Anyone eating on the run or at restaurants has probably noticed that food portions have gotten larger. Some portions are called “super size,” while others have simply grown in size and provide enough food for at least two people.

With this growth have come increases in waistlines and body weight.

In the video below, learn about portion distortion and portion control and get actionable tips to improve your diet. You will also learn about the amount of physical activity required to burn off the extra calories provided by today’s portions.

Watch the video below or read the transcript that follows. Watch more physical activity videos at this link. 

About the InstructorKaren Dean is a Dietetic Technician with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as a Certified Health and Wellness Coach through Wellcoaches. She currently work as a health coach with the Employee Wellness and the Community Health Team at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Karen Dean: I am Karen Dean and I am a certified health and wellness coach, and a dietetic technician registered with the University of Vermont Medical Center. I work as a health coach primarily with staff through Employee Wellness, as well as patients through the community health team. I’m also a tobacco treatment specialist, and I do outpatient classes as well as inpatient tobacco.

So, today in the next roughly 15 minutes I hope to share with you some things about portion sizes and how our portions have gotten distorted over the last 20 or 25 years. Also, how these new enlarged portion sizes are affecting food labeling and impacting government standards, and I’m also going to touch on the healthy plate model and how it pertains to dining in restaurants as well as some tips for navigating portion sizes when dining out.

So, as you can imagine, portion sizes have gotten larger over the last 20 or 25 years, and what this means for us is we’re eating more, food sizes have crept up on us perhaps, and we also have a more sedentary lifestyle, more sedentary jobs, and we’re also getting less lifestyle activity. So what does this mean? How does this impact us? It means that our waistlines are getting larger, our obesity rates are rising, our chronic disease rates, and our risk of chronic disease is going up, and it’s impacting healthcare dollars, our overall health and so it’s probably not a good thing.

So one of the things that increased portion sizes over the last 20 or 25 years has affected is actually our food labeling. So in the next year, by July 2018, you’re actually going to see a revised nutrition fact label, and that is the panel on the back of packaged foods that tells us what a serving size is, how many calories are in a serving, as well as the fat, sugar content etc. So these labels are manufactured and required by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and what they determine is because our portion sizes have gotten larger and are getting larger, they actually need to revise the serving size on food packages. I don’t know if that’s a disheartening thing or not, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

So, for instance, by July 2018 all ice cream containers are going to have a revised nutrition fact label that says instead of one half cup being a serving size, it’s now going to be two thirds of a cup, because the FDA realized that the serving size needs to better reflect the amount of food that people are actually eating. So, instead of getting four servings out of a pint of ice cream, now the serving size will give you only three servings out of a pint. Similarly, this bag of chips, and so how many of us have grabbed one of these bags at the grocery checkout aisle or a convenience store, and either we know or we kid ourselves into thinking that this is one serving. Clearly it’s smaller than the larger bags we buy for our family, so this must just be one serving. Well, in fact it’s three servings.

So the revised nutrition fact label will not only give you what the nutrition information for one one ounce serving is, it’s also going to give you what you would get nutritionally if you ate the entire package. Again, the FDA is realizing that people are consuming most likely this entire package, not just one serving.

So let’s talk a little bit about how portion sizes have actually changed over the last 20 or 25 years, and I’m using these food models here to demonstrate that. So for instance, let’s take muffins. So it used to be years ago that we only had one choice of muffin tin when we went out to the store to buy them, there were standard size muffin was 1.5 ounces and so these two smaller muffins here combined is roughly the size of what a standard muffin was 20 or 25 years ago, or 1.5 ounces. As the years go on, we crept up to a 4 ounce muffin weighing in at 500 calories, furthermore we’ve also gone to a jumbo muffin, this is a muffin that weighs in at 6 ounces, costly us 612 calories.

