If necessary, put your fork down between bites.

Fill up on fruits and veggies
Focus on including more healthy fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Because fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories, you can have a larger portion, and the fiber will make you feel full for longer periods of time. This may make it easier to resist the urge to overeat on processed snacks and unhealthy desserts. Also, try including a fruit or vegetable serving with each meal and snack.

Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, CDN is an adjunct professor of nutrition in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University (NYU). She is the author of “The Portion Teller Plan” (Broadway, a Division of Random House, Inc.).

Widely considered an expert on portion sizes, Dr. Young is regularly featured in national publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Self, Fitness, Redbook, and Glamour. She has appeared as an expert guest on national television, including ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, TODAY and CNN, and was featured in the film “Super Size Me.” For more information, please visit http://www.portionteller.com

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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