Portions have ballooned 10-fold in the past 30 years, both inside and outside the home, with the greatest increases in calorie-packed fast food. These bigger portions mean extra calories per serving for everything from snacks and soft drinks to French fries, hamburgers, and Mexican food.

Portion distortion is everywhere. A typical cookie today is eight-times bigger, a serving of pasta is almost six-times larger, muffins and bagels are three-times and steaks are twice as large as typical servings 20 years ago. Restaurants use larger plates, bakers sell bigger muffin tins, pizzerias use larger pans, cars have larger cup holders, and fast food restaurants package drinks and French fries in bigger containers. American portions are up to a third bigger than in other countries. As we carry our Krisy Kremes and McBurgers across the Atlantic, obesity rates escalate in other countries, too. According to Thomas Wadden, Ph.D. at the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania “…the two biggest culprits [when it comes to the obesity epidemic] are large portion sizes that induce people to eat more than they need and sedentary activities..”

Bigger portions lead to bigger waistlines for several reasons:

  1. We’re dining out more than ever and restaurant meals are huge,
  2. We’re eating more fast food,
  3. We duplicate those supersized restaurant meals at home,
  4. We underestimate how much we’re eating by up to 700 calories a day, and
  5. Food is everywhere and we eat when food is in front of us.

You don’t have to eat less to downsize those portions, just eat better. It’s not bigger portions that cause weight problems, it’s bigger portions of foods high in fat, sugar, and calories. Help yourself to buckets of vegetables, broth-based soups, fruits, whole grains, soymilk, and other real foods high in water and fiber and you fill up before you fill out. A few portion survival skills also come in handy.

  • At restaurants, split an entree, request half orders, bag half the food for tomorrow’s lunch, or get used to leaving food on your plate.
  • At fast food restaurants, order grilled chicken breast sandwiches with no mayo and a glass of OJ, or split a burger and bring baby carrots and soymilk from home to accompany the meal. Skip the “value” meals and “economy-sized” bags of munchies. Better yet, save fast-food meals for a once-a-month special occasion.
  • At home, measure and weigh your food for a week to hone your portion awareness skills and/or eat meals on salad plates to adjust to smaller platefuls of food.
  • To stay honest about how much you are eating, keep a food journal then add at least a third more calories to their daily total.
  • Since the very sight of food leads us to eat, use this to your advantage by placing pictures of salad and vegetables in clear sight, a bowl of blueberries on your desk for an afternoon snack, and cut up fresh fruit on the table after dinner.