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  • Writer's pictureAlex May

Portion Distortion!

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Do you know that the serving sizes listed on food labels isn't necessarily the most healthy portion size? Portions have become "supersized" over the years, thanks to restaurants and unhelpful food labels. A portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time- whether in a restaurant, at home, or from a package. A serving size is the amount of food listed on a product's Nutrition Facts food label.

Different products have different serving sizes, which could be measured in cups, ounces, grams, pieces, slices, or numbers- and can vary greatly by brand. So confusing! A serving size on a food label may be more or less than the amount you actually should eat- depending on your age, weight, sex, and activity level. Depending on how much you chose to eat, your portion size may or mat not match the serving size.


How Do I Know How Much I Should Actually Eat?

Luckily, there are some easy tips to measure what an "actual" portion should be. A good guide is to use your hand- you always have it with you!

Average Sized Fist

This will be the appropriate portion size for fruits & vegetables

(about 1 cup)

One Handful

A good estimate for grains (pasta, oatmeal, rice, etc.) and nuts

(about 1/2 cup or 1oz)

Palm of the Hand

Use this measurement for proteins & meats

(about 3oz)


This is a good guide for nut butters!

(about 2 Tablespoons)

Two Finger Widths

Sorry, cheese lovers, but this is a single portion size of cheese

(about 1 oz)


You will use this guide for oils & other fats

(about 1 tsp)


Tips & Tricks

Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks to help reduce portion sizes

At Home

  • Downsize your plate- a smaller plate will look more full and inviting

  • Package up leftovers immediately so they aren't readily available for second or snacking

  • Focus on your food- distractions such as the TV can lead to grazing and missing satiety cues from your body

  • Don't eat straight from the bag! Separate out a portion size to another container and eat from there

At A Restaurant

  • Split a meal with someone or take half home for later. Go in with the mindset "this should be two meals" as restaurant servings are so large

  • If you have a choice, choose the smaller version (ie half salad vs whole)

  • Stop eating when you're full and focus on your company

  • Ask to have the bread/chip basket removed from the table

  • Order throughout the meal instead of all up front! Chances are your eyes will be bigger than your stomach, so when you order apps, entrees, desserts, and drinks right from the start you will typically order more than if you ordered by course


Speaking personally, I grew up with the "if it's on your plate, you better eat it" mindset that my parents instilled in me. I remember a science camp I went to where we encouraged to not waste food and to eat every single thing on our plate, or it would go into a special bucket to be weighed at the end of the week. While I believe our parents and those not wanting to waste food had/have the best of intentions, it has led to a culture of overeating in a lot of ways. And it took me a long time to learn that eating for the sake of eating isn't necessarily the best bet.

Remember you DON'T have to eat all the food on your plate! Some ways to combat this to make our moms and environmentalists happy are to start with a smaller portion to begin with, and learn to love leftovers! Food left on the plate doesn't need to go right in the trash, it can be saved for leftovers or even repurposed into new meals!

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