Portion Distortion


Tips to help you better understand what portions should look like and to control portions thereby altering total energy intake as a weight loss strategy.

It’s a new year and one often has the very best intentions to optimise health and improve body weight. Energy balance is one of the most important focus areas for optimal weight management and is often overlooked. The energy balance equation is still considered important as reported in a systematic review and meta-analysis published in Plos One. When wanting to shift weight total energy consumed in the diet from foods and beverages must equal the energy expenditure from physical activity, body metabolism and the individual metabolism of nutrients. If these factors are balanced equally, weight maintenance ensues. If energy intake is higher than energy expenditure, weight gain is the result and if energy expenditure is higher than energy intake, weight loss follows.

Being overweight has a negative impact on the risk of chronic disease. This can include increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and other lifestyle related conditions. These conditions have a negative impact on overall health and can reduce one’s quality of life. Dietary habits and behaviours have a direct impact on energy intake and as a result, play a role in weight loss strategies. Many dietary factors can be addressed in order to optimise weight loss. Portion control is one of the most important factors to consider when you are trying to achieve weight loss. You can eat healthy food and if you don’t control the actual portion of the food you consume you will battle to get your weight down.

By keeping control of the correct portions, one is able to ensure that calorie control is maintained and total energy intake is managed correctly. As a result, weight loss or weight maintenance can be achieved. Portion control also allows one to enjoy all foods in the diet without warranting the total exclusion of certain foods, for life. Correct control of portions means that one can enjoy a treat now and then, in the correct portion size, so that it does not contribute excess energy intake resulting in weight gain. Optimal health and weight loss can be achieved by including a balance of various foods, in the right quantities.


Without measuring, try preparing 90g of boiled baby potatoes. Then check the size with a kitchen scale. The chances will be that you have overestimated – most people do! That’s why portion distortion is a concept we see more and more commonly in our modern day lifestyle. Over the last few decades the sizes of meals we eat & prepare are much larger than the recommended serving amounts.

Below are a few tips that may help to reduce your portion sizes:

  • Always eat off a plate. Mindless snacking at cocktail parties without having a visual representation of how much food you are eating, almost always results in overeating.
  • Serve from the kitchen, never off the table. If food is plated, one is more likely to stop eating once full. If bowls of foods are displayed on the table, one is tempted to eat more based on taste and the availability of food rather than on hunger and satiety cues.
  • Know visual cues for portions. Use a hand comparison for a size estimate: your fist is about 1 cup, your palm about ½ cup and your thumb about 1 Tablespoon.
  • Use smaller serving utensils, dishes, bowls, mugs and cups. This will ensure you eat and drink less by eliminating mindless eating.
  • Use vegetables and salad to fill most of your plate. Vegetables are contain fibre and water which keep you full and increase satiety because they add volume to a meal.
  • Repackage “buy bulk and save” packaged items into smaller, portion controlled amounts. Or try to buy portion controlled single bags if you find this difficult.
  • More and more, people listen less to hunger and fullness cues and eat more according to what’s on their plate. As a result, we lose the ability to regulate how much is eaten based on hunger and satiety cues. Larger portions are linked to excess calorie intake which has a negative impact on optimal weight management.

Potatoes are one such food that can be enjoyed as part of a weight loss eating plan, when portion control is noted. The correct portion of potato is a 90-180g serving, which would be equivalent to 1-2 slices of bread. Be sure to keep the skin of the potato on for added nutrients and fibre, which will also keep you fuller and increase the feeling of satiety.

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