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Portion Distortion

Why it’s normal to eat more than you need to and what you can do about it.

Portion of a cake slice

What size do you order your coffee when at a café? Tall, medium, grande, large or maybe small sometimes? Is a size called “small” even available? If you’ve forgotten to specify a size, you’ll often receive a taller than medium cardboard cup size, but I bet you finish most of it anyway.

The point is you’d likely be satisfied with three quarters or even half the amount if it were to fill a different cup.

Multiply that effect over a year’s worth of coffee shop visits, then imagine the unnecessary calories you’ve consumed from the extra milk, maybe sugar sometimes, possibly occasional syrup in that bigger cup. Don’t worry it’s not your fault! We’re designed to stop eating and drinking when our container be it a cup, plate, glass or packet is empty or nearly empty, not when we’ve actually had our fill or when we’re sated.

But it’s not only coffee cup sizes that have been growing steadily, it’s also tableware and food portion sizes too, often without us noticing.

What’s the difference between a regular can of drink and a tall, slim can of drink? Do you think you’re drinking less in the slim can? Wrong, they usually hold a very similar amount of liquid. It’s just that our eyes perceive the slimmer can’s surface area as being less or smaller than the regular, wider circumference shorter can.

It’s about 12 fluid ounces in both sizes, but how many times do you think you’re buying something a little more sophisticated or even a single serving in those slimmer, taller cans? They do take up less shelf space, but they’re often more expensive too!

Do you think portion sizes have to be regulated? The answer is only for alcoholic drinks. There is no regulation on portion size for anything else in the food and beverage industry. There isn’t even any regulation on what a portion size should be called. That’s why an often “standard” 8 ounce mug of coffee is called “short” in some places.

Like I said it’s not your fault, this portion distortion is everywhere. But there are things you can do to avoid the portion distortion con.

Recommendations to Help You Keep Your Portions in Proportion

Ask to see the smallest cup size before you order your coffee. Usually it’ll be more than enough.

If you’re at a buffet or meal where you choose your plates, get a dessert plate (often three quarters the size of a dinner plate) and fill that up for your main meal course. It’s better than using often oversized dinner plates.

Even if you want second helpings or when go back for something different it’s better than loading a larger plate twice. Before you put anything on a plate, have a good look around the whole buffet to see what’s on offer and decide what you really want to eat.

When ordering pizza, eat a slice or two as part of a meal with other items and share, don’t have a whole pizza for yourself.

Try cutting a platter or large dish of food up into smaller portions before you serve it. It suddenly seems like there’s a lot of food on a platter, tray or dish. And surprisingly you’ll be satisfied with fewer slices, squares or helpings if they’re smaller.

Quite often especially for sweet things, it’s the first one or two bites that give you the most pleasure. So try cutting a chocolate into two or even three pieces using a board and knife if you’re at home. Then take each bit at a time, you’re getting that chocolatey “mouth feel” two to three times with just one chocolate. That pleasure principle kicks in from the initial taste of a sweet item, that’s what you crave. But that pleasure diminishes as you eat more of it. You don’t need a big portion of dessert, so here again, sharing is caring.

Buy your favourite albeit expensive loaf of bread, have it sliced and put all the slices into 2 separate freezer bags. Take out a slice as you need. I know this will only work in small households and for those who don’t eat bread on most days.

When selecting an elaborate breakfasts from a café menu, ask for the whole thing to be split in half and served on 2 separate plates. Easy if there are 2 eggs! Add an extra portion from a side and you’ll have 2 breakfasts for the price of a little over one, but the point is you won’t eat too much.

Not only do you save money you’ll be surprised at how much food you actually get. Try ordering breakfast from a sides menu sometimes. So for example poached eggs, mushrooms, some sautéed spinach, one portion of toast, that’s often 2 slices and then share the lot!

See if you feel full, or whether you need to order more. If a restaurant doesn’t allow you to share like this, find somewhere else, unless it’s a thali meal of course where you have to order your own meal. While we’re on portioned out meals, don’t ask for refills just because they’re free!

So you don’t have to change what or where you eat or how you shop, just re arrange your food on a different plate, share full breakfasts in cafes and restaurants and don’t think small will be small, it will probably be at least medium sized or bigger. One main course will often be enough to two people to share.

Keeping your portions in proportion will definitely help you live a healthier life in a way that’s normal for you.

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