Portion Distortion – I Don’t Eat that Much, Honest!!

Weight management will ultimately boil down to energy balance. In other words ‘kcal in’ vs. ‘kcal out’; if there is too much in then you are in positive energy balance and ultimately you will get fatter. There are undoubtedly numerous other considerations to factor in to this simplified equation, but nonetheless overall this always holds true.

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Conservation of Energy…

I think if I had a pound (£1) for every time somebody had told me “I don’t eat that much but I am still putting on weight,” I would be a very rich man. It is a fundamental law of science that ‘Energy can be neither created nor destroyed’. Therefore if what these clients tell me is true they should actually be millionaires as they are able to create energy from nothing. I am sure most energy companies would fall over backwards to employ them should this be the case, unfortunately it is not. So what is going on?

What Is Food Amnesia?

Well first up there is a recognised condition that is termed “Food Amnesia,” this basically means that very often people will consume foods and not even recall eating them. This is not malicious as they genuinely have no recall later in the day; it is also sometimes referred to as ‘mindless eating.’ This is one of the reasons that keeping food diaries is a successful part of a weight management program. The aspect I am going to consider here is portion distortion. This has come about in the last 30 to 40 years in part because of the food industry.

Portion Distortion

They realised that by providing foods in bigger quantities and/or containers that this meant they could effectively sell more product. We went from one litre soda bottles to two litre soda bottles and the two litre bottle didn’t cost twice as much as the one litre. This encouraged us to buy the bigger bottle and this became the norm. A similar thing happened with most fast food meal deals. For a few extra pence you could add as much as 50% extra to a meal and only pay a few pence. This was a bargain and who can resist a bargain?

Even chocolate bars got in on the act with either the extra-large or the double bar pack. The other area we saw this, although indirectly, was buy one get one free. So now we had double the quantity in the cupboard at home. So how do we combat this?

Well first off you need to become aware of what your overall energy needs are. This can be calculated for you by a registered nutritionist (RNutr) or registered Dietitian (RD). Although there are guidelines for men and women these are only guidelines and you need an accurate calculation. Once you know what your energy requirements are you can start to look at food labels more closely.

What you are interested in is the kcal that are in that meal. Do not get misled by “per serving” or “per 100g” as this is just what the food manufacturer intended. Most people eat the whole packet/tin/meal and very few consume a serving. At least by being aware of what you are eating energy wise you can get a rough idea of what proportion of your overall energy requirements you are consuming at a sitting. The next thing to do is to get slightly smaller plates at home and having done this, follow these simple rules:

  • Always plate the vegetables up first and no two different foods are allowed to touch. This means you cannot overlap foods, and you cannot pile them up.
  • The last thing you put on the plate is the meat as this will have the greatest amount of energy generally and so there is less space for it.
  • Keep you portions of each element of the meal to no greater than the size of your fist.

Now you might say “I would be hungry if I followed these rules and if that truly is the case then you can have a second helping. But here is the catch; there is one final portion law:

  • If you clear your plate you must wait twenty minutes before having a second helping. This has to be a timed 20 minutes and you must sit and think to yourself during this 20 minute breather whether you are truly hungry or whether this is just habit.

The reason we wait twenty minutes is to allow the appetite satiety signals to reach the brain and register.

Finally to aid this process further there are a couple of other things you might want to consider for meal times.

  • Do not eat meals in front of the TV or have other distractions, books, computer games etc.
  • Eat slowly and put you cutlery down in between each mouthful. This will stop you loading up and shovelling food the minute the previous mouthful is in.
  • Chew you food properly and contemplate what you are eating, savouring each mouthful.

Remember the aim of this regime is to combat mindless eating. If you would like further advice about energy intake, nutrition and activity then visit my website at www.nutritionforsportandweightloss.co.uk you can also follow me on twitter @Drgarymend.

By starting to heighten your awareness of your portion sizes and energy intake you are a long way down the road to getting your weight under control. It is a lengthy process as this needs to be a lifestyle change and you most probably will need some education about healthy nutrition and the pitfalls of unhealthy foods. But this is a good way to start and fairly easy to implement with a bit of planning. Good luck and watch those portions!!

Gary Mendoza

My PhD researched a multi-dimensional model for the treatment of obesity. I discovered a technique for screening clients that ensure an 86% success rate. I qualified as a sports nutritionist with Sports Dietitians Australia and have worked with many elite and club level athletes. As well as working one-to-one with clients to achieve weight management I also teach an advanced nutrition and supplementation course and a behavioural change workshop. I currently lecture in nutrition for sport and exercise at Bath Spa and Cardiff Metropolitan Universities.

2 thoughts on “Portion Distortion – I Don’t Eat that Much, Honest!!

  • June 26, 2012 at 5:09 am

    So apt! I struggle with getting the right portion size. My problem is that I don’t eat slowly eough- as you rightly say, ‘shovelling’ food down means you eat more and don’t savour it as much.

  • June 25, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Excellent article!


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