Food for thought

The Serving Size Secrets You MUST Know

Quick Quiz:
How many portions are in a bag of snack-size whole grain crackers? Or in a bottle of locally-pressed juice from your favorite juice shop? Or a snack pack of granola bars? Or in one avocado?

It’s not “one”.  Often the above foods contain two to four servings.

Can YOU Eat Just One?
Sure, you could go ahead and enjoy just half the bag, but are you really going to do that?

Don’t beat yourself up if that answer is no.  If you place food in front of most people, they tend to eat it all.  It’s just the way we are wired.

The Perils of Super Sizing
However, eating too much food in one sitting can be hard on your body.  Here is why:

  • Food is meant to be eaten throughout the day.  Overdosing on too much food at one time causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size which can feel uncomfortable and can cause pain, upset, and/or sluggish digestion.
  • Eating too much food requires your liver and pancreas to work harder. They secrete extra hormones and enzymes to help break the food down. This can sometimes make you feel spacey, weak, irritable, fatigued, or headachy.
  • Thinking there is some type of emergency, your adrenal glands go into “fight or flight” mode and release adrenaline and cortisol, which is the body’s natural response to stress.  However, too much of these hormones can cause elevated blood pressure and weight gain.
  • When your blood sugar levels finally plummet, you experience intense cravings for more food – specifically carbs or sweets.  High cortisol levels also cause appetite increases.
  • Research has found that immune function is also affected for at least five hours after consuming large amounts of refined, simple carbohydrates (think white bread, white rice, white pasta).
  • Overeating can even impact sleep patterns. Your circadian clock, which controls your sleep cycles, causes your sleep and hunger hormone levels to rise and fall throughout the day. Overeating can upset this rhythm, making it hard for you to sleep through the night.

5 Ways to Kick the Portion Distortion

  • Practice gauging how hungry you truly are by  using a hunger/fullness scale. Check in using this scale before, during, and after a meal.
  • Ask yourself, “Am I hungry with my heart?” or “Am I hungry with my stomach?” – true hunger originates from the stomach growling.  Emotional (heart) hunger is when we eat food to fill a void or to comfort ourselves due to uncomfortable emotions such as stress, anger, sadness, boredom, etc. Food will never truly satisfy these emotions.
  • Try not to over order – go for salads, soups, or appetizers which are typically a more reasonable size than entrees.
  • Choose high fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, or whole grains to keep you feeling full and energized.
  • Avoid white refined carbohydrates – they leave you without a sense of fullness and feeling hungry soon after eating.
  • Chew well to aid with digestion and give your brain time to register that you are full before you over eat (a meal should take about 20 minutes to eat).
  • Drink enough water – often we mistake thirst for hunger.
  • Carry your own snacks for when true hunger hits – stock up on snack sized containers and fill them with fresh fruits/veggies, air popped popcorn, nuts/seeds.
  • Count out a serving size into a bowl.  Put the box or bag away.  Remember to eat slowly and savor each piece.


Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

Author Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

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