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If you are confused about correct portion sizes, don’t worry, you are not alone.  It is estimated that only one out of a hundred people could correctly identify the right portion sizes!  It is always one of our most interesting topics in our 12 week Lose Fat Around the Middle course and usually a big eye opener.


 We often meet people who are stumped by their weight gain or inability to lose weight despite their best efforts.  While there are numerous reasons for weight loss resistance, sometimes having a better understanding of correct portion size can go a long way.  It can be extremely difficult to wade through all the nutritional advice available but if you feel like you are already making mostly good choices, adjusting portion size can make a huge difference.

The problem is that our perception of portions has changed radically over the years.  Advertising and eating out has completely skewed our expectations.  Restaurant servings are not typically portion sizes, nor are the treats you might get, for example at the cinema.  On average, a serving of popcorn in a movie theatre was 3 cups in the 1950s, giving you about 170 calories.  Fast forward and the current serving size or ‘bucket’ has 21 cups of popcorn delivering 1700 calories in one go.  Without adding a fizzy drink (don’t add a fizzy drink!), this could be equivalent to your calorie requirement for the whole day.

In addition, our plates have increased in size.  Back in the 50s, dinner plates were typically 9 inches in diameter while now plates are at least 12 inches in diameter.  When we serve ourselves portions of dinner, we tend to fill the plate.  We have all been also taught to ‘finish our dinner’ to avoid waste.  A very simple trick is to use a side plate for your dinner instead of a typical dinner plate, at least for a week or two.  That way you can still fill your plate and finish it off which will keep your brain satisfied but decrease your overall intake significantly.

As part of our healthy eating course, we recommend including well balanced and nutritious snacks.  Without understanding portion sizes, you could be increasing your overall calorie intake significantly.  See below for our top tips on watching your portion sizes. Try it and see how one small change could make a big difference for you


  •  If you pour out a generous bowl of muesli or cereal, chances are it could be 2-3 times the correct portion size.  Weigh out 25-30g to check if you are over-serving
  •  Nuts are a great snack full of slow-release energy and healthy fats. Include only a palmful (not a heaped handful) as a snack.  For most of us that’s 6-8 nuts
  • Cheese is also a great filler and healthy when eaten in moderation. Include a matchbox-sized portion as a snack on a wholegrain cracker
  • On the flip side, we often over-estimate our servings of vegetables! If you are trying to achieve the 5-a-day veggie target now recommended by experts, half of your plate at lunch and dinner should be vegetables.  A lonely lettuce leaf in a sandwich is not a portion – one cup of fresh leaves is what you need to make up a portion
  • The correct serving size for carbohydrates at dinner time is usually the biggest shock. Just 1 cup of cooked pasta or ½ cup of cooked rice is a recommended portion for most of us.  For potatoes, this should be no more than the size of a small computer mouse.  See above for what to fill your plate with instead!
About the author : Aine Ryan

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