The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Do You Know How Much You Are Eating?

Do You Know How Much You Are Eating?

Dietitian Dialogues

March 29, 2009

Portion sizes have increased over the last few decades and so have statistics on the average weight gain per person. It is estimated that portion sizes have increased tenfold between the 1970’s and now. The average weight gain in the 60’s was roughly 1 to 2 pounds as compared to an 8 pound average in the 1980’s.

Evidence illustrates that people eat more when they are confronted with larger portions, even when hunger is not a factor. So, we are faced with a double-whammy: Portion sizes have dramatically increased and are consequently much more than the average person requires, and most of us are not relying on internal hunger cues to guide eating. The result is over-consumption and weight gain.


The Growth of Portion Sizes









2 ounces


5 ounces




6 ounces


12.6 ounces




12--20 ounce sodas


64 ounce “Big Gulp”


Chocolate Bar


.6 ounces


1.6 ounces

Take the Portion Distortion Quiz from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI):


Smart-Sizing Portions

An easy way to re-train your customers to estimate portion sizes is to guide them with visual cues of common household items. Once they can estimate (visually) how much they are eating, it will be easier for them to compare actual intake to recommended intake.

Review these serving-size cues (below) with your customers and encourage them to serve smaller portions to reduce excessive intake and prevent weight gain. Serving smaller portions is an opportunity to teach customers and their families to tune into hunger as a guide for eating. Also, remind consumers about the difference between portion size and serving size. A serving size is the standardized measurement dictated by the USDA, listed on the Nutrition Facts label on all packaged foods. In contrast, a portion size is the amount of food offered to a person in a restaurant, or the amount a person chooses to put on their plate. Unfortunately, with the growth of the size of portions over the last three decades, what a person is served or chooses to eat in one sitting may be dramatically larger as compared to standardized serving sizes recommended by the Food Guide Pyramid.




Food Type


USDA Serving Size


Household Item (insert images)


Total Daily Intake Recommendations*


Meat, poultry, Fish





3 ounces


Deck of Cards




Check book


2 – 3 per day



Peanut Butter


2 Tablespoons


9 volt battery


Beans, canned



½ cup


½ baseball




1 ounce


Slice = Floppy disc

Cube = 4 dice

2 – 3 per day



Milk or Yogurt


1 cup or 8 ounces




Butter or margarine



1 Tablespoon


 2 Standard postage stamps

1 – 3 per day

(or less than 30% of total calories)


Cereal, popcorn, berries, piece of fruit


1 cup


Tennis ball

4 – 8 per day*

*choose mostly whole grains


Cooked pasta, rice


½ cup


Racquetball or ½ baseball


Slice of Bread


1 ounce


CD case




2 ounces (2 servings)


Hockey puck


Baked potato


½ cup, cooked


Computer mouse


Vegetables, Fruit


1 cup


Light bulb

5 or more each day*

Aim for a variety of colors


*Daily nutrition intake varies by age, sex, and activity level. For more detailed information, consult your Registered Dietician or visit the USDA My Pyramid:


Slim Down With Portion Awareness

Once your consumers have the tools to assess how much they are eating, they should take a day or two to record how they’re doing. While keeping a record of what they are eating, consumers can take note of eating locations and of any other environmental or social factors that may be influencing their choices and portions. One last important piece of information to collect is hunger level. Before eating anything, consumers should rate their hunger on a scale of 1 (starved) to 10 (stuffed).

If your consumers discover that they are not hungry (neutral = 5), remind them of the 3 D’s of successful food avoidance: Distance yourself from the food; Delay eating if you’re not sure if in fact it is “true” hunger; and Distract yourself for at least 10 to 15 minutes – then check-in with your hunger later (if you remember!).

Fight Portion Distortion

The explosion in the size of the portions typically served in recent times has distorted our perception of what in fact is a “normal” (or sufficient) portion, making it easier to gain weight. It is no wonder that obesity rates have sky rocketed in the last three decades. We are out of tune with our internal eating cues as well as unknowingly eating more than we need to maintain a healthy body weight.

Encourage consumers to fight portion distortion with their forks – even if the alluring additional calories only cost pennies. Sharing entrées and resisting the urge to “super-size” can really improve overall health.

Barbara Ruhs, MS, RD, LDN is the Corporate Dietician for Bashas’ Family of Stores in Chandler, Arizona. Her commitment to nutrition earned her the The American Dietetic Association (ADA) & Massachusetts Dietetic Association’s Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year award in 2001. As Bashas’ in-house dietician, Ruhs helps to provide grocery shoppers with the necessary tools and resources needed to improve their waistlines, wallets and overall well being.

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at