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Portion Distortion


My clients often tell me that they are eating all the right foods and exercising regularly, yet they’re still not losing weight. It’s so frustrating. (I know! Most of us have been there!) The first question I ask is about portion sizes.

Eating too much of a good thing can still cause weight gain!

Over the years, “normal” portion sizes have multiplied. The portion sizes many of us are eating are just too big. Our body adjusts to ingesting that much food, so we get hungry when we don’t get it.

It sounds discouraging, but you can train your body to be satisfied with less. Just as your body adjusted to larger portion sizes, it will re-adjust to smaller sizes. (It may feel like you’re not getting enough food at first, but after a few days, you will start to feel satisfied by smaller portions.)

Here are some tips to help you get there:

  • Be aware of how you’re feeling. You don’t want or need to feel ‘stuffed’ after every meal. Just not hungry. Also, keep in mind your stomach needs about 20 minutes to send signals to your brain that you’re full. If you keep eating until your brain gets those messages, you’ll have eaten too much and be overfull.

  • Eat more fiber, especially soluble fiber. I say this so much I feel like a broken record. Fiber-rich foods make you feel full. They provide bulk and take longer to digest, keeping you feeling full longer. Chia seeds are a great source of fiber (along with calcium, protein, manganese, omega-3s, and phosphorus). Add them to salads, smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal. Whole grains, oatmeal, veggies, fruits, and legumes (beans) are also great sources.

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Not only will you get the fiber benefit, you’ll fill up on foods with fewer calories than starches and meat. You can eat the same volume of food and consume less calories.

  • Include protein with every meal and snack. Protein promotes feelings of fullness. Focus on lean proteins, such as skinless chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, and eggs. Plant-based proteins include beans, tofu and nut butters. (Be sure to watch your portion of nut butters. They are calorie dense.)

  • Drink water. Drinking water rather than calorie filled beverages saves you extra calories. What's more, drinking a glass of water before a meal helps some people eat less.

  • Practice mindfulness. Paying attention to what you’re eating without distraction will help you pay attention to your body’s fullness and hunger cues. Distracted eating causes overeating. Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you feel ‘hungry’. Does your body really need food or do you feel hungry for other reasons – boredom, stress, or other emotions. If it’s for another reason, train yourself to redirect, such as going for a walk or other self-calming techniques.

  • Use a smaller plate. And don’t go for seconds. People tend to fill their plates 70% full, no matter the size of the plate. This can add up to significant calories.

Eating less doesn’t mean feeling hungry. It’s just a matter of choosing nutrient and fiber dense foods low calorie foods over empty calories.

For more help with portion sizes, click here for my free PDF ‘Portion Control – Top Ten Tips’.


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Karen Marcouiller

Personal Trainer and Health Coach

National Sports and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

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