How To Estimate Portion Size

Things have been nuts since school started. The last semester is ending with a flurry of group projects and the beginning of my first internship rotations. This means that my usual pattern of eating has been thrown off a bit. While I don’t normally pay attention to small fluctuations in what the scale says (I usually weigh myself every 2 or 3 days) I start to keep a close eye when it goes up 3-4 pounds. For me personally it’s easier to catch and deal with smaller changes in weight then wait until I’ve gained 15, 20 or more. I’ve dealt with regain before so this is my system of tackling the problem. When the scale starts to steadily move up it usually means one of several things.

– I’ve decreased the amount of vegetables that I normally eat.

– I’ve started to replace the vegetables with things that are fast and easy to grab and eat. This usually means snack type items such as crackers, pretzels, cereal and bread.

– I’ve started eating bigger portions of things that are good for you but higher in calories such as nuts, cheese, dried fruit, etc.

Thinking back over the last week or two I could see a pattern appearing. Some of the items that I bring with me to eat at school or on the run were slowly increasing in size. I’m currently out of the smaller snack sized plastic bags and began using the larger sandwich bags. I could kind of eyeball the small snack bags and knew how much I could put in the bag without it being an overly large portion. The sandwich bags however have far too much room for items such as trail mix, almonds, cashews, dried fruit, etc that I would bring to snack eat. I really hate measuring out my food but, after pouring some of my usual trail mix into the larger bag, I measured it and found that I was pouring myself two to three times as much when I used this size bag. To stop over measuring I will return to a method that I found handy and that doesn’t require pulling out measuring cups (though that is a great technique to control portions sizes). What I normally do is use my hand to quickly measure out items. Check out the chart below to see what I mean:


The way to use this chart is to look at the hand symbol on the left and see what measurement it can be used for on the right. For example, the third picture down on the left shows a handful. The food you are measure, nuts for example, should fit into this area of your hand. It’s a fast and easy method to measure items out and keep portions under control.

Hey….everyone’s hand size is different so doesn’t that mean that they are getting a bigger portion?

Well, yes the most likely are getting a slightly bigger portion. But the bigger/taller/larger a person is the more likely they will be eating more calories to maintain their larger frame size.

Paying attention to portion sizes is one way to keep the issue of regain under control. Food portion sizes are getting bigger all the time so it becomes important to remember that the item your eating might actually contain several portions and most likely isn’t a single serving of that item. Want to see what I mean? Check out two portion distortion quizzes available at Choose My Plate. There are links to each quiz about half way down the page. I think you’ll be quite surprised to see the increase in product sizes over the years.

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