Are Portion Sizes Shrinking?

Mitzi Dulan

Over the past 50 years, the portion sizes of food have more than doubled, which has negatively influenced the waistlines of our country. Indeed, Americans have a portion distortion problem. But there is some good news!

The Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, recently published an extremely encouraging report on lower-calorie foods. Restaurants are now offering more calorie-controlled, healthy options, and consumers are buying them, the group reported. One of the key findings from the food chains studied was an increase in sales of low-calorie foods while sales of other foods had declined. These chains also saw more traffic due to their healthier options. In short, offering lower-calorie foods is showing good business results, since customers are responding favorably to these smart, nutritious options.

[See 7 Ways to Lose Fat Fast--And Fit Into Your Skinny Jeans!]

Another recent study, by researchers at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health, has shown that people are eating more often and their portion sizes are getting smaller, which means they are consuming fewer calories. These findings are also great news and, hopefully, a sign of good things to come!

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The key to healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight is moderation and knowing how to balance your calorie budget with proper portion control. To do so, here are my top strategies:

1. Pre-portion your food. Always pre-portion any foods that come in packages other than single serving packages to prevent you from overeating. The good news is that many companies are now offering foods in calorie-controlled portion sizes. This makes it easier to avoid overindulging.

2. Just share it. Sharing is especially useful in reducing portion sizes when eating at a restaurant. Since many restaurant portion sizes are still so big, share an appetizer and an entrée when going out to eat with another person. If you are with a group, ask if anyone would like to share an entrée with you. If you are eating alone, ask for a half-sized portion, or ask your waiter to only serve you half of the item and put the rest in a to-go bag.

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3. Eat from smaller plates and bowls. Dishware sizes have also increased over the past 20 years. Research has shown that people eat less when eating from smaller bowls and plates. If you are among the 54 percent of Americans who clean their plates, this strategy could really help you limit your portions. Consider buying salad plates to use as dinner plates.

4. Know your serving sizes. If asked to pour a single serving of oats without a measuring cup, most people would overestimate the amount. This means that people are generally consuming more calories than they realize. Be informed about how much is in a serving to prevent yourself from overeating!

5. Keep serving bowls away from the table. Create an environment that makes portion control as easy as possible. If the food is right in front of you on the table, you are more likely to grab second or third servings. Instead, place the serving dishes away from the table, so you will think twice before reaching for seconds.

6. Add healthy ingredients to your recipes. By adding vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices to your recipes, you can increase the nutrition without adding a load of calories. Fruits and vegetables are naturally higher in fiber and water content, so they will fill you up without bogging you down with extra calories.

7. Establish approved eating areas in your home. Think about it--where do you consume most of your calories in your home? On your couch? In your bed? Now, only allow yourself to eat while sitting down at your table or kitchen counter. This can help prevent eating large portions while watching TV on the couch or sitting in bed. It will also decrease any unconscious eating habits, since you will be more deliberate with your approach to eating at home.

[See 8 Ways to Eat Well and Save Money at Home.]

Hungry for more? Write to with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD, is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert who inspires people to lose weight and get fit. Mitzi coauthored, with NFL Future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez, The All-Pro Diet, which helps people eat clean and get lean. Mitzi is team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals and served as team nutritionist for the Kansas City Chiefs for several years. A sought-after media source for trusted nutrition and fitness advice, Mitzi has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Shape, Glamour, US Weekly, USA Today, CNN, and FOX News. Mitzi was named one of the "Top 20 Nutrition Experts to Follow on Twitter" by The Huffington Post. Follow Mitzi on Pinterest at NutritionExpert.