Food: our friend or foe? Yes, I’m sure quite a few of us would divulge that we have a love-hate relationship with food; it’s not a secret that we have seasonal, emotional or even social tendencies to over eat! Overeating, whether its biscuits, cheese, turkey, or quinoa, can all lead to increased weight gain. Rising waistlines and obesity levels can be indicative of our portion sizes and/or general diet; as studies in many western countries have highlighted (UK , America, Canada and Australia). Hands up if you have overheard or maybe even quoted yourself expressing this phrase “I can’t seem to lose weight, even while eating healthy foods- what’s going on?” Well I think the answer to that question is ‘how well do we know our portion sizes’?
Portion sizes can be very hard to visualise and the ‘portion distortion’ effect makes it even more difficult, for example, studies have shown that the size of bowls or plates used can influence the quantity of food we consume. Public interest has also focused on how food portion sizes have increased over the last few decades, such as an increase to packaging sizes of 30-50%; we have also become the kings and queens of ‘supersizing’ and ‘BOGOF’ deals, this is very evident within fast-food chains. These bigger portion sizes are resulting in the rise of obesity, type 2 diabetes and associated chronic diseases.
As well as companies increasing portion sizes they use widely different terms, e.g. portion size, serving size, recommended amount, snack size, fun size, sharing size etc, it’s no wonder we’re getting confused. What is the difference?
- A ‘portion’: is based on our daily recommended calorie intake (our DRVs).
- A ‘serving’: until recently it could be whatever size companies wanted it to be, now thanks to pressure from health organizations and the government; it is linked to portion sizes, but can vary between companies and products and is usually hidden away on the back of the package.
Not only is this information hidden away, the way it’s presented will vary greatly and even if the portion sizes are communicated clearly, it can be unclear what they mean in real terms. For example, a 200g crisp packet states there is 85kcal in one 45g serving …so what does 45 grams look like?!
The reality is that we’re not going to pack a kitchen scale or measuring cup into our purse and whisk them out at dinner party; social death anyone?
These tangible instruments are a great starting point and give us an increased aptitude to visualise quantities, but this can be easily forgotten; before we know it, we’re eating ‘our normal portions’ again and purchasing larger dress sizes. After all, it’s not necessarily what we eat, but the quantity (and frequency) of which we consume it.
Subjectively speaking, the quickest way to gauge portion size is from a healthy eating regime or perhaps how we feel after finishing a meal; we can quickly distinguish the difference between volumes of rice, or what a portion of cereal looks like. I think it’s fair to say that ‘dieting’ or not, we understand that devouring an entire family-sized bar of chocolate will carry long-term consequences to our health.
Support is at hand though. The BDA has The eatwell plate; a food plate that addresses the quantities of the five food groups.
The 5 A DAY scheme similarly highlights fruit and vegetable portion sizes. Frustratingly, some companies like to extort our indolence and time constraints by pushing their expensive 5 A DAY pots of fruit & vegetables; don’t buy them, make your own!
These guidelines supplied by healthcare professionals are all great, but are difficult to apply to individual foods, e.g. eating one 80g portion of fruit cannot be applied when eating calorific chocolate, peanut butter or cheese- well we can dream!
Let’s start from scratch. Here are some strategies to correct our portion size mind-set.
Some Simple Ways To Express Portion Sizes:
Obviously this is not an exhaustive food list, but it will help get us started. Check out my additional information below on ways to help make portion sizes relative and manageable.
A Handy Solution!
- BDA guide to serving sizes
- Beat portion distortion
- Using your hand to judge serving sizes
- BUPA: Portion sizes
- Healthy waistlines
So it looks like we’re going to eat a lot less with our eyes and more with our hands- bon appétit!