Health Watch -- Portion Control

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

How much you eat may depend on how much you're given.

Do you know how much you're really eating? If you're having trouble losing weight, the problem may be the amount of food you eat, rather than the kind of food - and you may not even realize that you're eating too much. People have a hard time knowing how much to eat, especially when they're given large amounts of food.

Nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that growing portion sizes have made it difficult to gauge how much to eat. Dr. Margo Denke, a UT Southwestern nutrition researcher, says to use your measuring cups at home so you can see what a recommended serving size really looks like. That will help you learn to know how much to eat when you go out.

Other researchers have conducted studies to determine the impact of larger portion sizes. People generally eat more when they're given larger portions, according to the researchers. In one experiment, some participants were given trick bowls so that soup was constantly being pumped into the bowl. Most people didn't stop eating when they'd had the equivalent of a normal serving of soup. Some at as much as a quart of soup before they gave up. In another experiment, people were given popcorn at a movie theater. Some had small containers, while others had large containers, and some people were given stale popcorn. People with large buckets of stale popcorn ate about 30 percent more than those with the smaller buckets, even though they said the popcorn tasted bad.

Dr. Denke says picking small or medium-size drinks and dishes, whether you're at the movies or a restaurant, is usually plenty for the average appetite.