Get Portion Sizes Under Control

by Sue Ridgeway
Portion sizes have become huge! Over the last couple of decades the portion sizes of everything from pasta to hamburgers to bagels have doubled (sometimes tripled!) in size. And countless studies have shown that the bigger the portion size, the more we tend eat. We need to stop. The problem: We can’t control our portions if we don’t know what a proper portion size is.

A Little Background on the Growth (pun intended) of Portion Sizes

Researchers found that portion sizes have grown over the past 20 years, not only at restaurants, but in our homes as well. But why have portions gotten so big? And more importantly, why has our perception of what a “normal” portion size of a food changed so drastically? One word: Economics.
Producing food is cheaper now than it was 20 years ago, with the advent of various technologies and more efficient farming. However, instead of lowering prices, food producers realized that if they increased the portion sizes, even a little, they could increase the cost of the item. Even if it didn’t necessarily cost them more to produce, in fact, especially if it didn’t cost them more to produce. (Since the expenses on marketing, design and labor increased only marginally.) We as consumers saw the larger sizes as a better value (which it is, purely from a monetary stand point). So for example, we were getting 50% more product for only 16% more money. Hard to resist, isn’t it?
Over time we, as consumers, have been conditioned to seek out “value sizing,” getting more food for the dollar. Oversized portions begin to look normal to us. And to make the vicious cycle complete, research has shown that whether you really want so much food or not, the more you’re served, the more you eat.
So…what to do?

Get Portion Sizes Under Control!

The first step to control overeating is to recognize how much you are actually consuming. It’s important to understand that portion sizes are different than serving sizes.
Portion size = amount of food you decide to put on your plate to eat
Serving size = standards set by the USDA for foods in the all the food groups
In other words, to get control over your portions, you need to make sure you know exactly how many servings you are consuming at a time. Ideally, your portion size would equal just one serving. But if it doesn’t, you need to account for the calories accordingly.
Breads, cereals, pasta, grainsOne serving: 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal; or 1 ounce of cold cereal.
One serving: 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables.
One serving: 1 cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit.
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
One serving: 1 cup of milk, 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese, and even 1.5 cups of ice cream.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
One serving or ounce equivalent: 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; 1/4 cup dried beans, after cooking; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds.
After awhile this will come second nature to you. You’ll instantly know that the portion of nuts you just grabbed is two servings, or that piece of fish you ordered in the restaurant is a 3-oz serving. That ability, to “eye ball” your portions will come to you over time.
In the meantime…

Tips to help keep Portions under Control

  • Start adjusting your portion sizes in your own kitchen: switch to smaller plates, bowls, and cups.
  • Use measuring cups/spoons and a food scale, if you have one, to get an idea for how much you are eating and to learn what is appropriate.
  • Remember to use high fiber, low calorie foods like fruits and vegetables to add more volume to meal to keep you full.
  • Keep a food journal. Having to record everything you eat will help you pay close attention to how much of an item you are consuming.

The Key

The key to maintaining a healthy weight is all about portion control. It’s not about giving up foods you enjoy, but rather controlling the portions.

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