Often times, we hear those two words being used interchangeably. I was talking with a client last week, and she kept confusing portion sizes with serving sizes. Occasionally, portion sizes and serving sizes mean the same thing, but in most cases, they have completely different meanings. In addition, it’s hard to tell if the portion sizes we are eating are the right serving sizes for our fitness goals and our nutritional needs. Check out the similarities and differences between portion and serving sizes, and learn an easy system that helps you control how much food you portion onto your plate.
But do you know how much food you’re REALLY eating???
Over the years, portion sizes in America (and around the world) have drastically increased, which can be linked to an increased rate of weight gain and obesity. Understanding healthy portions can be hard, because there’s no universal measurement as to what a portion means. We all know that a healthy dinner includes 1-2 servings of lean protein as well as 2 to 3 servings of vegetables (and if you didn’t know that, you can grab a free copy of my portion control guide here.) But what exactly do those serving sizes look like?
First, let’s clear the confusion. What exactly is a portion and what exactly is serving size? According to the National Institute of Health, a portion refers to how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether you’re eating at home or dining in a restaurant. We are 100% in control of our portion sizes. In fact, many of the portions that we choose today actually contain multiple servings. I’ve created an easy-to-use portion control guide to help my clients understand how to portion out meals, so they can lose weight without the confusion and stress of counting calories.
Now that we understand what a portion size is, let’s tackle a serving size. The size of one serving is found on a food nutrition facts label. Serving sizes are created by food manufacturers, and they serve as a guide for how much nutrients, protein, fat, sugar, and carbs are found in the foods we eat. Because they are created by food manufacturers, serving sizes are not in our control.
We can definitely use serving sizes as a guide to portion out our meals, but what happens when we make a recipe that doesn’t come with a nutrition fact label? Or, what happens when we go out to eat at a restaurant? At most restaurants I’ve visited in the past, there are no serving sizes on the menu. Without serving sizes, mixed with the large portions that are served in restaurants, it comes as no surprise that most people eat portions that are too large while dining out, which prevents them from losing weight.
So, what’s the solution? How can we better portion out our meals to reflect our nutritional needs, as well as our fitness goals (like weight loss or gaining lean muscle)?
The only tool you need to measure out proper portion sizes for your body and your health and fitness goals is your hand! Using your hand is an easy way to measure portions because the shape and size of our hand is relative to the size of our body. Plus, our hands are with us everywhere we go. There’s no need to use a food scale, measuring cups, calorie counting, or to even know the exact serving size of a meal when we can use our hands to create proper portion sizes. Check out the ways that your hand best reflects portion sizes:
Vegetables and Fruits—When measuring a serving of vegetables or fruits, use the size of your fist as a guide. Regardless of your health and fitness goals, try to include at least 4-5 fist-sized servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Whole Grains— When measuring a serving of whole grains (quinoa, 100% whole wheat, sweet potatoes), use a cupped hand as a serving size. If you’re trying to lose weight, include ½ to 1 cupped hand serving of complex carbohydrates with each meal.
Healthy Fats—When measuring a serving of healthy (unsaturated) fats, use your thumb to measure the portion size. If you’re trying to lose weight, include ½ to 1 thumb-sized serving of healthy fats at every meal.
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Although often used interchangeably, there are some real differences between serving sizes and portion sizes. Servings sizes can help guide us in choosing the portions of food we eat, but serving sizes aren’t in our control–they are set by food distributors and are found on the nutrition facts labels of most foods. On the flip, we are 100% in control over the portion sizes we choose to eat. If you use your hand to measure out your portion sizes, you’ll prevent yourself from overeating, and you’ll know that you’re on the right track to eating the proper amount of food (and nutrients) for your body, mind, and goals. Most importantly, you’ll be able to eat more of what you love if you understand how to control your portions!