Skip to main content

How Portion Distortion Is Sabotaging Your Nutrition

You’re not paranoid! They really are out to get you!
It’s not your imagination but a known fact that the portions of food you’re getting have been getting larger for the past 20 years.
Portion Distortion
Watching portion sizes is an important part of healthy nutrition When you’re served bigger portions, you tend to naturally eat more. Afterall, didn’t your parents always tell you to clean up your plate?!

While we all occasionally overindulge, doing so becomes a problem when you habitually override your internal fullness cues by eating more than you need to sustain your body. Sure, you aren’t likely to exceed your recommended calorie intake and gain several pounds if you consume one too many portions of lettuce. But getting the right portion size of other types of food plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy, balanced diet..

One way to ensure that you’re eating the appropriate portion size is with measuring devices. This includes using measuring cups or a food scale when preparing your snack or meal. Another option is simply to use your hand.

Why Is a Hand Size Portion Guide Helpful?
The great thing about using your hand to determine portion sizes is that it is always with you. If you’re eating out, for instance, you probably won’t have measuring devices available. Using your hand to get the right food portions enables you to enjoy your meal without eating too much.

Even if you have a food scale and measuring cups handy, such as when eating at home, you don’t always want to use them. It’s like when calorie counting. Over time, this process can be cumbersome. If you have another option for keeping your food intake in check, you’re more likely to use it versus giving up on healthy eating altogether.

Using your hand to measure food has another advantage. A bigger person typically needs a higher calorie intake. Since their hands are often bigger as well, they’re able to easily determine the right portion based on their increased body size. This same approach works for a smaller person who needs a smaller portion. Their smaller hand size provides the perfect solution.

Hand Portion Sizes Based on Food Type

The part of the hand used to determine portion size varies based on the food group being consumed. Here is a basic guide:

  • Protein – the size of the palm equals one portion
  • Carbohydrate (including starchy vegetables) – one cupped handful equals one portion
  • Non starchy vegetables – one closed fist equals one portion
  • Fat – one thumb equals one portion

Depending on the size of your hand, your portion could be slightly more or less. Although the difference may be minimal, when it comes to healthy nutrition, size matters. And these differences can add up over time if portion sizes are consistently higher than serving sizes.

Portion Size vs. Serving Size
It’s important to understand that there is a difference between a food portion and a food serving. When you look at a food’s nutrition facts, this data is based on precise measurements.

For example, since it’s Girl Scout cookie season, did you know that a serving of Thin Mints is 4 cookies?
Thin MintsFOUR!
(I always thought it was a sleeve!)


5 Tips for Better Portion Control
Keeping food intake in check involves more than just paying attention to the size of a portion of food. Here are a few tips to help you keep your portions under control:

1. Stay Hydrated
When you’re thirsty, it’s easy to overeat. Your body knows that it needs something. However, it may not recognize that it needs fluids versus food. Taking several sips of water before a meal can keep the body from misinterpreting thirst cues for hunger. Staying hydrated between meals might also reduce the need for snacks, filling up the stomach with beverages instead of food.

2. Practice Mindful Eating
Engage in some other activity while eating and one portion can easily turn into two (or more). This can be avoided by being present during meals and snacks. Any time you are eating, focus should be on the food and nothing else. Place their food on a plate and sit at the table every time they eat. Turning off the TV and setting down their phone is helpful as well.

3. Avoid Eating Out of the Box or Bag
Like the point above, eating such things as popcorn, nuts, chips, or pretzels out of the box makes it too easy to lose track of how much you are eating. It’s always best to put the appropriate amount on a plate, in a bowl or simply in your hand and put the rest away for another day.

4. Make Healthy Food Choices
One cup of a healthy fat such as avocado doesn’t provide the same nutrition as the same portion of a less-healthy fat, like cake. Sticking primarily to healthy food options helps ensure that your nutrition needs are met without adding extra calories and fat. Another example of making healthier food choices is that eating a piece of fruit is better than drinking a glass of fruit juice. A piece of fruit supplies fiber that is lacking in juice, helping you stay fuller longer. Plus, some of the fruit’s nutrients can be lost when turning it into juice. Not to mention, juice often supplies more sugar and other nutrients that don’t always fit into a healthy diet.

5. Be Proactive at Restaurants
Most main courses at restaurants contain more than a single serving, and for many of us, that means eating it all anyway. There are two easy ways to prevent that from happening. For one, split the entrée with someone you are dining with. The other option is to ask for a box when the food is served and wrap up half the meal when it’s brought to the table.

The next time you reach for a snack or prepare a meal, think about portion distortion and don’t let it sabotage your healthy eating habits!
See, size really does matter!

Jim signature

Find out more


Author John

More posts by John