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March 11, 2015 | 3 minute read

The Shocking Truth About Portion Sizes

Since being overweight increases risk for nine cancers (including breast and prostate cancer), maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk. When I’m counseling clients and giving tips to help them lose weight, one thing always seems to surprise people the most: what a true serving size is.

Did you know the serving size of cooked pasta is ½ cup? Most restaurants will dish out close to 2 cups of pasta, the equivalent of 4 servings. We live in such a portion-large environment that we all (including registered dietitians!) tend to have a distorted view of what a serving size is.

Seeing super-sized restaurant portions causes us to have a skewed perception of how much to serve in our own homes, leading to larger portions all around.

Restaurants aren’t the only culprits. The plates we eat off of also make it difficult to “eyeball” a portion—the standard dinner plate (12”) we use today used to be the serving platter for the entire family! No one wants to see lots of empty space on a plate, so using large plates while trying to downsize your portions is very challenging.

Many of my clients are also fearful that decreasing portions won’t be possible because they will feel too hungry. Here’s another thing that often surprises them: with the right types of foods – particularly the combination of protein-rich and fiber-rich foods – they actually do feel satisfied with a smaller portion.

Let’s take the following example. Bagels have gotten so large that they are equivalent to about 4-6 slices of bread. If you were to eat just ¼ of the bagel (the serving size), you probably would feel quite hungry, because a small portion of something made with refined (white) flour won’t be filling. However, if instead you had a whole-wheat English muffin (1 serving, and fiber-rich) with a little peanut butter (protein-rich), you would save calories, decrease portions and feel full for longer.

Here are my tips to downsizing your portions:

  1. Read labels. Look at what the serving-size is.
  2. Measure. Use measuring cups and spoons rather than trying to “eyeball” a portion.
  3. Use smaller plates and bowls. I recommend 7-9” plates.
  4. Eat with small forks and spoons. You’ll take smaller bites and slow down, allowing your body more time to feel full.
  5. Decrease your starch and meat portions to each fill ¼ of your plate, filling the other ½ with non-starchy vegetables. You’ll save calories but have enough food to feel satisfied – plus you get all the added cancer-protective nutrients found in vegetables.
  6. Share restaurant meals. Or, get a to-go box right at the beginning and put half your meal in it.
  7. Buy single serve. You can buy things that are already portioned for you, making it easier. Examples include 100-calorie packs of nuts, individual oatmeal packets or frozen meals (like Kashi®).

The more you practice portion control, the easier it becomes to recognize when servings in restaurants may be too large. And remember, you don’t have to cut back on everything – when it comes to non-starchy vegetables, the more the better!

What strategies help you with portion control?

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