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Portion Distortion: Bigger isn’t always better

As we approach the third month of the New Year, we all try and hold onto our New Year’s resolution of staying fit.  What some may not realize is that, regardless of how much you exercise, much of the determining factor in reaching a healthy weight comes from the food you eat. There is this belief that as long as you are eating “good” food, (in the socially constructed divide between “good” and “bad”) that your body will magically shape shift into those skinny jeans you have dangling from your closet door as inspiration.  Yet, there really is such a thing as eating too much of even the healthiest of foods. I am here to be your guide through portion sizes so that your next New Year’s resolution is not to lose weight, but maintain it.

Tasty Tufts Tip One: Portion Comparison. Sometimes all it takes to eat a proper portion is a shocking comparison. For example, when you order that 12 oz steak at your go-to restaurant, you probably are thinking, “Not only am I trimming all of that excess fat off, but I am getting the protein my body needs.” Depending on height and gender, you may be shocked to know that you are ingesting two to three times your daily-recommended amount of protein. By tripling up on your daily protein, you will not be able to capture and release all of this energy in a day, so what happens? Storage. When proteins, fats and carbohydrates are not used, they are stored. It is a system your body uses to fall back on, but that triple amount of protein intake day after day leads to your storage bins getting full (a nicer way of saying, “You’re getting fat!”). Your New Year’s resolution is already dissipating, and it’s not even March. So, if you want to eat a piece of red meat, I am not trying to tell you that you will inflate faster than a startled puffer fish; all I am saying is that you should eat the right sized portion, which happens to be 3 ounces, (compared to the 12 ounces you are generally served at most steak houses.) To know how much of this oversized steak should be consumed, you need to think of 3 ounces as the size of a deck of cards. By envisioning this comparison, you will not only be getting the proper daily intake of protein, but also have a consistent assessment for portion size. If you are not an abstract thinker, you could always keep a deck of cards in your back pocket. While this concrete comparison may look funny to other customers, you will have the last laugh when your New Year becomes a new you. While WebMD is not always the most reliable at diagnosing illnesses since somehow all symptoms converge to cancer, it does a solid job with all things compared and portioned.


Tasty Tufts Tip Two: Serving size. When eating packaged foods or drinks, be sure to read the labels; a package or bottle may very well contain more than one serving, perhaps more than two. Did you know that the serving size for those Frosted Flakes that you dumped into your cereal bowl this morning is a measly one cup? I say measly because, if you actually measured what you put into your bowl, it was probably more like two or three cups! So, those 147 calories quickly become 441 calories, and your jeans are getting tighter by the day. The same goes for spaghetti.  A serving size is also a cup (which is the same as 2 ounces dry.) Try actually measuring out one cup of cooked pasta; you are sure to be surprised (and not in a good way). When cooking from recipes, always be mindful of serving sizes and how many servings a recipe actually makes. According to Lisa Young, PhD, RD, adjunct assistant professor at New York University, portion sizes have never been bigger. Young’s research reveals that fast food, restaurant and prepared food portion sizes are 2 to 5 times as large today as they were in the 1970s.



Interestingly, our own Dewick-Macphie Dining Hall has started to display portions for each meal served. Everyone in college worries about gaining the “freshman fifteen,” but Tufts is doing its duty to combat these filthy fat cells with portioned plates in front of every station. While the food is normally on a baby plate squished under saran wrap, Tufts dining is still doing its job to demonstrate proper portion sizes in order to help maintain a healthy and fit student body. Yet, maybe Tufts only wants downhill students to be fit? Carmichael, Tufts dining option uphill, interestingly does not implement portioned plates in front of each meal selection. Additionally, while that Hodgdon burrito may be a delicious substitute for a substantial sit-down meal, wouldn’t it be nice to know how much of that burrito you really should be eating at once, and how much you should save for a later date? If Tufts would display concrete examples of portion size at all of the dining halls, the “freshman fifteen,” would not have to turn into the “senior seventy.” I am not saying that everyone or anyone should limit him or herself to what is said to be “portioned,” because let’s be honest, we are all guilty of excessive indulgence, but those who want to be aware should be able.


Yogi Berra clearly did not understand the concept of portion control when he said, “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.” Armed with an abstract guide of portions and the tangible display at Tufts Dining, you will no longer fear those skinny jeans dangling from your closet or that body-con dress that you bought on a delusional whim.



Eat (right-sized portions). Pray (that you fit into your skinny jeans). Love (the new you in the New Year).

-Jay Sheintop

Cover image source.

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