Not knowing this can make you fat

Not knowing this can make you fat

Think you know what a serving size is?

Most people’s idea of what constitutes a serving size is vastly, well, oversized.

Americans’ food intake has certainly changed over the past several decades. According to The American Diet by Dr. Stephan Guyenet, we are eating 20-25 percent more calories today than we did in 1970.

Plate size and portion size are two of the culprits to our expanding waistlines.

“Portion size is often confused with serving size, but they differ,” says Dr. Jacqueline Brom, a family medicine physician with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“Portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat at any one time, which may be more or less than a serving, and is often dictated by the size of your plate or bowl,” says Dr. Brom.

A serving size, however, is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts label.

“Serving size often requires you to measure out your food. For instance, a serving of breakfast cereal is typically a half cup or one cup. But, when people eyeball a serving size, or use their bowl as a guide, they often end up pouring two or even three times more,” says Dr. Brom.

The food and restaurant industries have not made it easy to know what a proper serving size looks like as portion sizes have grown dramatically over time. “When you go out to eat, it’s a safe bet to assume you should ask that half go immediately into a to-go bag. A kid’s meal today is often the size of an adult meal a few decades ago,” says Dr. Brom.

How much has food today been supersized? Here are some examples from 20 years ago vs. today, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute:

Food 20 Years Ago Today
Bagel 3” diameter. 140 calories 6” diameter. 350 calories
Cheeseburger 333 calories 590 calories
Spaghetti & Meatballs 1 cup spaghetti w/sauce and 3 small meatballs. 500 calories 2 cups of pasta with sauce and 2 large meatballs. 1025 calories
French Fries 2.4 oz. 210 calories 6.9 oz. 610 calories
Soda 6.5 oz. 85 calories 20 oz. 250 calories
Theatre Popcorn 5 cups. 270 calories 1 tub. 630 calories
Pizza 2 slices. 500 calories 2 slices. 850 calories
Cup of coffee Cup w/milk & sugar. 8 oz. 45 calories Grande café mocha w/whip, 2% milk. 16 oz. 330 calories

Not only are you taking in more calories, but you are consuming more sugar and fat simultaneously, all of which can contribute to obesity and chronic health issues.

If you are having trouble losing or maintaining your weight as you age, start paying attention to serving sizes – you will likely be very surprised.

Dr. Brom says as we age, we need fewer calories because our lean muscle mass declines, which results in a slowing metabolism and less energy expended to burn calories. If you keep eating the same in your 40s and 50s as you did in your 20s and 30s, the excess energy (aka calories) is converted to fat.

Of course, this varies per person depending on physical activity, genetics and gender; however, she says women generally burn 75-150 fewer calories per day with each passing decade from their 30s to age 70, while men burn about 100-200 fewer calories per day with each decade of aging.

“You still need the same nutrients (like protein, fruits, vegetables and fiber) as you age, but you need fewer calories each passing decade, which means there is a greater need for calories that keep you full longer and less wiggle room for discretionary or empty calories, like chips, dessert and alcohol,” says Dr. Brom.

To help prevent gradual weight gain, Dr. Brom advises the following:

  1. Serve proper measured servings instead of eating family style or buffet style.
  2. When dining out, skip the bread basket and appetizers and split meals with a friend, take half to go or ask for a half-portion.
  3. If you are pressed for time and find yourself at a fast food restaurant, order a kid’s meal.
  4. Measure out snacks; don’t eat straight from the package.
  5. Use smaller plates and bowls – for instance, use a salad plate for each meal instead of a dinner plate.
  6. Track your caloric intake by using a food diary.
  7. Stay as active as possible.
  8. Incorporate regular resistance training to help preserve muscle mass.
  9. Get the recommended amount of sleep, usually 7-9 hours a night.
  10. Drink plenty of water and eliminate or reduce liquid calories, including diet sodas.

To determine how many calories you need, use a calorie intake calculator or talk to your primary care physician or to a registered dietitian.

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  1. There is a lot of controversy in this topic, and it needs to be pointed out to people who must lose weight to save their health that the ‘calories in, calories out’ model of diet does not hold up in research to the best outcome in weight loss. The best outcome in weight loss is the restriction of sugars (carbohydrates/carbs) in the diet. Unfortunately the weight does not stay off any better than it does in other diets, including calorie-restricted ones because people do not continue to restrict the sugars. Nevertheless, to get the weight off, stopping high sugar foods like grains, starchy vegetables, sugary drinks, even fruit juices, works, even without exercise. This fact would get much more attention if contemporary nutritionists were not manipulated in their fields by the big business of sugar and the whole weight loss industry itself.

    • As a registered dietitian nutritionist (not to be confused with a “contemporary nutritionist”), I would like to inquire as to how you determined that grains, starchy vegetables, sugary drinks and fruit juices were considered “high sugar foods”? Are you referring to foods that have added sugar, or foods that have any sugar, natural or otherwise? Would just like to clarify your reasoning and research on the matter. I enjoy learning another’s view on foods and meal planning for weight loss success and alternative sources of information regarding effective ways to treat the obesity epidemic. This information would be beneficial in helping the persons I serve succeed in reaching their behavior goals.

  2. Thanks for this post, because after having major surgeries, especially in 2015, I gained lot of weigh, and want to get my body back. Happy 2018

About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”