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Is portion distortion out of control or managable?

ANDREWS AFB, Md. -- Portion sizes for foods have increased significantly over the past two decades. 

More than 66 percent of Americans are now considered overweight or obese. Not only do consumers want to get "their money's worth" in fast food establishments, but larger portions have also become the norm at home. If people look around, it seems other things are growing too. Dinner plates have grown by two inches, foods ordered in restaurants are often served on platters, and even automobiles now have large cup holders for super-sized soft drinks. 

Studies show that people will consume more calories when served larger portions. By eating just an extra 100 more calories per day than you expend, you can expect to increase your weight by 10 pounds a month. Along with an increase in pounds, comes an increased risk for weight-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Larger portion sizes contribute to obesity not only by providing more calories or by encouraging people to consume more, but also because people have difficulty assessing the amount they are eating. 

Navigating in the land of the BIG and PLENTY can be tough because we eat for many more reasons than because we are hungry. Food is now available 24/7. Get in your car and a hot meal can be found for a few bucks, just a "drive through" away. However, it is possible to eat your favorite foods and still manage your weight or improve your health. An increase in awareness is always the first step in making any behavior change. The fol <<01/EasterBunny.jpg>> lowing tips can help you increase your awareness so you can practice portion control: 

1. Learn how portion sizes have changed over the years. 

The growth in portion sizes isn't limited to what's served in a restaurant. Portion sizes of prepackaged convenience foods, snack foods, and even soft drinks in vending machines have grown so much that single serving sizes have become difficult to find. To become portion "savvy" and see just how portions have changed over the last 20 years, log onto the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's Web site at http://hin.
nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/ and review the Portion Distortion Quiz. 

2. Learn what the right amount to eat is. 

Measuring and weighing food is the most accurate way to assess portion sizes. However, it's not always realistic, particularly when eating out. Learning how to estimate portions through household items can be helpful. For instance, a 3 ounce serving of cooked meat is the size of a deck of cards. A cup of cooked pasta, cereal or vegetables is the size of an outstretched palm. A typical serving of fruit is equal to a tennis ball. A serving of oil is about the size of the tip of your thumb. More information and even a handy serving size wallet card can be found at http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/servingcard7.pdf 

3. Learn how to control your environment. 

Finding out what "triggers" you to eat more than you wanted to is a good way to make behavioral changes to minimize this effect. Eating out of a large bag or container will often cause you to eat more. Try dividing the contents of one large container into smaller packages to help limit over-consumption. Make your home or office more "portion friendly" by removing easy access to food. Try replacing the candy dish with a fruit basket. Move more tempting foods like cookies and ice cream to the back of the cabinet or freezer. 

The bottom line is there is no such thing as a "good" or "bad" food. Learning to manage the portion distortion trap is more a matter of learning how to balance larger portions with less calories or more activity later in the day.