Fitness Facts: Serving sizes vs. portion sizes

By Liz Cook
Registered Dietitian, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic

Are serving size and portion size the same thing?

The short answer is no. While the terms serving size and portion size often are used interchangeably, they are in fact two different concepts.

A serving size is a standard amount of food, which you often see written on the Nutrition Facts label on food packaging. These numbers are a general guide of what the average person may eat. A serving size also can be the amount of food served to you if you are eating in a restaurant.

A portion size is what you personally eat. This can be more or less than the serving size listed on food packaging or served to you while out to eat.

So why is this distinction important? While serving sizes can be a guide for how much to eat, there are many more factors to take into account when deciding what portion of food you should be eating at a given time.

Throughout each day we eat to fuel our bodies, provide our cells with nutrients, give us energy to carry out our daily tasks, among other things. Some days you may need more food to fulfill these requirements, while other days you may need less. Getting more in tune with what your body needs day-to-day will help you select the appropriate portion sizes for you.

If we consistently choose portions that are too small and eat less than we need, we may notice changes such as unintentional weight loss, decreased energy, fatigue, muscle loss and irritability.

However, if we consistently chose portions that are too large and eat more than we need, we may notice changes such as unintentional weight gain and increased cholesterol, blood sugar and/or blood pressure.

So how do we accurately gauge the portions that are correct for our bodies?

First and foremost, start by paying attention to your hunger and fullness throughout the day. Our bodies are smart and provide us with guidance of what, when, and how much to eat. We just have to pay attention.

While it may sound overly simplified, starting to eat when you’re hungry and stopping eating when you’re full is the best first step to nailing portion sizes.

Using a hunger scale can be a helpful tool to assess hunger and fullness a little more objectively. You can use the 1-10 scale below as a guide.

1: starving, irritable, “hangry”
2: very hungry, need food
3: physically hungry, ready to eat
4: starting to feel hungry
5: content, don’t need to eat more
6: no longer hungry
7: full, satisfied
8: very full, no food for a while
9: stuffed, too full
10: overly full, feel sick, “post-Thanksgiving”

Trying to maintain hunger and fullness levels in the middle of the scale is best to remain in control of your portion sizes. Aim to have a meal or snack when you are between a 3 and a 4 out of 10. Aim to complete a meal around a 7 out of 10.

Allowing yourself to get too hungry between meals and snacks may result in eating a portion size that is larger than you otherwise may have eaten, and overeating.

In order to make the hunger scale work, an increased level of mindfulness is needed. You don’t necessarily need to isolate yourself away from all distractions and eat in total silence, but making an effort to pay attention to what you’re eating, how it’s making you feel and how your hunger/fullness level is changing will give you the best results.

Another key point to keep in mind is that your needs change day to day. While one portion size may be completely appropriate one day and give you complete fullness, it might not be enough on a different day.

Allow yourself the flexibility to eat more on days that you are hungrier and less on days when you feel less hunger. Many factors, including physical activity, sleep, stress and hydration, can impact the amount of food your body needs in a given day and even at a given meal.

If you’re still feeling lost and not sure where to start, here are two simple ways to jump into finding the right portion size for you.

First, use the serving size on the packaging as a guide. Plate yourself one serving and see what it looks like. If you feel as if you need a little more or a little less, you are free to adjust. There’s no shame is serving yourself less and having to go back for seconds or serving yourself more and not eating every single bite of food on your plate.

Second, use the general guidelines of half-plate veggies, -quarter-plate protein, quarter-plate carbohydrates and a little fat for flavor as a starting point for your meals. This combination may be perfect for you but more than likely will need some adjusting. Start with a standardized serving size and a basic plate and customize from there.

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Bible Verse

(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/