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There is no doubt that our portion sizes have grown exponentially over the years, both in the products that we buy in the grocery store and in the size of our meals that restaurants serve. The truth is that portion sizes effect our waistlines! When you compare our serving sizes to two decades ago, it is no surprise that so many people struggle with their weight. Our portion sizes are gargantuous compared to twenty, and especially forty years ago. The calories in our portions have doubled and sometimes tripled.

Take a look at how we’ve super-sized our portions over the past two decades:

We need to get a handle on what a healthy serving size is. Trimming down the size of our portions can also trim down our waistline.


1. USE YOUR PLATE TO DIVIDE AND GUIDE – A simple way of judging how to divide up your macronutrients is to divide your plate into sections. Think of:

  • Half a plate – vegetables and fruit

  • Quarter plate – high quality protein such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, or tofu.

  • Quarter plate – complex carbs such as whole grains or starchy vegetables.

  • Table spoon – fats such as oil, butter, and nut butters.

2. USE YOUR HANDS AS A PORTION GUIDE - Another way to gauge appropriate portion sizes without any measuring tools is by simply using your hands. As your hands usually correspond to your body size, bigger people who require more food typically have bigger hands. A rough guide for portions are:

  • Fist full – equals approximately 1 cup: vegetables - 30 calories (for salads, go for 3 fists!); fruit – 70 calories; carbs such as cereal, rice, or pasta – 200 calories (notice the calorie difference between veggies and pasta – the same size is almost 7 times more calories!)

  • Size of Palm of your hand – equals approximately 3 ounces: this is useful for protein portions such as chicken breast – 130 calories; fish - 90 calories; or beef - 150 calories.

  • Fits in the palm of your hand when it is cupped – equals approximately one ounce: An example for this serving would be healthy fats such as nuts – 170 calories.

  • One thumb-sized portion – equals approximately approximately a tablespoon: use for high-fat foods such as cheese – 100 calories, or peanut butter – 90 calories.

  • Tip of your thumb – equals approximately one teaspoon: use for oils, butter, or mayo – 40 calories; or sugar - 15 calories.

3. EATING OUT – SHARE, DOGGIE-BAG, OR HALF SIZE - Restaurants are notorious for serving large portions. In fact, restaurant serving sizes are, on average 2.5 - 4 times larger than standard portion sizes. Here are a few ideas for dining out to save you the calories and help prevent overeating.

· Share. Split a main course with another person, or divide a main course and an appetizer. You can also share one dessert with your whole table. Four people can easily enjoy a few bites of dessert to fulfill their sweet tooth.

· Doggie bag it. It’s two meals for the price of one! Divide up your meal and only eat half. Take the rest home for lunch or dinner the next day. With those especially tempting meals, you can always ask for the box when your meal arrives and pack up half right away.

· Half Size. Many restaurants are offering half sizes now so it makes choosing the right portion size much easier.

4. USE SMALLER PLATES - Evidence suggests that the size of plates, spoons and glasses can unconsciously influence how much food a person eats. Using large plates can make food appear smaller which often leads to overeating. In one study, people using a large bowl ate 77% more pasta than those using a medium-sized bowl. In another study, nutritional experts served themselves 31% more ice cream when given larger bowls. The interesting thing, is that the people who ate more due to large dishes, were completely unaware of the change in portion size. Therefore, swapping your usual plate, bowl or utensils for a smaller alternative can reduce the helping of food, prevent overeating, and you likely won’t even notice!

5. CONTRAST YOUR PLATE AND FOOD COLOURS - Cornell University did a study and found that the color of your plate may influence how much you eat. They discovered that when a plate and the food on it had a low color-contrast (like pasta with Alfredo sauce on a white plate), people at a buffet served themselves 22% more versus when there was a higher color-contrast (like pasta with red sauce on a white plate, or pasta with Alfredo sauce on a red plate). The conclusion is that if you want to eat less, select plates that have a greater color-contrast to the food you're eating. The flipside works as well, if you want to eat greater quantities of healthy foods, eat your salad from a large green plate or bowl!

6. DON’T EAT FROM THE BAG OR BOX - When you sit down with a bag of chips, do you really know how many you're eating? Researchers found that people ate 50% more chips when they were given no visual cues as to how large a portion should be. Instead of eating snacks from their original packaging, empty them into a small bowl to prevent over-eating. You can also divide the portions ahead of time. If you buy a tin of nuts that with 7 servings, distribute the the nuts into 7 smaller bags.

7. SLOW DOWN! When you take your time and eat slowly it is less likely that you will overeat. It takes your body around 20 minutes to feel full, so slowing down can reduce your total intake. When you eat slowly, you also tend to enjoy your meal more. Taking your time while eating increases enjoyment and decreases portion sizes. Chewing slowly, sipping water throughout your meal, and putting down your fork between bites can also make your meal last longer.

8. START WITH WATER - Drinking a glass of water up to 30 minutes before a meal will make you feel less hungry. When overweight and obese adults drank 17 ounces (500 ml) of water 30 minutes before a meal, they consumed 13% fewer calories without trying to make any changes. Having a glass of water before each meal can prevent overeating and aid portion control. Being well hydrated also helps you distinguish between hunger and thirst.

9. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS - Eating on the go or while you are distracted such as watching TV or playing computer games, boosts your likelihood of overeating. A recent study found that people who watched television or who played computer solitaire tended to eat more food, felt less full, and went on to eat more food later in the day than those who didn't have the same distractions.

10. WEAR FITTED CLOTHING – Ditch the stretchy yoga pant when you eat! Wearing an outfit that is a bit more snug around the stomach area or a jacket with buttons can help you to slow down and assess how you feel during your meal. As your clothing begins to feel a little tighter, it may keep you from going back for seconds.


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