So let’s put that into perspective calorie and physical activity wise. So, if you were to now eat this 4 ounce, 500 calorie muffin, the additional calories in this size versus the standard size, which was 20 or 25 years ago, the difference would be 290 calories. So we’re eating an additional 290 calories, this would equate to a 55 minute walk for the average person, that’s quite a lot. Then, saying I want that 6 ounce muffin, the difference in calories between the formerly 1.5 ounce standard muffin and the now jumbo size 6 ounce muffin is 402 calories. So just the amount of walking you would have to do to walk off that difference, put on your good shoes and take a water bottle because it’s going to take you one hour and seventeen minutes to walk off that additional 402 calories.

Similarly, bagels, we all grab bagels on the way into work, they have also changed in the last 20 or 25 years. It used to be that a bagel was 3 inches in diameter, we might even now consider this a mini bagel. So our current size has increased to 4.5 inches across and costing us 350 calories, again, how do we put that difference into a perspective? The difference in calories is 210 calories, roughly the size of a snack that we might have between our meals, and that would take you 40 minutes, for the average person to take a 40 minute walk, to burn off those 210 calories.

So, soda. Years ago, let’s go with a couple of decades ago, the size of soda was 8 ounces, roughly the size of this can, and in fact when Coke came out with its iconic bottle that was 6.5 ounces, for these days that would be one sip. So using an 8 ounce can as the standard several decades ago, we’ve now gone up to a 20 ounce bottle, and interestingly enough, as I mentioned the revised nutrition fact labels that will be coming out by next summer, some of these bottles already reference this as one serving. So now one serving or soda has gone from 8 ounces to 20 ounces. The calorie difference is 240 calories for this 20 ounce soda versus 90 calories for this 8 ounce soda. That’s a difference of 150 calories. Fortunately, for the average person, this would just mean a 29 minute walk.

So moving on to pasta. Pasta is a big thing, I think especially when you go into restaurants to dine out you typically get a very large portion. Years ago an appropriate portion size, and actually this is still true today, for an entrée sized portion you want one cup cooked, and without any kind of sauce or protein, meat, chicken on it, it would be 220 calories just for the pasta. Going out to a restaurant and ordering a pasta entrée you’re going to be getting roughly 2.75 cups of cooked pasta, over twice the appropriate portion size and that’s not even adding any sauce or anything else on top of it. Adding spaghetti sauce and three small meatballs would increase the calories in this entrée to 500 calories.

Conversely, adding spaghetti sauce and another three large meatballs, which is what they serve, to this pasta and you’re going to be adding 525 calories, and actually I also want to mention that three large meatballs that I got with this meal totaled 6.5 ounces of meat, which is quite a lot, and we’re going to be talking about meat portions in a little bit. So, the total of this entrée with spaghetti sauce and three small meatballs with one cup of cooked pasta is 500 calories, this one, our current day, with three large meatballs and spaghetti sauce is a total of 1025 calories. Now, to put that in perspective, that is roughly a half to three quarters of somebody’s total intake for the day, just in this one entrée. You’re not talking about anything else, having anything else to eat. So the difference between these two meals is 525 calories, so not only get your water bottle, get your good walking shoes, maybe get a hat if it’s a sunny day because you are going to be walking for one hour and 43 minutes to walk off the difference between these two portion sizes.

So chicken breast, you’ll see another great variation in portion sizes. So years ago the portion size on a chicken breast was 3 ounces, roughly the size of your palm, this is actually still an appropriate portion size today, which we’ll talk more about in a minute. Compare this to an 8 ounce chicken breast, which is very common when you’re buying chicken in a grocery store or when you’re dining out. Fortunately for chicken, a skinless chicken breast, the 3 ounce weighs in at 90 calories, it’s a lean protein and you’re not eating the skin, and the 8 ounce comes in at 240 calories. So the difference between these two is 150 calories, and again relating that to physical activity you’re going to have that quick, brisk 29 minute walk.

