1. Morin, Karen H. PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN

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Although New Year's resolutions often involve losing weight, even with the best of intentions, efforts to lose weight may diminish as the calendar year progresses. By having an appreciation of difficulties inherent in weight loss attempts, and having strategies to offer families, nurses can help families to adhere to resolutions that involve nutrition. One strategy is to have a clear understanding of terms used to describe food consumption. Two terms often used when discussing nutrition are portion size and serving. Portion size is the amount an individual chooses to consume at one sitting, whereas a serving is a measured amount that can vary by food type. For example, 8 oz of a beverage is considered a serving. Although a portion and serving may constitute the same amount of food, frequently amounts are dissimilar (Alpert, 2012). It is important to know the precise meaning of these terms and appreciate the role portion size may play in weight management when providing nutrition guidance to families.


The Relationship Between Portion Size and Weight Management

Consumption of large portions of foods and beverages leads to considerable increases in energy intake (Rolls, 2014); therefore, portion size is likely a contributor to the development of obesity. Consuming larger portion sizes is a behavior that persists over time. When presented with larger sized portions, individuals consume more, thus increasing their daily caloric intake (Rolls). Based on this evidence, portion size could be used to increase consumption of nutritious low-energy-dense foods, such as vegetables; increasing the portion of vegetables on a plate could increase intake of vegetables (Rolls).


Strategies designed to control portion size may not be the most effective approach to weight loss, as this strategy may be difficult for individuals to embrace on a consistent basis (Rolls, 2014). Moreover, "Although numerous studies show that portion size affects energy intake, few have demonstrated a link between portion size and body weight or adiposity in adults" (p. S4). Nonetheless, portion control tools, such as those discussed in the Web sites below, are available to consumers. Equally important is recognition of the complexity, sophistication, and influence of prior experience on the decision-making process involved in determining the portion size an individual will consume (Brunstrom, 2014).


What Does This Mean for Nurses?

Rather than exerting efforts to control portion size, nurses can suggest substituting low-energy-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables in place of high-energy-dense foods such as pasta and French fries as a more effective approach to weight loss (Rolls, 2014). Nurses can help families understand the difference between portion size and serving size. Alpert (2012) provides additional strategies such as choosing a "kid's meal" rather than an adult meal when at a fast-food establishment, using a smaller or side plate rather than the larger dinner plate when at home, coupling serving size with common objects (3 oz of meat with a deck of cards), and eating a meal more slowly. Lastly, nurses may wish to explore mindful self-awareness techniques, as recent evidence indicates such activities can influence eating behaviors (O'Reilly, Cook, Spruijt-Metz, & Black, 2014).



National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (2013). Serving sizes and portions. U. S Department of Health and Human services, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2013). It's about eating right.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Weight-Control Information Network (2013). Just enough for you. U. S Department of Health and Human services, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.




Alpert P. T. (2012). Portion size: A disconnect among Americans? Home Health Care Management & Practice, 24(1), 59-61. doi:10:1177/1084822311422562 [Context Link]


Brunstrom J. M. (2014). Mind over platter: Pre-meal planning and the control of meal size in humans. International Journal of Obesity, 38(Suppl. 1), S9-S12. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.83 [Context Link]


O'Reilly, G. A., Cook L., Spruij-tMetz D., Black D. S. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: A literature review. Obesity Reviews, 15(6), 453-461. doi:10.1111/obr.12156 [Context Link]


Rolls B. J. (2014). What is the role of portion control in weight management? International Journal of Obesity, 38(Suppl. 1), S1-S8. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.82 [Context Link]