Eating Healthy

Portion Distortion: Why It’s A Big(ger) Deal

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By Patricia Jurek, RD, MBA

History has brought us countless advancements in science, technology and social progress. But one thing we didn’t count on? How much more we’d be eating!

Serving size has skyrocketed over the years, and for those counting calories (and even those who aren’t), that can spell trouble.

But don’t worry, awareness is half the battle, and there are some steps you can take to prevent this eating excess. First, let’s take a glimpse at where we were, and how far we (haven’t) come.

History of Food Portions
One needn’t look any further to find evidence of portion distortion than the serving sizes of cookbooks like classic The Joy Of Cooking, first printed in the 1930s. In fact, since the 1970s, portions of food in all categories except loaves of bread have increased:

  • Bagels used to be 3 inches in diameter, now they’re 6 on average.
  • A cheeseburger, fries and a drink used to come in a 640-calorie size, now they’re closer to 1,450.
  • In the 1960s, a 16-oz. Porterhouse steak fed a family of six, now one serving size (for one person) is a whopping 1,400 calories.
  • Popcorn used to satisfy moviegoers with a 270-calorie sized tub. Now, a 600-calorie tub is standard. And that’s not even the large!

What Causes Food Portion Problems?
So what’s contributing to today’s issue with oversized portions? Meet the culprits:

  • Drinks. This may be hard to swallow for some, but beverages are huge culprits in this portion distortion game. Whereas sodas used to be most readily available in 7-oz. sizes, now it’s not uncommon to see 42 ounces on the label. And the only thing worse than bloated portions are bloated portions of sugary foods and drink.
  • Convenience is king. On-the-go lifestyles, cheap eats and no time to sit down for a proper square meal have contributed to the super size-ification of fast food companies. And subsequently, our waistlines.
  • Electronics. Technology, devices and a life perpetually plugged in have lead to a more sedentary lifestyle for Americans, and our youth in particular.
  • Fat content. This decrease in activity level, coupled with more high fat foods in our diet, has helped create the perfect storm for obesity. That’s why it’s so important to start by educating children as to healthy practices. It’s never too soon to instill good habits.

How to Control Portion Size

  • Start with your plate. Your mealtime dish should look like this: ½ of the plate should be vegetables (as your main food source), ¼ should consist of grains, and ¼ should consist of protein. The protein serving should also not exceed the size of your palm. And speaking of plates, use smaller ones. Eating your meals from a salad-sized dish instead of a large platter will help keep things in proportion.
  • Read labels. Not just to learn the nutrition information, but also to see the portion size. If it seems small, and the fat/calories/sodium seem high, find an alternative that’s a better fit.
  • More is better (for drinking water, that is). Gulping a glass or two at least 20 minutes before sitting down for a meal will help your body be able to determine if it’s really hungry, or just dehydrated. Hunger and thirst pangs tend to feel the same.
  • Write it down. As in, your weight. On a piece of paper. Once a week. If you start to see it growing month to month, you might want to keep track of what you’re putting on your plate.

For more tips on healthy eating, check out our EatWell section and subscribe for weekly emails of our latest posts.