Portion Sizes (And Waistlines) Increasing: What You Can Do About It.

Portions are on the rise - but so are obesity rates.

Just because it’s in front of you, it doesn’t mean you need to eat it. Though it may be a revolutionary concept to many of us, this guiding principle would do wonders to improve our health and decrease out waistline.

There is a difference between portions and servings. A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat while a serving is the amount of food recommended by the USDA or FDA. A serving of pasta is one half cup, for example, but many of us eat much, much more. At a restaurant, it’s common to get four times that amount.

Over the years, portions have increased in size. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) demonstrated the increase by showing popular foods now compared to just 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, a typical portion of movie theater popcorn had 270 calories; today, it’s 630. Bagels have more than doubled from 140 to 350 calories. And while the burgers of yesteryear’s contained 333 calories, today’s average out at 590.

Portions aren’t the only thing on the rise – so are our obesity rates. While 47% of Americans were overweight in the 1970s, today it’s two out of three. And the obesity rate has doubled to 30% of the population.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that larger portions have been linked to increased consumption and overeating. One study looked at macaroni and cheese portions and found that participants consumed 30% more calories when offered the largest portion compared to the smallest. Despite the increased calories, participants reported similar feelings of fullness – and shockingly, only 45% of participants noticed the changes in portion sizes between the different dishes. Similar studies have been repeated with different foods – from sandwiches to soup to chips and pasta – with the same results. When we’re served more food, we tend to eat more.

So what is a concerned eater to do?

A little awareness can go a long way. Now that we’re aware of the influence or portions on our intake, we can do something about it. And to make things easier, NHLBI has created a handy serving size wallet card that you can print out and take with you. I recommend putting one on your fridge, too. When eating out, ask the waiter to bag up half the meal before it even comes to the table. When eating in, serve reasonable portions in plates (rather than putting the dishes on the table). And remember: Just because it’s in front of you, it doesn’t mean you need to eat it.

Have you noticed an increase in portion size over the years? And how do you practice portion control in your life? Let me know in the comments below.

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. Kevin Cottingim says:

    I try to have a local app first. Maybe a cup of soup or a side salad with lemon juice as the dressing. Then for the main course, I ask forva side plate, and put one-third of the meal on it. Maybe more of a green veggie. But for the protein and starch, I stick to the third. I immediately have the rest packaged to go, or I will end up picking on it. I never walk out bloated. Nor do walk out hungry. If people are having dessert, I may have a half a forkful, but that’s easy.

    At first, this was tough. But, now it is a sense of personal competition and I feel a great victory when I’m finished.

  2. at home i drink a tall glass of water when i feel hungry, especially if im vegged out in front of the tv… if im still hungry 20 minutes after that, ill eat a small healthy snack.. some almonds, a piece of fruit.. or a sliced tomato.. nom nom..

    at restaurants, i never eat more than 1/3 the food on the plate.. i skip the free bread, and drink unsweetened iced tea, coffee, or water.. i usually have a glass of protein or a handfull of nuts and some fruit before i go out so ill eat less.. ordering a la carte can be a healthy option if a menu is full of calories n fat..

    i eat slowly and chew my food really well.. its amazing how fast some people eat… the foods gone and theyre looking for more, often on my plate… they dont even give their brains a chance to say hey idiot! youre full and soon enough theyre stuffed and uncomfortable…

    ~ cheers…

  3. Supalognon says:

    A friend also taught me a rule she applies to herself.

    If for any reason something is not at least 80% as good and delicious as you would expect, stop eating it right away and leave it apart or even throw it.

  4. Controlling portion size is vital to managing diabetes. After I was diagnosed I followed the Canada Food Guide with minor adjustments tailored to diabetes. Learned to recognize a “carb choice”, 15 grams or .53 American ounces. One slice of bread, one cup of carrots, one small potato, 1/2 cup of noodles or pasta, 1/3 cup rice are all about 15 grams of carbohydrates, you can find charts online. Meal = 4 to 5 carb choices, generally 60 grams is good for inactive people, 75 grams is good for active people. 1/2 plate is vegetables (2 different colours), 1/4 protein, 1/4 starch. Water, sugar-free, coffee & tea (use artificial sweetner, low fat milk) for drinking, water obviously the best. Fat-free or low-fat, low sodium, no sugar added. Took in the info slowly & now it’s almost automatic.