The Supersize Issue Of Portion Control In Weight Management

It seems ridiculously obvious doesn’t it? If you want to lose weight, consume fewer calories. If you want to gain weight, consume more calories. In order to adjust your weight, you need to tip the energy balance scale in favour of your weight management goal. Unfortunately, many people seem unable to tip the scale effectively despite their best efforts. One of the main reasons for this? Portion control.

Conditioning your body to adapt to different serving sizes can be very challenging. As helpful as nutrient labels may appear, they can actually skew your view of the calories you are eating. It is also easy to imbalance nutrients in a bid to increase or decrease calories if you do not pay close attention to your diet. Combine this with the wide spread opinion that if you are eating a healthy meal you don’t have to worry about how much you eat and you have a recipe for failure.

Without knowing your requirements and keeping track of your portions accordingly, you cannot implement an effective weight loss/weight gain plan. Eating appropriate portions will help to improve digestive health and energy levels while keeping you on track to reach your weight loss/weight gain goals.

Nutrition Labels

The labels on food packaging which inform us about the nutritional value of food were implemented to help us keep track of what we are eating and allow us to make healthy decisions when it comes to the weekly shop. However, the information is often deceptive and can lead to confusion over what is acceptable to eat, how many calories are actually in the foods we are eating and what an appropriate portion size is.

The majority of food packaging only contains the nutrient values and calorie content of 100g of the food within the packaging and not what an average portion size of the food would contain. As the majority of us cannot ‘guess’ correctly what 100g of the product would look like or how this fairs in accordance with how much of it we would usually eat,  we cannot be sure of the content unless we measure it and perform calculations ourselves.

Some packaging will also provide a ‘per serving’ column, the issue here is that these serving sizes are not always realistic. For example, on the Kelloggs Krave cereal packet there is a ‘30g’ serving nutrient column which states that the breakfast cereal delivers  ~150kcal per serving. So a small bowl of this cereal only contains 150kcal. That doesn’t seem bad at all. Until you weigh the cereal and realise that a 30g serving is in fact just four tablespoons worth, hardly a satisfying breakfast if you ask me!

Taking the time to figure out exactly what you are eating and weighing out your portion sizes will help you to avoid this type of elusion where you think that you are only consuming 150kcal at breakfast when in fact you have just consumed 450kcal and half of your daily recommended sugar intake.

Steer clear of supersize, buy one get one free and 50% extra free offers which encourage overeating. Always be aware of portion sizes and keep track of the number of calories you actually consume with a food diary. Don’t become a victim of portion distortion!

Too Much Of A Good Thing

There is a common misconception that if you consume a healthy diet, you do not have to regulate the amount you eat as closely as you would for junk food. While healthy foods (in general) are less calorific than processed junk foods, they still contain calories and those calories will still add up if you eat giant portions. Some people struggle to lose weight despite eating a healthy, balanced diet and this is often the reason why. When people become used to eating large portions of any food they fancy and decide to lose weight with a healthy diet, they can have warped perceptions of what a ‘normal’ portion size is. An overly large bowl of fruit salad for breakfast or as a snack topped with yoghurt and nuts can still equate to as much as 800kcal if you do not watch how much food you are throwing into the mix. A small fruit salad should only equate to 200kcal maximum. This example shows just how drastic the difference can be between what you actually eat and what your ‘calorie estimate’ for that meal is. If this happens throughout the day it is possible to lose track of hundreds of calories.

Know Your Requirements

Most people are aware of the need to consume fewer calories than their requirements in order to lose weight (negative energy balance). Most bodybuilders or strength and fitness individuals are aware of the need to consume more calories than their resting requirements in order to gain weight (positive energy balance). Despite this, many of us hit the gym, eat the right food and consume various nutritional supplements, but have no clear understanding of our individual energy requirements. This means that we have no practical way of tailoring a training routine, specific diet and/or supplement plan.

To calculate exactly how many calories you require to maintain weight use the calorie calculator from Know Your Energy Requirements. From these results, you can amend the calories according to whether you would like to lose or gain weight.


- Plan your meals and only buy what you NEED. Excess food tempts you to eat more. Plus, the amount of food which goes to waste in this country is absolutely criminal. Where possible, choose loose items so that you only buy exactly the amount you need. If this isn’t possible, avoid the 50% extra packaging or buy 1 get 1 free offers. You don’t need double the amount of food this week.

- Do not rely on food labels! By all means read the labels and take into account the ingredients and macro and micro nutrient values, but do a little extra maths to make sure you know exactly the amount of calories you are eating per YOUR ACTUAL serving size.

- Buy scales for your kitchen/ measure your portions. Most people are not capable of accurately guessing what 100g of certain foods looks like and you are probably not an exception to this rule.

- Buy crockery which is size appropriate to your portions. It is possible to buy partitioned crockery to help you ensure that your plate is divided properly for portion sizes of foods responsible for delivering a balanced meal. For example: meat, wholewheat pasta and vegetables would each have an appropriately sized compartment on the plate.

- Avoid buffet style dining. It is very nice to have a ‘help yourself’ sit down meal with the family, but it is very easy to lose track of what you have eaten when you have put 3 or 4 small portions on your plate. To you it won’t seem like you have eaten much when in actual fact you have eaten double the amount that you would if you had served yourself your entire portion at the beginning of the meal.

- To avoid constant measuring, you can pre-prepare your portion sizes by dividing them up after your weekly shop and storing them in individual portion packets. For example, a bag of pasta can be divided into sandwich bags each containing one portion. You don’t have to go this far with your organisation, but some people find this level of organisation very helpful.

- Share food in restaurants. It is unlikely that restaurants will be offering smaller, less indulgent portions for less money anytime soon. Save money and stay in control of your portions by choosing to share a meal between two. There will be more than enough to consume an adequate meal with a half-sized portion in the majority of restaurants you go to.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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