Shun Portion Distortion

While I love indulging in holiday sweets and goodies, I do typically feel the need to clean up my diet (and get back on a high productivity schedule) in the New Year.

How about you?  Did you over-indulge this holiday season?

As a kid, I recall the feelings of incredible discomfort after our rather large holiday–especially Thanksgiving–  meals. It seemed that I felt the need to stack my plate (probably an oversized plate for the occasion) just because that is what people seem to do on Thanksgiving.

But wait…it seems that our stacked plates and huge portions seemed to have blended into an everyday event!?

Have our portion sizes changed from 20 years ago to today?  Yes.
Is there is a difference between a “serving size” and a portion size? Yes.
Are there strategies to stay balanced in this world of the “Super-size me” culture?  Yes.

Read on…

How Portion Sizes Have Changed in the Last 20 Years

You guessed it—they have gotten bigger.  But you might actually need to look at the numbers, from a caloric standpoint/number of teaspoons of sugar, to really get the gist of what is going on here.  Better yet, it is helpful to understand how much physical activity is needed to offset the larger portions we are consuming.  Here is a helpful review:

When McDonald’s first opened in 1955,

they offered one drink size: 6.5 oz.

Now their kid’s size is 12 oz and their large is 32 oz



6.5 oz Soda

65 calories

3.5 teaspoons of sugar

12 oz Soda

110 calories

7 teaspoons of sugar

32 oz Soda

310 calories

21 teaspoons of sugar

Calorie Difference = 245 Calories


If you ride a bike for 50 minutes

you will burn approximately 245 calories*

* Based on a 160-pound person

Interesting, huh?  What about all the hoopla (years ago) around NYC’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters in the city– the first restriction of its kind in the country.   Incredible when you look at the amount of sugar in the large drinks, a staggering extra 18.5 teaspoons of EXTRA sugar between the 6.5 oz (kids size 20 years ago) vs. the 32 oz. size still sold today in other parts of the country.

Will New York City take on bagels next?

In the last 20 years, bagels have nearly doubled in size

3-inch diameter

140 Calories 

6-inch diameter

350 Calories

Calorie Difference = 210 Calories


If you rake leaves for 50 minutes,

you will burn approximately 210 calories.*

* Based on a 160-pound person

That is a lot of leaves to rake.  Enough said.

So what are all of us to do about this out-of-control portion issue?

Here are a few ideas:

1.       Understand the difference between a “portion size” and a “serving size”. 

 A serving is a specified or standard amount, for example, 1/4 cup of ice cream. A portion is how much food or drink you consume in one sitting.

What do you think is typically larger– a serving or a portion size?  Yup, typically a portion size.

Check the Nutrition Facts label to find out how many servings are in a “bag”.

4 servings in one bag!

If you eat the entire bag, you need to multiply the nutrition information by 4!

620 calories

44 grams of fat



2.       Know that You are in Control of Your Portions.

Take inspiration from a 12-year-old boy (who I met at the Healthy Kids Lunchtime Challenge). After being bullied about his weight, 6th grader Marshall Reid had a great idea to address a difficult problem:  “Mom, let’s do the opposite of ‘Super Size Me’ ” — Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about a McDonald’s-only diet for 30 days — “and be healthy for a month. I’m tired of this.”   His efforts led to a YouTube channel and the book Portion Size Me: A Kid-Driven Plan to a Healthy Family.

3.      Use Smart Strategies to Control Your Portions.

  • MyPlate and Harvard’s Healthy Plate offer great visual clues (better to use a 9” plate instead of a 12” plate).  If you are filling half your plate with fruits and veggies, you are ahead of the game!
  • Share snacks with friends and family.  All foods can be enjoyed in moderation; rather than eliminating sweets or salty snacks from your diet, enjoy them in smaller portions
  • Check out nutrition labels to find out how many servings are in one package – then do the math!  Don’t eat directly from the box or bag, pour servings onto a plate and put the bag away.
  • Post these Portion Size Guidelines on your fridge!
  • Use this bookmark to remind yourself of portion sizes!
  • Think you’re size-wise? Take the portion distortion quiz!
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