Portion Distortion: Are You Spending Money on More Food Than You Need?

As humans, we are programmed to be scared of scarcity. We think that more is better. In times of famine, those with more reserves are more likely to survive. But in times of abundance, excess can actually contribute to our demise. Yet our fear of not having enough has led us into financial debt and physical obesity.

Welcome to another Wellness Wednesdays feature. This series is inspired by my 12-week wellness class at work. Although I am a Health Psychologist, even I am benefiting from a refresher (and motivator) on healthy lifestyle changes.

Week 1 we learned about nutrition basics. Week 2 was about increasing physical activity. Week 3 was about processed foods and reading nutrition labels. Week 4 was about healthy snacking. Today’s post is about portion sizes.

We start with a summary of what I learned during my Wellness Class, followed by the challenge for the week and my personal progress.

We Are Eating More

The average person eats 92% of what is in front of them, regardless of how much is there. This combined with the fact that the average dinner plate size grew from 9″ in 1987 to 14″ in 2003 sheds some light on the growing obesity problem. We are consuming more food than our bodies need. Remember that 100 extra calories a day leads to 10 pounds of weight gain a year!

We typically underestimate the amount of food we consume by 20%. At the same time, we overestimate how many calories we burn.

Spending on Food

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2015 US households spent an average of $585.25 a month (12.5% of income) on food. Higher income houses spent more on food ($1,029.17 a month), half of which was on food away from home.

To reduce obesity, large portion sizes at restaurants have long been targeted as an area for intervention. However, restaurants profit by selling us unlimited refills, appetizers, large entrees, and desserts – sometimes all in one meal!

With such a large portion of our budgets going to food, it’s sad to think we’re paying money for calories we don’t need or want!

What We Can Do About It

Here are some tips to maintain reasonable portion sizes, which can help us save money and live healthier lives.

at restaurants

When going to a fast food restaurant, order from the kid’s menu

At sit-down restaurants, order an appetizer and side salad

Or immediately take half your meal and put it in a to-go box

Don’t Supersize, Volumize

Rather than eating an appetizer or large main dish, increase the amount of volume with more greens (e.g., a side salad, more veggies)

Drink more water

at home

Measure serving sizes

Use a salad plate

if you can’t measure, estimate serving sizes

1 cup is approximately the size of a baseball or tennis ball

1/2 cup is approximately the size of a cupcake wrapper filled only to the top

1/4 cup is approximately the size of a large egg

Use “My Plate” as a guide

The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s Choose My Plate is a great aid for portion sizes. Notice that an entire half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables. This is a stark contrast from most American meals, which has the protein as the star. For more information, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov

Challenge for the Week

My challenge for this week was to measure my food for at least 3 days and notice my hunger level.

I read labels for serving sizes and measured them out.

My lunches and snacks included:

2 Tbsp of hummus

2 Carrots

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1 Apple

1/4 cup of Almonds

1/2 cup of Peanuts (with shells)

3 Tbsp popcorn (unpopped)

For dinner

I put less food on my plate. Of note, I did not go out to eat this week. Home-cooked dinners included quesadillas with black beans and corn, homemade pizza, and pasta and brussels sprouts (those delicious green veggies took up half of my plate – and I was stuffed!).


Along with eating healthy, I also continued walking for 30 minutes during lunch and continuing the Couch to 5K program in the evenings.

My Progress

I finally broke through the plateau I encountered over the past three weeks and lost 2 more pounds this week! That’s a total of 13 pounds lost in 2 months, 8 of which during my time in my office Wellness program.

In addition to losing weight, I’ve been feeling better emotionally and my self-esteem is improving. As a bonus, so far I am coming in more than $100 below my food budget for the month!

Next Week

On the next Wellness Wednesday feature, we will talk about overcoming obstacles and breaking through plateaus.


Have you been spending money on more food than you need?

2 thoughts on “Portion Distortion: Are You Spending Money on More Food Than You Need?”

    1. Thank you, friend. I’m very excited about what I’ve been learning. The fact that getting healthier is also saving me so much money is an added bonus.

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