Tricks to Beat Portion Distortion

What is Portion Distortion?

Over the past 20 years, portion sizes have increased significantly. Portion distortion has lead to multiple health issues, including the raising obesity epidemic, increasing the prevalence of diabetes, and growing number of people with heart disease. A major factor that contributes to this problem is the fast food industry marketing “super size” foods and a overall increase in portions to allow the public to get “their money’s worth.” Many times what the industry markets as a single meal can really feed two people. Eating large portions at restaurants and fast food establishments has affected the majority of the public’s lifestyle at home. Current portion sizes have exceeded the federal recommendation by as much as 8 times!

One very interesting website that offers two quizzes about portion distortion is MyPlate. The quizzes compare portion sizes from 30 years ago to current portion sizes. Also, they quiz you on how much more exercise it will take to burn off the extra calories.

Estimating Serving Sizes:

Portion size and serving size are too often used interchangeably, when they really have two different meanings. Serving size is the recommended amount of food a person should consume. On the other hand, portion size is amount a person chooses to eat.

The first step to prevention portion distortion is to understand what the correct serving size is.

  • 3 oz. of meat = deck of cards
  • 1 tsp of butter = 1 dice
  • 1 cup of pasta = 1 baseball
  • ½ cup of fresh fruit = 1 tennis ball
  • ½ cup of fresh veggies = 1 light bulb
  • 1 bagel = a hockey puck

For more examples, visit WebMD and EatRight.

Tricks to Prevent Portion Distortion…

  • Avoid eating from a package; eat off a plate.
  • Eat from a smaller plate. This makes you think that you are eating more than you actually are.
  • Move meat from the center of the plate, and pile on veggies.
  • At a restaurant, put half of your meal in a to-go bag before eating.
  • Put treats (cookies, candy, junk food) in non-clear containers. “Out of sight, out of mind”
  • Serve plates directly from the stove, keep leftovers out of sight.
  • Use everyday objects to estimate portion sizes. For example: tennis ball, golf ball, dice, deck of cards, etc.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2013). Serving Size vs. Portion Size:  Is There a Difference? Retrieved from

United States Department of Agriculture. (2013). Portion Distortion. Retrieved from

WedMD. (2005 February 11). Avoid Portion Distortion. Retrieved from


6 thoughts on “Tricks to Beat Portion Distortion

  1. That is a surprise to me that portion sizes at dining facilities exceed the federal recommendation by so much! I found separating of your meals and your “to go” food before eating particularly useful, as I do notice that when I eat at a restaurant, I tend to want to finish my entire plate in one sitting. Another good portioning tip would be using a smaller spoon to eat, so that your mind would think that, by feeding yourself more (versus a bigger spoon), you are having more food.
    Also, I think information like this provides a great opportunity for public health to push policies where fast food establishments and restaurants should mention portion sizes or daily recommended portions in their menus.

    • I also was extremely surprised to read that portions can be so much higher than the recommended amount. The using a smaller spoon tip is another great trick to beat portion distortion; thanks for sharing!

  2. I would be really interested to see if the government would implement a law to reduce the portion sizes nationwide. I don’t think it would go over well because “Everyone wants to get their money’s worth!” I would totally support smaller portions because I often catch myself over-eating at restaurants!! I think having companies label the number of calories in each dish is a great start.

    I have often heard of individuals asking for to-go boxes even before they start their meal. Do you do this??? I think the idea, but feel awkward doing so because it isn’t yet your ‘norm.’ I have found that eating on a smaller plate does make the perception of eating more.

    On a similar note, I have always loved looking at TIME’s What the World Eat’s—I think these images help us understand portion size and what other countries are eating on a daily basis.,29307,1626519,00.html

    • Wow, the article “What the World Eats” is fascinating. Thank you for sharing!

      To answer your question, if I use for to-go container before eating: It depending on the restaurant and whom I am with. I should probably do this more often than I current do, but sometime it just feels awkward. This is especially true when I am eating dinner with people I do not know very well.

  3. This was a really interesting post, but I have to say it was grossing me out while I was reading through it. The fact that we have places that serve 8 TIMES the recommended amount is more than a little disturbing. This change has been occurring over the past 30 years. This, unfortunately, means that we have several generations that never saw those smaller portion sizes and today’s portion sizes are entirely “normal” to them. The problem with this is then trying to convince somebody that what they have known as the correct portion size their entire life is actually way more than they need to be eating. This one point in itself is a major problem for public health professionals, and this is just one aspect of the ever increasing obesity epidemic in the United States. Thanks for the post!

  4. When I was attempting to cut down my body fat percentage and had to cut calories down I really first noticed this issue. Measuring out weights and volume of food you really notice how much less of everything you really should be eating. Especially liquids, a tablespoon really doesn’t get you very far on your salad. With most carbohydrate servings bread is usually one slice, and rice is one cup. In restaurants you’re bombarded with rice and bread, and easily eat over eight times the supposed serving amount. The problem is not many people know or understand these actually measurements before they even go out to eat. Then you go out and don’t have a general understanding of what you’re eating (not to mention all the other stuff that will be thrown on top). Most people who don’t understand basic nutrition do not even stand a chance, especially with age when their metabolism slows down and have sedentary lifestyles.

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