So talking about this appropriate portion size of this 3 ounce chicken breast roughly the size of your palm, relates us to the healthy plate. So this is a nine and a half inch plate, pretty close to the plates I’m using here today, and you’ll see it’s got a chicken breast on a quarter of the plate, and this is roughly a 3 ounce serving of chicken. Take that into a combination of your starch, your carbohydrate where you want a half a cup cooked of pasta, rice, a medium potato, or maybe one slice of bread, and then preferably half your meal is vegetables.

Now when I’m thinking about dining out and the meals I tend to order it’s difficult to get this many vegetables in a meal when dining out. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you’re going to get a large portion of meat, possibly like this 8 ounce chicken breast, you’re going to get a lot of carbohydrate, whether that’s multiple pieces of bread, a lot of rice, a lot of pasta, and unless you get a vegetable and a small side salad you’re not going to be getting half your plate in vegetables when you’re eating out. So that’s just something to keep in mind. As I mentioned, this is a nine and a half inch plate, and that’s kind of easy to regulate at home because you know the size of your dinner plates but obviously you can’t necessarily know how big the plates are in a restaurant. Usually they have those large borders and they’re putting parsley around them or some balsamic vinegar ribbon, so that’s probably a 12 inch plate if they have enough room to be doing that.

Another thing to use as a measure, I guess, when you go out to eat is just keeping in mind how big the serving dishes are. So this is roughly a half a cup of ice cream and putting it in a small dish it seems like lot of ice cream, you will feel full or your mind will tell you this is plenty because you’re having it in a small dish. As a comparison, put this half cup of ice cream in a larger dish and all of a sudden you’re feeling deprived and yet it’s still the same amount of ice cream. So that’s another good way to help you eat smaller portions is by putting it in smaller dishes.

So a couple of things that I wanted to share with you about navigating the world of restaurant’s larger portion sizes is realize going in that you’re going to be served a fair amount of food, and just like if you’re dining out or you’re grabbing some convenience food like this, don’t assume that it’s one serving. I think sometimes we can talk ourselves into thinking, “Well, I’m being served this food, it must be a single portion.” But just be an educated consumer and realize what’s a serving size for you is based on maybe what your health and wellness goals are, and realize most likely, because we like value when we got out to eat, that’s most likely not a single serving. So go in knowing that.

Decline any free food that’s offered to you when you sit down at the table, so decline the bread, decline the tortilla chip bowl, just don’t even have them bring it, because otherwise you fall into the trap of what they call eye hunger, just seeing it makes you want it, but also you probably are pretty hungry, you just sat down for your meal and you know that you’re probably not going to eat for a little bit, so it’s very tempting to have that food in front of you, and it might not even be something that you really want.

Split an entrée with someone, very often we might split an appetizer or dessert, but go ahead and split an entrée and that cuts down on your portion size that you’re actually going to be eating. Also you can have them put your meal or half your meal in a takeout box even before they bring your meal to you, and again that way you don’t fall into that trap of eye hunger, still having food in front of you, maybe while your companion is still finishing up and just having it in front of you and feeling like you should also still be eating. Just get it out of the way, get it out of sight, have them put half that meal into a to go box before they even bring you your own plate.

So also, research the menu online before you even get there. Many menus are already on the web and you can check it out or make decisions before you even get there, before you’re swayed by the restaurant or the mood you might be in, and once you’ve made decisions be the first to order. That way you’re not swayed by other people’s choices.

So what I want to leave you with is I like this motto of ‘you can’t change what you don’t know’. So be an informed consumer, and hopefully I’ve left you with some information about the portions that you’re actually being served, the portions that you’re actually grabbing and taking to eat on the run, and plan accordingly. I mean only you know your health and wellness goals, only you know what you want to accomplish for your health and so don’t just blindly go ahead and eat what’s served to you, make decisions. If you want to go ahead and have a full meal or the full bagel, just plan accordingly and plan your day around that, and eat more balanced either before you have it or the next day, just balance it out.

So thanks for being with me and hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought, as it were, and have encouraged you and inspired you to do one small thing. Thanks so much, and have a great day.

Subscribe to Our Blog