Size Matters: Your Guide to Healthy Portion Sizes


Have a lot on your plate? Paring down your portions is the easiest secret to staying slim. Weight loss is a balancing act between calories in to calories out. If you are putting more calories in than your body needs for energy, then it will store the energy and gain weight. If you are putting less calories in than your body needs, then you will lose weight. If the calories you put in equal the calories you put out, then you will stay in balance. The equation is a simple concept, but actually solving the equation in real life isn’t so easy! 

Just go to a fast food restaurant and you can see that the portion sizes are out of control and have been increasing over the years. Portion sizes can be confusing! Sometimes it is overwhelming trying to always think about portion sizes when trying to lose weight. Just take a look at the recommended portion sizes below for rice, potatoes, pasta, oil, cheese, meat, peanut butter,and a bagel.  




 A 3-ounce portion = a deck of cards or
 the palm of your hand (minus fingers)



1/2 a medium bagel = a hockey puck
That’s a 1-ounce serving of grains



1 teaspoon = a poker chip or a stack of four dimes
That’s 1 serving of fats and oils.



1 portion of pasta is ½ cup = ½ a baseball
That’s a 1-ounce serving of grains.




1 portion or 2 tablespoons = a golf ball
That’s 2 one-ounce servings of protein.




2 portions of cooked rice = a light bulb
That’s 2 servings of grains.

1 medium potato (2.5-3 inch wide) = the size of a computer mouse. That’s equal to 1 cup of vegetables.


Before you swear off everything but baby carrots, consider this: The culprit behind weight gain may not be what you're eating, but how much. Since the late '70s, we've added 570 calories a day to our diets, and half of them can be attributed to larger portions, according to research at the University of North Carolina. "Even though today's serving sizes can be more than triple what the USDA recommends, they've become our new normal, and anything smaller can seem puny by comparison," says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and the author of The Portion Teller Plan. 


Fortunately, having strong visual aids, like the ones on this page, can go a long way toward helping you shift your mind-set. Once you know what right-size portions look like, selecting them will become second nature. The best part? You can downsize your plate -- and your weight -- without giving up the foods you love. 


Smoothies Standard size: 22 ounces 
Better-for-you size: 8 ounces 
Calorie difference: 235 
Even the smallest size at most smoothie shops is often double the amount you're supposed to sip. And a large can contain 40 ounces and 1,000-plus calories. 
The Fix:  make your own smoothie by blending three-quarters of a cup of lowfat milk with a half cup of frozen fruit and half a banana. If your a gym junkie, Pass up the juice bar and bring your own recovery drink to the gym. Store-bought smoothies, such as Dannon DanActive or Oikos Organic Drinkable Greek Lowfat Yogurt. I personally LOVE LOVE LOVE the new Smoothie Shakers - I can't get enough of them! 


Pasta Standard size: 3 cups, cooked
Better-for-you size: 1 cup, cooked 
Calorie difference: 440 
The Fix: Many restaurants, including Olive Garden, offer lunch- or half-size portions. Don't see a smaller serving on the menu? Ask to be given just one cup of pasta and have the rest boxed up before it's brought to the table,. "Special requests are pretty standard nowadays, and most waiters are happy to accommodate them."


Potato Chips Standard size: 2 ounces 
Better-for-you size: 1 ounce 
Calorie difference: 154 
Snack sizes are often twice as big as they were 30 years ago. Even though the labels on the bags may say they serve two or more, many of us, including myself,  polish off the entire bag by ourselves. 
The FixChoose popped or baked as opposed to fried chips to get more food (about 23 crisps versus 13) for fewer calories. If you prefer the classic version, opt for a one-ounce package or split a bigger bag with a buddy.


Steak Standard size: 12 ounces, cooked 
Better-for-you size: 3 ounces, cooked 
Calorie difference: 572 
Now this is my downfall....STEAK! I LOVE me some Beef! When it comes to beef, most chefs have had a bigger-is-better mentality: (and that includes myself) 
The Fix:  "A lot of chains now offer six-ounce sirloin steaks or filets that cook down to about four and a half ounces and clock in at 350 calories.  If you are eating out, shave 50 to 100 calories off that number by asking the waiter to have yours made with very little or no butter brushed on top.


