The Case for Portion Control: How Much are You Really Eating?

June 3, 2013

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Fast FoodWhen it comes to calories, we don’t know as much as we think. A new study shows we may be the kings and queens of underestimating the calorie content of meals.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, surveyed people eating at 10 fast-food type chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Researchers asked adults, children, and adolescents how much they ordered and how many calories they thought they were consuming. Surprisingly, those who ate at Subway, which boasts a healthier menu, were farthest off the calorie mark.

Adults consumed about 836 calories, on average, which far exceeds how much you should eat in one sitting. To sustain medical weight loss, I often recommend my patients eat less than 700 calories (many times much less) per meal. But most concerning to me is the lack of knowledge—adults underestimated their consumption by 175 calories on average, and about 25 percent of those surveyed were off by at least 500 calories.

Portion control is a key factor in losing weight. No foods—not even fruit—are unlimited. In fact, you can lose weight fast just by reducing portion size, and it’s easy. Many people develop a weight problem because they don’t know when to stop; they don’t listen to their body when it’s telling them it’s full.

Despite most participants underestimating the amount of calories in their Subway meal, it can still be an excellent choice when you’re on-the-go. It’s about knowing what you’re putting in your body. Think whole-wheat bread, lean meats, passing on cheese, skipping extra sauce, and loading up on veggies instead.

Next time you’re in a bind, use this easy-to-remember guide to determine proper portion size.

Your fist = 1 cup: fruit, veggies, cereal, pasta, soup, rice

Palm = 3 ounces: meat, fish, and poultry

Two Cupped Hands = 1 ounce: chips, pretzels, crackers, popcorn

One Cupped Hand = ½ cup: nuts, potatoes, ice cream, beans

Thumb = 1-2 tablespoons: salad dressing, peanut butter, hard cheese

Thump Tip = 1 teaspoon: butter, fats, oils, mayo, sugar

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Comment (1)

[…] an end point. To keep weight off for good, you have to adopt a healthier lifestyle. You don’t monitor portion sizes for a few months; you measure them for a lifetime. Over time, you may not need to use a food scale […]

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