Portion (Out of) Control

We’ve all heard the old adage that bigger is better. Over the last 40 years or so, it seems the American public has applied this to just about everything. A bigger car is better. A bigger house is better. A bigger job is better. But, there’s one thing that has ballooned over the years and the increase is definitely not for the better. It’s portion sizes. As portion sizes have gotten bigger our waistlines have too. There is a direct correlation between the increase in portion sizes and the rate of obesity in this country.

Just a quick peek at social media will show you the evidence. Foodies post pics of plates overflowing with food. Steaks the size of your head. Wine glasses that look more like decanters. Even health blogs will show a giant sized smoothie that’s big enough for three. It seems that across the board, whether we’re talking about fast food or health food, our measures of what makes a portion are entirely off.


Based on research, our activity levels have not changed much over the last 40 years, but our dietary intake certainly has. While it’s impossible to calculate a precise number, research points to average American eating 300-500 more calories each day. So, what can you do to be sure you’ve got your portion sizes right?

I think this graphic provides excellent guidelines to follow. When you see what a serving of food is supposed to look like, how does it compare to how much you actually eat. I’ll admit even as a health professional, my sizes on some things were off.

If you’re looking at this and thinking you’re going to be starving for the rest of your life, there’s good news. And that is, if you recalibrate your portion sizes your appetite will adjust quickly because the truth is, your body doesn’t need all that food. I read a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that showed that people who were exposed to smaller food portions over a period of time showed a tendency to feel satisfied from smaller portions just one week into the study.

Here are some tips to help you reset your portion meter.

  • When eating out, ask for a to-go box and take half of your meal home. Trust me, you’ll still have plenty of food.
  • Cook and eat the majority of your meals at home. By cooking, I’m not talking about popping a processed meal in the microwave. I mean use real ingredients to make the food yourself. That way you know exactly what you’re eating.  
  • Serve your food on smaller plates. There’s such a strong connection between what your eyes see and what your brain thinks. This is an easy way to trick your brain to think you’re eating more.
  • When eating at home, try to buy fresh, local produce in season. Stay away from processed foods as much as possible.
  • When plating your food, make half of the plate veggies and salad. The other half should be split into 2/3 protein, and 1/3 carbs. The starchy carb items should be the smallest part of your plate.
  • When you’re eating, just eat! You’re likely to eat more than you need if you’re also watching tv, on your phone or reading a book.
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