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Stop Making These Common Portion Size Mistakes

You may be eating too much of one of these foods


Updated April 16, 2014

Stop Making These Common Portion Size Mistakes

It is easy to overeat certain foods.


You might think you are doing a good job of sticking to your diet and eating healthy. But if you still feel fat, chances are good that you are overeating some foods. Almost everyone makes portion size mistakes.

No matter what kind of food you are eating, serving size matters. Even if you are eating a "healthy" food, your portion size should match the recommended serving size. But how often do you check the Nutrition Facts Label to find out what the serving size really is? You might be surprised at the amount of each food that you should really be eating.

Common Portion Size Mistakes

  • Cereal. When is the last time you measured your cereal before pouring it into a bowl? Have you ever checked the Nutrition Facts Label to determine the correct serving size? For some cereals, one cup is the recommended serving size. But the American Diabetes Association lists ¾ cup as a suggested serving. If you pour your cereal straight into the bowl, chances are good you are eating up to 2 servings. And if you refill the bowl (as most of us do!) you may be eating 3-4 servings.

  • Chicken Breast. Lean protein is healthy, right? Not if you eat too much of it! If you are eating a whole chicken breast for dinner, you might be eating too much. A serving of chicken is 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of playing cards. Some people use the palm of their hand as a guide. Depending on the vendor, some chicken breasts are twice or even three times the size of a recommended serving.

  • Hamburger. If you are counting your hamburger as one serving of beef, you are probably underestimating the calories you've consumed. A quarter pound burger (4 ounces) is slightly larger than the recommended serving size of 3 ounces. But many burgers, especially those served at restaurants, are 1/3 to 1/2 pound. You might be eating twice as many calories as you think you are.

  • Coffee Creamer. Your morning cup of java might be the most fattening thing you consume all day. And you're not off the hook if you use the fat-free variety. A single serving of liquid creamer is one tablespoon. Do you pull out the measuring spoons when you add cream to your coffee? Probably not. If you are drinking more than the recommended serving (remember to count EACH cup of coffee!) then the negligible fat in the "fat-free" creamer starts to really add up.

  • Cooking Spray. You might skip the oil or butter when preparing healthy veggies or lean meats at home. This is good! But you might be neglecting to account for the calories in your cooking spray. If you use PAM to avoid adding calories to your food you might want to know that a single serving of the spray is 1/3 of one second. Do you keep a stopwatch in your kitchen? It's not likely that you do. The Center for Science in the Public Interest evaluated the spray and reported that a more typical six-second spray would have 50 calories and 6 grams of fat.

  • Bread. If you pack yourself a healthy lunch with a lean meat sandwich, congratulations! You are probably saving yourself from the belly-busting caloriefest that you'd experience if you went to a restaurant. But did you accurately record the calories in your whole grain bread? If you think your sandwich equals one serving, think again. For many bread products, including Pepperidge Farm Soft Honey Whole Wheat Bread, a single serving is only one slice of bread.

  • Fruit. A healthy serving of fresh fruit is a great alternative to a high fat dessert. But if you are counting your calories or watching your sugar intake you need to monitor how much you are eating. Take grapes for example. If you sit down with a bowl of grapes, you might add one serving of grapes to your food diary. Wrong! A single ("cup") serving of grapes is only 16 grapes. Get out your calculator before you start chomping.

  • Soda Pop. Sugary drinks are one of the easiest things to over consume. We often put them next to us as we work, or when we drive and mindlessly sip away. But the calories from soda add up, even if you only drink one a day! And for many reasons, diet soda is not a good alternative. A serving size of Coke is 12 ounces. But most of us drink plenty more than that when we fill up at the soda fountain. A 7-11 Double Gulp contains 50 ounces and 575 calories.

  • Salad Dressing. A healthy salad is a great alternative a high starch, high fat meal. But the salad dressing can add calories that could make any prudent calorie counter blush. By some estimates, many restaurant salads contain over 500 calories, most often due to the fatty dressing. A serving size of salad dressing is 2 tablespoons. If you order your dressing on the side, your waiter will probably bring you much more than that.

How to Avoid Portion Size Mistakes

Feeling full after a meal is good, but no one likes to feel fat after they eat. The best way to stop overeating is to match your portion size with the recommended serving size. This simple step will save you from calorie-counting mistakes and will help you to reduce your food intake overall.

You can measure your portions easily if you equip your kitchen with essential measuring tools. Then record the foods accurately with a calorie counting app, like the one at CalorieCount.com, that allows you to customize your portion when you add each food. You may be surprised how just measuring your food makes a big difference in your food intake and probably in the way your clothes fit.


Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Unrealistic Serving Sizes Understate Calories, Sodium, Saturated Fat, Says CSPI." August 2, 2011.

Diabetes.Org. Food and Portion Size. American Diabetes Association. Accessed: June 15, 2012. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/weight-loss/food-and-portion-size.html

EatRight.org. Serving Size vs. Portion Size: Is There a Difference? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed: June 15, 2012. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=4294967941

Nutrition Labeling. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed: June 15, 2012. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/ucm064904.htm#raccs

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