How to control your portions

We’ve all been tripped up by portion distortion. Here’s how to dish out a healthy amount of food.The scarily modest serving size of meat.

Australia is home to lots of big things – the huntsman spider, Eureka Tower, the Big Banana… but increasingly, our portion sizes – and our waistlines – are becoming supersized, too.

Dietician’s have been tracking food trends in Australia and found that in the past 20 years the size of a small coffee has doubled and the average chocolate bar is now four times bigger.

In 2008, Australia beat out the US to become the fattest nation in the world, with 26 per cent of Australians classified as obese. The reasons for the obesity epidemic are complex, but it’s obvious our ever-growing serving sizes play a role. According to a survey of more than 3000 adults commissioned last year by Weight Watchers Australasia, 42 per cent of us say our serving sizes were smaller growing up, yet 77 per cent of us still finish everything on our plates. And 43 per cent of the people polled admitted they continue to eat until they’re stuffed.

Meanwhile, the portions nutrition experts say we should be eating are much more conservative – a matchbox-sized amount of cheese, for example, or half a cup of muesli. But who eats half a cup of muesli? It’s far too easy to scoff down too much – especially when you sit down in front of a heaped plateful at your favourite restaurant, or crunch through an entire bag of chips before noticing it contains 'three servings per package'. This is one serving size of cheese. Oh dear.

People also tend to lose track when they’re pouring breakfast cereal or adding milk to a latte.

Even when you try to pay attention, food can prove irresistible – in a recent University of NSW study of 96 women, participants who were served a large plate of pasta ate 365 more kilojoules than those who received a smaller portion, despite the fact they had just completed mindfulness training designed to help combat overeating.

So what’s the difference between portion size and serving size, anyway? Portion size and serving size are often used interchangeably but they’re not quite the same.

Serving size is the amount of food recommended in consumer education material, like the nutrition panels on a food label, whereas portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat at a specific time – it may be more or less than a ‘serving’ size. Got it? We’ve become used to massive slabs of cake and something’s gotta give...

Perfectly proportioned meals

Here are some examples of proper serving sizes for breakfast, lunch and dinner:


  • 1 cup porridge oats + 3/4 cup low fat or skim milk
  •  1/2 cup natural muesli or ready-made cereal + 1 cup low fat or skim milkJust 10 almonds is a serving size. For real.


  • 1 wholegrain wrap + 1 cup salad + 80-120g tinned fish
  • 1 cup cooked rice + 1/2 cup vegies + 65-100g chicken


  • 1 jumbo hard or soft taco shell + 1/2 cup lean mince + 1 1/2 cups salad + 1/3 avocado
  • 1 cup cooked pasta + 1 cup lean mince and tomato sauce + 2 cups salad + 2 tsp parmesan

Shrink your portions

When you’re an old hand at ignoring your body’s stop signs, it’s easier to fall into a whole bunch of overeating traps. Here’s how to outsmart them…

Fill a (small) plate: If you use smaller plates and bowls, you’ll tend to serve yourself less and, over time, get used to eating less.

Beware of the giant packet: Avoid temptation by dishing out a small helping of a treat (like chips) into a bowl instead of eating them straight from the bag.Hot chips portion

Spoil your appetite: A healthy snack (try a small tub of yoghurt) before a decadent meal can dull hunger, making you less likely to pig out at the main event.

Drink more fluids: It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger. You could also be cold, or just bored.

Try to eat selectively: Stop and think about what you want to eat – don’t just suck up what’s in front of you.

Put down your phone and enjoy your food: Eating mindlessly increases your risk of overeating.

Slow and steady sheds the weight: Eating a meal too quickly (in less than 20 minutes) can lead to overeating because your stomach needs time to register the food and let your brain know you’re full.

Sharing is paring: Split large restaurant portions with a friend or share entree plates.

Check out our great list of recipes