Anna Scheucher

Portion Distortion – What Is It And Why Is It Dangerous

Exploring the impact of serving size perception on our health and waistlines.

portion distortion pizza

Have you ever found yourself boundlessly overeating, just to end up feeling stuffed and uncomfortable? Don’t worry, you are definitely not the only one.

In fact, this skewed perception of what an adequate portion size is has become normal in today’s world.

Let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon called portion distortion and how it may be impacting not only your life but the lives of people all around the world.

What is portion distortion?

Simply put, portion distortion is just as the name suggests – a distorted perception of what constitutes a normal serving size.

In our world, oversized portions have unfortunately become the norm, not only leading to an increase in calorie consumption but also contributing to the obesity epidemic.

The Biggest Portion Of The McDonald's Menu, 1950's
The Biggest Portion Of The McDonald's Menu, now
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Reasons for portion distortion development

Even though most people are well aware of the negative impact overeating has on their health, they still struggle with portion control, and for good reason.

1. In many cultures, large portions are seen as a sign of abundance and generosity, and a lot of people feel pressured to finish everything on their plate in order not to seem rude.

2. People often simply aren’t aware of what a proper serving size looks like and will consume more than they need.

3. The portion sizes in restaurants and cafes have increased over time as a result of marketing strategies, adding to the distortion of normal portion sizes.

4. The mere availability of food at all times is contributing to overeating habits and many people struggle with emotional eating, using food as a way to cope with their emotions.

5. Because of the increased number of distractions in our daily lives, we tend to eat mindlessly, often without mentally processing what we are eating. This makes the feeling of ‘fullness’ less strong.

How do you know whether you suffer from portion distortion?

Well, it’s quite simple.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you regularly feel uncomfortably full after your meals, wishing you had eaten a bit less?

  • Do you try to finish everything on your plate, regardless of hunger levels?

  • Are you surprised when learning about proper portions and serving sizes?

  • Have you struggled with weight gain, or do you have difficulty losing weight?

If you answered ‘yes’ to a few of these questions, you might suffer from portion distortion, which is important to address.

Why is portion distortion dangerous?


Portion distortion can be dangerous if continued over a prolonged period of time. Here are some reasons why you don’t want to continue eating way more than you need to:

Increased risks of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer

It might sound obvious, but if you overeat and consume larger portions than what your body actually requires, you will inevitably consume excess calories.

Not only will this contribute to weight gain and potentially obesity, but over time, it can also increase your risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some types of cancer!

According to studies, obesity has increased in parallel to the increase in portion sizes, suggesting that the two of them are related.

Reduced hunger and fullness cues

When a person consumes portions that are way larger than what they require over a long period of time, their body will get desensitized to hunger and fullness cues, making it extremely difficult to recognize intuitively when to eat and – more importantly – when to stop eating.

Studies have found that people who tend to overeat or binge on a regular basis are very sensitive to food cues in their environment, meaning that small cues could trigger them wanting to eat, and not very sensitive to satiety cues, making it difficult for them to stop eating when full.

An imbalanced nutrient intake

Let’s be honest – it is almost impossible to overeat certain foods, such as vegetables, fibre, whole grains, protein, etc. These foods have a very high satiety level, making it more difficult to ignore satiety cues while eating.

Plus, they are less addictive than their counterparts sugar, fat, and salt.

When you suffer from portion distortion and overeating on a regular basis, it is quite common that your nutrient intake is not balanced, lacking vitamins, minerals, fibre, and protein, which are all crucial in keeping you healthy.

How to combat portion distortion

The good news? You can absolutely combat portion distortion with these strategies:

1Visual cues

Humans are very visual creatures, so it’s not surprising that visual cues can help you understand what a proper portion size looks like.

Some examples of visual cues are that your protein should be about the size of a deck of cards, and a serving of pasta should be about the size of a tennis ball.

Cues like this can help you when building your plate so that you are consuming exactly what you need.

2Eat slowly and mindfully

One of the best ways to combat portion distortion is by practising mindful eating. This will not only help you tune into your hunger cues, but you will also be more satisfied with your food. To do this, try putting down your cutlery in-between bites, taking deep breaths before you start eating, and focusing on all the flavours and textures of your food.

You should also try to avoid distractions while eating, such as watching TV or working, since that will make it a lot easier for you to mindlessly overeat.

3Use smaller plates


This may sound like a weird hack, but using smaller plates will actually help you to make your portions look larger and more satisfying, even if you are eating less.

While this might sound too good to be true, give it a try and see for yourself!

4Give yourself unconditional permission to eat – after 10 minutes

This one might sound controversial, but it may just change your life. Oftentimes, people get so caught up in trying to lose weight that their constant cycles of bingeing and restricting feed into their portion distortion.

A way out could be giving yourself unconditional permission to eat – have a smaller portion of food but remember that if you are still hungry, you can always get more. Once you have finished your plate, allow yourself to rest for 10 minutes before getting another serving. If you are still hungry after 10 minutes, you can get another plate of food guilt-free – maybe your body truly needs it. But more often than not, those 10 minutes will allow your body’s satiety cues to kick in and you will notice that you were full after all!

Let’s sum up: portion distortion and how to get over it

While portion distortion is something that affects a majority of people nowadays, it is not something you have to deal with forever.

Once you start incorporating the suggested strategies, you will notice that not only your plates are getting smaller, but you are getting more intuitive with when you are hungry and when to stop eating.

The beautiful part about this is that once you have discovered your intuitive satiety cues, it will help you to get to or stay at a healthy weight without needing to restrict yourself or go on any diets.

Sure, breaking out of this pattern might not be easy, but awareness is the first step, and you took it by taking the time to read this article.

Still hungry for knowledge? In this case, that’s okay!

In this video, Jenny J, an Online Health & Fitness Coach shares her secret tips on better portion control. We find them pretty simple and useful so you could also try and incorporate them in your daily life.

Healthypedia FAQ

Portion distortion is a skewed perception of what a normal portion size constitutes.

Over time, portion distortion can lead to weight gain, obesity, and diseases connected to that.

You can combat portion distortion by being more mindful while eating, using smaller plates, learning about portion sizes using visual cues, and allowing yourself time to rest before getting another serving.

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