Imagine you’re at a café with a friend and you order a latte and a muffin.

You choose a medium latte rather than the large (though you could use the extra caffeine), because you assume the medium is closer to just one serving size. There’s only one size of muffin. You assume that the muffin is one serving size, too.

But you’re wrong on both fronts. Your medium latte is technically 2 servings, and the muffin is a staggering 3.

Our view of food is tragically out of whack. We suffer from portion distortion, and we could all use a trustworthy portion control guide to get us back on track.

Defining Portion Size vs. Serving Size

A portion, according to the National Institute of Health, is the amount of food a consumer chooses to eat at one time. That’s right, you get to choose what a portion is, whether you’re at home or at a restaurant.

A serving size, on the other hand, is the amount of food listed on the manufactured product’s Nutrition Facts Label. These serving sizes are generally dictated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA).

What’s the BIG deal?

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. Approximately 13 million of those happen to be children. These numbers are shocking!

That means that more than ⅓ of Americans are overweight (more than 78 million adults). You can do the rest of the math, and perhaps you or a loved one are a part of the trend — or at risk of becoming a part of it. The truth is, given how distorted portions have become in our society and culture, we’re all at risk.

As obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates continue to rise, and as fad diets fill our media, our daily eating habits start to feel like they’re not up to us anymore. Understanding portion control and serving sizes might be the simplest way to take the reins when it comes to your health.

Finding Serving Sizes

Now, I don’t want you to think that you have to track and measure everything you eat. This is not a guide to the newest trending diet! Knowing where to get the information about proper serving sizes is a great foundation to success, and the easiest way when creating your own portion control guide.

There are many different places to look when determining a serving size, but your best bet is simply looking at the manufacturer’s Nutrition Facts Label.

Beyond reading and comparing labels, there is a simple rule of thumb the Dairy Council of California came up with. Basically, if you want to only eat a serving of something, it better fit into one hand, or in some cases only be the size of a finger.

Here are a few examples:

  • Meat (chicken, beef, fish, pork) serving size — 3 ounces or it fits in the palm of your hand. (Weighing meat can always be tough, which is why we wrote a guide to finding the best digital food scale. Check it out if you need the right tools for controlling portion size.)
  • Peanut Butter serving size — 1 tablespoon or the size of your thumb.

These examples may be surprising, and you have undoubtedly been eating portions much larger than that your whole life (I know I have!).

Think about it, when you order a steak at a restaurant, it rarely comes in the size of your hand or smaller. I’m not suggesting you pick up your food at a restaurant. I’m just suggesting that you use your hands as a tool for determining portion size, one that you’ll always have on you.

Ending Portion Distortion

If you’re like most Americans, you eat on the go more than you’d like to. You’re busy, and it’s done out of necessity. But it’s also part of the portion problem.

Here are some simple tips that can serve as your portion control guide when eating on the run:

  1. Only eat when you’re hungry. When you’re full, save the rest for later. Your body knows how much it really needs.
  2. Skip the appetizers when you’re out to eat! Skipping appetizers is good for portion control, and it’s good for your wallet, too.
  3. Split a restaurant meal in half, and take home what’s left over for lunch the next day.
  4. Measure out snacks rather than eating them out of the box. Let’s be honest: We’ve all had moments when we’ve nearly torn down an entire box of Cheez-Its.
  5. Be mindful. Don’t eat while you’re watching TV. Make eating your focus so you can have more control.
  6. Always have a list when grocery shopping. Also, stick to the perimeter of the store where you’ll find the produce, meats, grains and dairy products. This keeps you out of the middle aisles where the snacks and sugary treats are located.
  7. When cooking at home, skip the boxed meals and cook fresh! Here are some recipes to kick start cooking with proper portions. And remember to check out our post on finding the best digital food scale if you need tools for measuring out portions.

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Final Thought: Make it Personal

As individuals, we have different needs. This is true for our diets as well. Make your diet a part of your lifestyle. Whether you are a homebody, a traveler, an athlete or something else entirely, create a portion control guide that fits you. Having awareness when grocery shopping and eating out is just your starting block to eating healthy. It is up to you to maintain and apply it to your daily life.

Create variety in your diet by including vegetables, fruits, fats, grain and protein. The more colorful the meal, the better it is for you. Vegetables are king, so eat more of them throughout the day. You need 5 servings (about 3 cups) of vegetables each day — and only 25 grams of sugar. Start limiting sugary drinks, sweets and salty foods. All in all, do your research and begin to understand how much you really need to eat versus how much it is you want to eat.

Portion control can become easy, but it’s definitely not at first — we’ve developed a lot of bad habits that need breaking. The amount of food we eat daily is built into our routines. Begin to break those routines by arming yourself with important information and by putting that information to use little by little in your daily life. When you’re trying to live healthy, it’s all about what you know and focusing on moderation rather than starvation.

We’d love to hear what you think about portion control — including your ideas and best tips. Let us know in the comments seciton below, or get in touch using our contact page.