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Portion Size Mistakes That May Be Ruining Your Diet

The only factor determining the number of calories you consume is the size of the food and drink you consume. Read on to learn how you can use serving sizes to your advantage to maintain a healthy weight.

What is a serving size?

A "serving size" is a standard amount of a food, such as a cup or an ounce. Serving sizes can help you when choosing foods and comparing similar items while shopping, but they are not necessarily recommendations for how much of a certain food to eat; think of them more as suggestions or a guide to how many calories are in a specific amount of this particular food.

The problem may seem obvious, but serving sizes are almost always much smaller than what we may eat or drink without that guide. A study in the Journal of Obesity found that when given a larger portion of ice cream, people consumed an average of 30% more than they would have if they'd been given a smaller portion. And when given a larger bag of popcorn at the movies, people ate 34% more than they would have from a smaller bag.

This phenomenon is called the "serving size effect," It can sabotage your weight loss efforts by causing you to eat more than you intended. One way to avoid the serving size effect is to be mindful of your portions. If you are on a weight loss journey and unsure of what serving sizes look like on your plate, use a food scale or measuring cups to ensure you're not eating more than you think. And when dining out, share meals or order smaller portions.

Another way, but in general, a little tricker as our appetites can change daily, is to focus on satiety cues - how full and satisfied you feel - rather than on how much food is left on your plate. This requires a concerted effort to eat slowly enough to notice those feelings of satiety. Once you're satisfied, stop eating even if there's food left over.

Why are servings so misleading?

When you're trying to lose weight, every calorie counts. But when you look at the nutrition facts label, it can be hard to figure out how many calories are in a serving. That's because the serving size is often much smaller than you think. For example, a can of soda might say it has 2 servings, each with 130 calories. But who only drinks half a can of soda? Most people would drink the whole can, which means they're really consuming 260 calories.

The same goes for other foods like chips, cookies, and ice cream. The serving sizes are often so small that it's easy to eat 2 or 3 times the amount listed on the nutrition label. And that can add up to many extra calories that sabotage your weight loss efforts.

So next time you look at the nutrition facts label, pay close attention to the serving size. It might be smaller than you think.

How do I determine appropriate portions?

One way to determine appropriate portions is by using your hands as a guide. For example, a serving of protein should be about the size of your palm, while a serving of carbs should be about the size of your fist. Of course, these are just guidelines, and you may need to adjust based on your hunger levels and goals. Another but more time-consuming option is to use a food scale to measure portions. This can be especially helpful when starting out until you get a feel for how much food is equal to a serving size.

If you're trying to lose weight, you must be aware of how serving sizes can sabotage your efforts. Often, we think we're eating less than we actually are, which can lead to weight gain. Be mindful of your portions and make sure you're not overeating, even if the food is healthy. By being conscious of your servings, you can set yourself up for success in reaching your weight loss goals.

Scan this list of 9 commonly eaten foods. You are likely overindulging in at least one of them. Remember, even healthy foods can derail your diet if you overeat them.

1. Cereal

When is the last time you measured your cereal before pouring it into a bowl? Have you ever checked the Nutrition Facts label to determine the correct serving size? For some cereals, one cup is the recommended serving size. If you pour your cereal straight into the bowl, chances are good you are eating up to two servings. And if you refill the bowl (as many of us do), you may be eating 3-4 servings.

2. Pasta

One of the easiest food items to overconsume is pasta. Order a pasta dish at a restaurant and you probably get more calories than is recommended for your entire day. A service size of pasta is 2oz cooked pasta. The 'cooked' part makes a huge difference here. Pasta increases in size/weight after cooking so 2oz of uncooked pasta is more like 4oz of cooked pasta.

3. Chicken Breast

Lean protein is healthy, right? Not if you overeat it. If you are eating a whole chicken breast for dinner, you might be eating too much. The recommended single portion of chicken is 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of playing cards. Some people use the palm of their hand as a guide. Depending on the vendor, some chicken breasts are twice or even three times the recommended serving size. The calories in chicken breast can add up and ruin your diet.

4. Coffee Creamer

Your morning cup of java might be the most fattening—and unhealthy—thing you consume all day if you add flavored creamer. And you're not off the hook if you use the fat-free variety. A single serving of liquid creamer is one tablespoon. Do you pull out the measuring spoons when you add cream to your coffee? Probably not. If you are drinking more than the recommended serving (remember to count each cup of coffee!) then the small amount of fat in the "fat-free" creamer starts to add up quickly.

5. Cooking Spray

You might skip the oil or butter when you cook healthy meals at home. This is good! But you might be neglecting to account for the calories in your cooking spray. If you use PAM to avoid adding calories to your food, you might want to know that a single serving of the spray is 1/4 of one second. Do you keep a stopwatch in your kitchen? It's not likely that you do. The Center for Science in the Public Interest evaluated the spray and reported that a more typical six-second spray would have 50 calories and 6 grams of fat.

6. Soda

Sugary drinks are one of the easiest things to overconsume. We often put them next to us and mindlessly sip away. But the calories in soda add up, even if you only drink one a day! And for many reasons, diet soda is not a good alternative. A serving size of Coke is 12 ounces. But most of us drink plenty more than that when we fill up at the soda fountain. A 7-11 Double Gulp contains 50 ounces and 575 calories.

7. Salad Dressing

A healthy salad can be a great alternative to a high starch, high-fat meal. But the salad dressing can add calories that could make any prudent calorie counter blush. By some estimates, many restaurant salads contain over 500 calories, most often due to the fatty dressing. A serving size of salad dressing is just two tablespoons. If you order your dressing on the side, your waiter will probably bring you much more than that, and it you're like many restaurant diners, you pour all of it on your salad.

8. Avocado

Avocado is no doubt a superfood. Full of nutrients and delicious too. But beware, the calories in avocado add up quickly. A serving size of avocado is 1/3 of an avocado (50g or 1.7oz) with 80 calories. So next time you load up your healthy avocado toast with the entire contents of an avocado, realize that it is almost 250 calories of your day gone in a few bites.

None of these are 'bad' foods, in fact they can all be a perfectly healthy part of your diet. Being aware of how much of each you are eating may help you out if you're struggling with your weight.

Eat Well, Be Well.

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