Yes, large portions of food do cause overeating - 7 Simple tips to combat portion distortion

  • 2 Minutes Read

This study validates what we've known all along: Portion Distortion - large portions of food do cause overeating. Now what can we do about it?

Large portions of food

Proof that large portions of food leads to overeating

I was at a local ice cream shop the other day. One of their signature products is homemade "sammies" - ice cream sandwiches made with cookies. And not just any cookies. These were two 4-inch cookies, with almost a cup of premium ice cream sandwiched in between. Calorie cost? My guesstimate is at least 800, much of it sugar and fat. Traditional ice cream sandwiches are less than 200. But does anyone eat small simple ice cream sandwiches anymore? Does anyone eat small portions of anything anymore?

Yes, large portions of food leads to overeating. We all suspected that, but evidence was lacking. In a review, however, researchers combined data from 61 studies on calorie intake and portion sizes. Conclusion: large portions of food led to overeating, about 500 calories per day of overeating.

You might think it's all about fast food: super-sized soft drinks and French fries. Certainly those are part of the problem, but not the whole problem. The Big Picture is this: we've been conditioned to expect supersized portions of everything.

Portion distortion is found everywhere

Research shows that we eat the food we are served. Result: we've been conditioned to eat right past being hungry or satisfied to being stuffed. If you buy an 800+ calorie ice cream sandwich, are you going to throw half of it away once you feel satisfied?

People sometimes joke about the "See Food " diet: "I see food, I eat it." In fact, that may be the exact reason we have trouble controlling weight. Trying to control portions and your weight in this world of portion distortion is not easy.

What can you do?

There are some simple things you can do in self-defense:

  1. Buy smaller dishware for home use. Use salad plates for your meals instead of giant dinner plates. Use small dessert bowls for cereal. Don't buy glasses larger than 12 oz, preferably 8 oz.

  2. At restaurants, ask for vegetable sides instead of chips or fries. Or ask that fries/chips be left off your plate, even if there are no substitutions.

  3. Avoid all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants, or restaurants that offer bottomless anything, from bread to pasta.

  4. At fast food restaurants, avoid Combo Meals, even if they appear to be a better value. They're not a better calorie value for you. Just order a single burger or sandwich.

  5. Don't order extra large pizza if it means you're tempted to eat too much.

  6. Don't eat out of food packages at home. If you open a 1 lb bag of chips, how likely are you to keep eating until they're all gone? Other package culprits: cookies, crackers, 1/2 gallons of ice cream, whole cakes or pies, value packages of doughnuts or pastries, 1/2 gallon bottles of soft drinks, etc.

  7. Don't put serving bowls on the table at meals. If the tempting food is sitting in front of you it's hard not to pick at it after you've cleaned your plate. That goes for pizza boxes and take-out containers.

Let's say portion control is all you do as a diet strategy. According to the above study, you could end up eating 500 fewer calories per day on average. That's the calorie deficit most weight loss diets recommend for healthy and sustainable weight loss.

Other MyNetDiary blogs with tips for portion control

Portion control school dropout? Try these Ps and Qs
Top recommended tips for portion control by dietitians

Originally published September 23, 2015
Updated February 10, 2020

Dining Out->Portion Size & Calories
Feb 10, 2020
Donna P Feldman MS RDN is author of Food Wisdom for Women and "Feed Your Vegetarian Teen". She writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition.

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