Portion Distortion (Correct Food Portions)

pHion Balance  |  0 Comment

It’s no wonder that more than two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. According to the National Institutes of Health, we’re piling a lot more food on our plates than we were 20 years ago. In fact, the portions of food you consume at any given meal might be sufficient to feed two or even three people.

Now, before you get huffy and start pointing fingers at the food and beverage industry, take a moment to go to your pantry, pull a can of soup, chili, fruit, vegetables or tuna from the shelf, turn it over, and peruse the “Nutrition Facts” section of the label. Direct your attention to where it says “Serving Size” and “Servings per Container.” If you’re like many people, you’ve just discovered that a can of soup (or whatever) contains enough servings for a couple of meals…maybe more. So, unless you’re illiterate or visually impaired, there’s only so much blame you can heap on the shoulders of the food packagers.

We need to make some important distinctions before we proceed: a serving size is a measured amount of a specific food or beverage — one-half cup, one ounce, 20 pieces, 5 chips, etc. The serving sizes posted on cans, boxes, bags and bottles are extrapolated from an agglomeration of population-based data that estimates the daily caloric needs of healthy, normal-weight people.  In contrast, a portion is the amount of food you choose to eat at any one sitting. A ‘portion’ is the consumer-controlled lever on the calorie mill. Thus, you can limit yourself to the single serving specified on a product’s label, or you can eat a whole can (or bag, or box) containing multiple servings.

It doesn’t require a degree in linear analysis to see that people who consistently consume larger portions (i.e., several servings) are ingesting more calories than they need.

This isn’t to say the food industry isn’t complicit in the “portion distortion” phenomenon. Two decades ago, a bagel was approximately 3 inches in diameter. Today’s bagels are twice that size. Likewise, soft drinks are now available in bigger bottles, modern fast-food burgers contain nearly twice as many calories and restaurant meals arrive on bigger plates — fully occupied, of course. Alas, human physiology hasn’t changed to accommodate this onslaught of calories. In other words, serving sizes haven’t magically increased. And, since most of us are far less active than our predecessors, the larger portions we’re consuming are exposing us to higher caloric intake in the face of decreased caloric expenditure.

From a mathematical viewpoint (though not necessarily a behavioral one) it’s relatively easy to control your portions when you’re consuming prepackaged items: serving sizes are prominently posted on labels, and you just follow directions. It’s a bit more difficult when you’re dining out, because most of us tend to eat whatever we’re served. (This is one compelling reason to prepare your own meals whenever possible.) However, if you assume you’re being served more than you really need — which is a good bet — it’s a simple matter to ask for a doggy bag or cut your sandwich in half, thereby converting your restaurant meal into two or three portions. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll leave some food on your plate.

While your waistline will undoubtedly shrink if you cut back on portion sizes, you might just find your food budget diminishing, too.

Here's to your wellness,


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