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Proper Portions

Serving Size vs Portion Size Is There a Difference

A key part of healthful eating means choosing appropriate amounts of different foods. When it comes to deciding how much to eat, the terms serving size and portion size are often used interchangeably. However, they don't mean the same thing.

Serving size is a standardized amount of food. It may be used to quantify recommended amounts, as is the case with the MyPlate food groups, or represent quantities that people typically consume on a Nutrition Facts label.

Portion size is the amount of a food you choose to eat — which may be more or less than a serving.

For example, the Nutrition Facts label may indicate ½ cup cereal for one serving but if you eat ¾ cup, that is your portion size.

Estimating Portion Sizes

Measuring cups and spoons are great tools for making sure your portion is the same as the serving size, however, these tools aren't always available when you're getting ready to eat. Another way to estimate your portion is by comparing it to something else.

Using familiar objects or parts of your hand can help you determine proper portion sizes when measuring tools are not available. Once you get a handle on your portion sizes making smart nutritional decisions becomes a little easier. By measuring foods regularly you'll begin to get an idea of what the proper serving sizes should look like. It becomes easier to pick the appropriate amount as you grow more accustomed to it. Now, while serving sizes are a valuable tool, it's ALSO important to listen to your body while eating. If you are still hungry after eating one serving, that likely means you need a little more food. And if you're full on less than one serving, that's OK too. It's also important to enjoy and eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Digesting the nutrients starts with the enzymes in your saliva and chewing longer helps get that process started.

Overcoming Portion Distortion

It's easy to mistake a larger portion as a better value. To overcome portion distortion and downsize your helpings, here are some helpful tips:

  • Read the label. The Nutrition Facts label can help you to identify the appropriate serving size. Have you noticed any changes to the Nutrition Facts labels? Many manufacturers already have started to adapt the new Nutrition Facts label on their products, and the new Nutrition Facts label should be appearing on all food items since last January 1, 2021. Learn more about the new labels by visiting the FDA website

  • Eat from a plate, not a package. It's easy to eat more than one serving when eating straight from the box or bag. Portion out your food first and put the container away before you start munching to keep your portion size in check. (more on plating below)

  • Use the right tools. Try portioning out foods with measuring cups and spoons to give yourself an idea of what the serving size looks like. Small plates and bowls can also make the portion sizes appear larger and leave you feeling more satisfied. This is something I do with all of my meals.

  • Skip the upgrade. When dining out, it can seem like a better value to pay that buck or so extra for a larger size. If you can safely transport the food home to eat later, that might be a good deal. Otherwise just stick to the serving size you know you can eat at one sitting without feeling too full. Always remember to eat until comfortable, not full.

Let's Talk About Plating

Remember to take into account the plate SIZE you are using (see above) to help keep those portion sizes where they should be. I know many people (including myself) have a harder time doing this during the holidays and family get-togethers and that's okay when done occasionally.

So a typical breakfast can vary from the rest of your meals and snacks throughout your day and they can also vary depending upon your activity on a daily basis. Personally I believe that eating a little more on your workout days and a little less on rest days works best for me. You may need to adjust according to several factors including your age, activity level, weight, height, and of course your specific goals. I try to start my day with breakfast consisting of a plate that is half protein and half complex or starchy carbs with a small appropriate amount of fat. Occasionally I will add either fruit or a veggie into the mix, Examples include berries in yogurt and spinach in omelets or scrambled eggs. Fruit/berries in overnight oats is a FAV in our house.

Lunch and Dinner should be comprised similar to the figure shown with half of your plate being veggies and a little fruit, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 complex carbs. Many opt to ditch the carbs at dinner and that also works but try to add a little more veggies instead.


Depending on your nutritional needs and caloric intake (whether it be weight loss, bulking, or maintenance) you may need snacks throughout the day to your healthy eating lifestyle. This is where many people slip. It can be SO easy to just grab that bag of chips or ice cream or other unhealthy snack so it's important to plan for this. If you followed the last post and cleaned out the pantry it will make it easier, After all, if it's readily available our old habits will usually win over our restraint and compromise the ability to develop new and healthier habits in our nutrition choices. Here's where having extra fresh fruit, yogurt, and other healthier options on hand will come in handy. Also, at bedtime, I will occasionally use a casein protein supplement shake to keep me satiated throughout the night.

Next post we will dive into proteins. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe and comment.

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