Ice Cream Standard size: 1 cup 
Better-for-you size: 1/2 cup 
Calorie difference: 270 
Eating directly out of the carton means you may well keep going until you hit the cardboard at the bottom. If you're indulging in premium ice cream, that can be the caloric equivalent of a double cheeseburger, plus a whopping 20 grams of saturated fat -- nearly your daily maximum. 
The Fix: Dish out a single serving, and use a small bowl and spoon. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that doing so could shrink your helping of rocky road by about 30 percent. At the ice cream parlor, get a cup or a cone with a single scoop rather than a sundae or milkshake, which can contain roughly 1,400 to 1,700 calories. YIKES! 


White Rice Standard size: 2 cups, cooked 
Better-for-you size: 1/2 cup, cooked 
Calorie difference: 308 
When ordering takeout from a Chinese restaurant, your side of steamed rice will contain 400 to 500 (mostly) empty calories. Not only can it crimp your stay-slim efforts, it can also raise your type 2 diabetes risk: According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, people who ate five or more servings of white rice a week had a 17 percent greater chance of getting the disease than those who ate virtually none.
The Fix: Switch to brown rice, which contains six times as much fiber as the refined version. And use a measuring cup to get an accurate sense of how much you're really eating.  When you're dining out, scoop an amount of rice that's half the size of a tennis ball and leave the rest in the serving dish.


Standard size: 4 tablespoons 
Better-for-you size: 2 tablespoons 
Calorie difference: 145 
Most of us are notorious for drowning our greens in dressing, which can add 300 to 400 calories and dozens of grams of fat to an otherwise healthy dish. Even if you order your dressing on the side,  a standard restaurant ramekin or to-go pouch of ranch, Thousand Island, or Caesar contains twice the amount you should be putting on your salad. 
The Fix:  If your salad feels too dry with just two tablespoons of dressing, but some balsamic vinegar or a lemon wedge to can squeeze over it. You'll be surprised at how much flavor these minimal-calorie toppers add.


Chicken Breasts Standard size: 6 ounces, cooked Better-for-you size: 3 ounces, cooked 
Calorie difference: 99 
We tend to think of boneless, skinless chicken breasts as the ultimate diet food, so it's easy to overlook the fact that many are now two and a half times bigger than they used to be. We assume that whatever comes in the package is the right amount,  but some four-pound family packs of chicken, which should actually serve 16 people, contain just six breasts.
The Fix:  Look for labels that say "thin-cut" or "thin-sliced." These chicken breasts tend be sold in four-ounce portions, hitting the USDA-recommended three-ounce mark once they're cooked. Or make your own by splitting the chicken breasts sold in regular packs; simply use a sharp kitchen knife to slice each one in half lengthwise.


Standard size: 7 1/2 ounces
Better-for-you size: 5 1/2 ounces
Calorie difference: 84
Mixed drinks frequently contain 42 percent more alcohol than a standard one-shot drink would. We're likelier to tip well if we're served a generously poured cocktail, and bartenders are banking on that.  But what you're really getting is a little more alcohol and a lot of sugary, high-calorie mixer, which makes the hard stuff go down so easily that you're ready for another glass sooner.
The Fix: STOP DRINKING!  ha ha ha  - Just kidding!! (I couldn't do it either)  Switch to beer, wine, or liquor on the rocks (with just a splash of juice or club soda), all of which bartenders are less likely to over pour.  By not diluting your alcohol with sugary add-ins that mask the taste, you're more likely to sip it slowly rather than guzzle it.  At home, use a shot glass to ensure you're serving yourself the right amount.


Bagels Standard size: 4 1/2 inches 
Better-for-you size: 2 1/2 inches 
Calorie difference: 270 
Would you start your day with six or seven slices of white bread? That's the calorie equivalent of a bagel at most chains.  And that's before it's slathered with cream cheese or butter. Even the average store-bought bagel is about 195 percent bigger than it ought to be, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found. Eating the whole thing means you've already put away almost all of your six recommended daily servings of grains.
The Fix:  Skinny Bagels, with about 200 calories and 90 calories a piece, and  Bagel Thin Singles, which come in under 160 calories. At the grocery store, opt for Thomas' 110-calorie Bagel Thins or Weight Watchers Original Bagels, with 150 calories plus 9 grams of filling fiber. 


Article adapted from:  Amanda Pressner for Fitness Magazine and the Nutrition Translator
Photos: Peter Ardito and Colleen Poling

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