Size matters: oversized portions are leading to obesity

Research suggests you could eat the same diet and still lose weight, simply by reducing your portion sizes.

The UK has an obesity problem. Reports suggest that 60 percent of the population is overweight or obese from eating too much2 and exercising too little. Keeping an eye on your portion sizes is a big part of getting into shape and maintaining a healthy weight.

The science

A recent review of how portion size affects eating habits examined the findings of 61 previous studies to look for trends. The UK Department of Health funded the analysis, which was carried out by researchers from major universities including Oxford and Cambridge3. The researchers say this review offers the “most conclusive evidence to date”1 that portion size affects how much people eat. The issue is that big portion sizes can mean you eat more than you intend to, and take in more calories than you realise.

The data suggests that people will eat more if offered it, regardless of whether they are really hungry enough to eat it all. The review estimated that if people used smaller portion sizes consistently for all meals, they could reduce average calorie consumption by 144-288 calories every day. If you made these changes and kept everything else the same, you could lose between 0.45kg and 0.9kg in a month3.

Putting it into context

Portion sizes affect how much people eat for all kinds of reasons. Very few people have a straightforward relationship with food, as it is tied up with societal and body image issues. Most children are taught that finishing your plate of food is a good thing, and are praised for eating a large meal.

Other studies have suggested that adults find it difficult to assess how large a child’s portion should be and inadvertently feed their family too much. Children under the age of three are often better at regulating how much they eat, but external factors such as portion control override these internal cues more and more as the child gets older4.

If you regularly eat large portions this becomes normal, and portions that are actually normal start to look too small. This is related to crockery sizes and packaging, which are much bigger than they were 20 years ago. The same review that found a link between portion size and overeating also reported that ready meals such as shepherd’s pie were almost twice as large in 2013 as in 1993. Snacks are also going jumbo, with a 2013 portion of peanuts 80% larger than the 1993 equivalent1.

Easy ways to keep an eye on portion size

Begin by using smaller plates and bowls to serve meals at home, so that you don’t fill a large plate with more food than you really need. If a restaurant offers a regular portion size and a larger one, choose the regular option. The same goes for fast food – resist the temptation to ‘supersize’ your meal.

Serving a healthy portion size is half the battle. You can also control how much you eat by listening for your body to tell you when it’s full. Most of us miss these signs by eating too fast, and only realising that we’ve over-eaten after the food is all gone. Eat slowly, chew properly and savour every mouthful before swallowing. If you finish your meal and still feel hungry, wait ten minutes before going back for seconds2. You can also teach children to focus on these internal signals, and let them serve themselves to help them learn how to moderate their own portions4.

If you would like more advice on how to eat well and maintain a healthy weight, you can book a dietary consultation with one of our clinical or consultant dieticians.

To book your consultation call us on 0800 101 0337.

Sources
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34246119
http://www.jamieshomecookingskills.com/pdfs/fact-sheets/Understanding%20portion%20sizes.pdf
http://www.nhs.uk/news/2015/09September/Pages/Decreasing-portion-sizes-could-cut-obesity-levels.aspx
http://www.who.int/elena/bbc/portion_childhood_obesity/en/

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