These 5 Foods Might Give You Portion Distortion

Get sizes right to avoid weight gain

There are simple tools in your kitchen right now to help you lose weight — or avoid gaining it. Next time you grab a snack or make a meal, reach into the cabinet for your measuring cup and spoons.

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Sound like no fun? Consider this: A study in the British Medical Journal found that one-fourth of individuals underestimate the calorie content of restaurant meals by at least 500 calories. Adding 500 calories a day to your diet without changing your activity level can lead to one pound of weight gain per week.

On top of that, portion sizes in America are out of control. A gas-station 32-ounce soft drink contains nearly 300 calories, and automobile manufacturers have actually increased the size of the cup holders in newer models to allow for larger cups.

These are good reasons to eat more meals at home. But when you do eat at home, pay attention to portion sizes — especially for these five foods. People tend to underestimate how much of each they are eating.

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  • cereal

    1. Cereal

    It’s easy to overdo breakfast cereal because of the growing sizes of cereal bowls (or should I say tubs?). The serving size of most breakfast cereals is 3/4 cup to 1 cup, and the average cereal bowl holds about 2.5 cups. The simple solution: Use a measuring cup for an accurate portion rather than filling it to the rim. Your waist line will thank you.

  • peanut butter

    2. Peanut Butter

    All you need is two tablespoons of this healthy fat to reap its health rewards. But few people stop there. Why do so many of us underestimate peanut butter? Mindlessly eating it out of the jar is one reason, but some people also have trouble visualizing two tablespoons spread across toast. Reach for a measuring spoon for reference.

  • bananas

    3. Bananas

    Ah, nature’s candy. Fruits offer amazing benefits, which is why the target goal is five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But what is a serving? People underestimate bananas because those found in most grocery stores are large enough for about two servings. The true serving size for a banana is about the length of a pen.

  • Pasta

    4. Pasta

    This one isn’t all that shocking. Our view of “normal” comes from heaping plates and bowls of pasta that make even a triple portion look small. In reality, based on recommended serving sizes, pasta should take up about one quarter of your plate — not the whole thing.

  • burger

    5. Meats

    From giant burgers to the current bacon craze, overeating is far too easy when it comes to meats of any kind. Want a good rule of thumb? A portion the size of the palm of your hand supplies the protein your body needs at a meal.

Certain social situations and gender differences influence portion sizes. But often the solution to underestimating is already in your kitchen. Measure appropriate portions of your foods for a while, and you’ll start to see the difference. Over time, you can even return to “eyeballing” your portions once you know what they really should look like.

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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
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