The portion size that many Americans eat on a daily basis has been increasing over the past few decades.  What a meal looked like in the 1950s when your relatives dined out in a restaurant would look small and unsatisfying likely by today’s standards. 

PortiondistortionTo start a discussion on portion distortion, it is important to distinguish between portion size and a serving size. The serving size of a food item is a standardized unit of measure for food. The most obvious place consumers will see the serving size for a food is on the Nutrition Label. The portion size refers to the quantity of food served at an eating time. So when you go to a restaurant and order a burger, fries, and a soda it is likely the portion you will be served is much bigger than the standard serving size.  

Portion size plays a significant role in weight management and healthy eating since the size of the portion will tell you how many calories you will be consuming. Calories consumed will impact your weight; eat more calories than your body uses and you will gain weight. Many people follow the “clean plate club” guidelines of eating everything on their plate. The problem is, in the past when someone encouraged you to “clean your plate” the portion size of food on your plate was likely much smaller than it is today. Nowadays, cleaning your plate can mean consuming excess calories that your body doesn’t need for energy.  Below are a few tips for building awareness about portion sizes:

  • Pay attention to the serving size listed on packages of food. Measure out one serving size of the food and put it on your plate. This will help you become more aware of what standard serving sizes look like.
  • When dining out, when your meal arrives, split all the food items on your plate in half. Share a meal with a friend or save half for a later date.
  • To manage your portion size at home, use small plates and bowls to dish up. Most salad plates are large enough to serve as your dinner plate.
  • For foods that come in large bags (ahem chips, cookies, trail mix), instead of eating straight out of the bag, measure out a serving size and put the rest of the bag away.
  • Steer clear of eating in front of the television, computer, or other distraction.  This activity very often leads to excess calorie intake due to mindless eating that can happen.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Put tempting snacks away in cupboards instead of leaving them on counter tops to curb the temptation to snack when you see them.


There are many tips and tricks to monitor your portion size. The first step is to make sure you know what the actual serving size is and reading a food label is a great place to start. The serving size will be getting a slightly more prominent spot on the proposed new food labels.  Monitoring your portion size is a great tool for helping you reach your health and wellness goals and maintain a healthy weight.  Use the visual cues in the chart below from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to help you figure out appropriate serving sizes.