Portion sizes have gradually increased over the past 50 years. There’s a variety of reasons for this and most of them are beyond our control and have therefore gone unnoticed. Examples are:
In a bid to discover the best dieting regime, with huge debate over the optimal balance of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbs), have we lost sight of one of the most important factors influencing our weight, how much we eat.
Abundant availability of food and larger portion sizes are aspects of our environment that potentially contribute to overeating. Numerous studies support the fact that when people are served larger portions, their overall calorie intake is increased at that meal, what is less clear is whether we are able to self-regulate and compensate for this at a later point in time.
In the modern world, our portions are being increased from every direction. Plate sizes have increased, everyday foods brought in the supermarket (e.g a slice of bread) have got bigger and portion sizes when we eat out are spiralling upwards. It’s fair to say our chronic exposure to larger portion sizes is starting to change our view of what is ‘normal’ to maintain a healthy weight.
The British Heart Foundation commissioned research into portion sizes in 2013 (1) and found ‘there is no meaningful understanding of what is an appropriate portion size, with portions of some foods doubling’.
Our lack of perception over what is a healthy portion is not down to ignorance but a lack of simple practical information, which is hard to believe in 2017. Government information on portion sizes has not been updated for over 20 years, which has given food manufacturers free reign on defining portions, leading to inconsistent packaging information.
Google healthy portion sizes and you may be faced with some pictures of everyday objects to represent healthy portions of different types of foods but how does this translate into everyday living? As a dietitian I would be hard pushed to tell if I was eating a tennis ball sized portion of rice. Portion sizes will also be different for people depending on their gender, age and activity levels and this basic information is non-existent in most portion guides.
Reversing the trend of our supersized portions can begin at home, with smaller crockery and simple measuring utensils. A recent study of people with obesity showed that using portion control tools such as tableware, portion pots and serving spoons was an effective strategy, which was rated acceptable and easy to use by participants (2).
So if we start to focus more on how much we eat, rather than what, could we reverse the trends in obesity?
It’s an interesting thought.