“Portion distortion” is an ever-growing problem for Americans. Serving sizes are increasing almost everywhere you can purchase food, and many of us don’t understand what a recommended portion size looks like as a result. Fast-food restaurants are brilliantly offering “value” meals, leading the consumer to think “This is a great value” instead of “Should I be eating this much food?” And eating healthier foods can be more expensive and require a bit of prep time, so the convenience and affordability of fast food is a constant temptation for many of us.
How To Manage Portion Distortion
Unfortunately, many fast-food restaurants serve energy-rich items (high-calorie foods that are packed into smaller dimensions). While it may seem hard to believe that a regular-sized cheeseburger could pack a whopping 1,200 calories, it’s time for us to wake up and realize that these items—no matter the size or price—are making us FAT (even though they are convenient and cheap). Don’t be fooled by the addition of salads to the menus at many of these restaurants. Dressings, croutons and other various toppings are often full of fat and calories—sometimes far more than items you thought were less healthy, such as fried chicken or burgers.
So where do we start? How do we learn how to manage our daily intake and make better choices so we don’t fall victim to the portion distortion epidemic? While it would be near impossible to stop visiting fast-food restaurants for the rest of your life, you can learn more about portion sizes and take this knowledge with you no matter the environment or drive-thru you are in! Let’s focus on two specific ways you can boost your food knowledge now.
One helpful technique that has been used with huge success to educate people about portion sizes is visualizing or illustrating through the use of everyday, commonly used items. For example, a serving of peanut butter is usually 2 tablespoons. Two tablespoons is the size of a golf ball. Four dice equals 1 ounce of cheese, and a deck of cards equals 3 ounces of poultry. Try this next time you don’t have a measuring cup or food scale with you! Portion distortion is better controlled with real-world context.
It’s outside of my scope of practice as a personal trainer to create specific meal plans for my clients. But I do have a responsibility to guide and educate. So I encourage my clients to read the Nutrition Facts panel that appears on almost every packaged food. The three most important sections on this panel (especially for weight loss) are the Serving Size, Servings Per Container and Calories Per Serving. When you can read a food label like this, you might encounter some surprises about portion sizes and your eating behaviors. For example, you might discover that your favorite snack is destroying your weight-loss attempts because you thought you were eating one serving when it was actually two servings in one package!
Portion distortion is prevalent. But don’t be discouraged! You can learn how to identify serving sizes and what your body needs to consume in order to reach your fitness and health goals. Take these two helpful suggestions with you into every meal and grocery store so you can accurately see how much food you really need.