Portion Distortion?
Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

See all posts »

Portion Distortion?

The other day I overhead someone say, “People just need to eat less, that’s all.” They weren’t talking to me so I kept my mouth shut, but in my mind I was thinking, “Well, not really.” Nutrition just isn’t that black and white. Large portions don’t always equate to boat loads of calories and small portions don’t always mean minimal calories. Enter Exhibit A, my yummy bowl of soup. It’s filled with 2 cups (the size of 2 baseballs) and contains just 200 calories. That’s the same number of cals in just 2 level tablespoons (a golf ball) of peanut butter (2 cups of peanut butter would provide a whopping 3,200 calories). Now, that doesn’t mean soup is good and peanut butter is bad; they’re both healthy foods. But portion for portion, they’re certainly not equal calorie-wise.

The trick is finding a balance between calories and portion sizes. If you’re watching your calorie intake, you’ll need to be careful with peanut butter, but not so much with soup. And that’s a good thing. Who wants to eat like a bird every day? I know I don’t! But on the flip side, some of my very favorite foods are “calorie dense” (meaning they contain lots of calories in a teensy portion). Sooooo, my strategy is to pair high volume, low cal foods with small amounts of calorie dense splurges.

I like to think of it just like a budget. If I only have $100 to spend, and I blow $90 on one item, I need to think, “Hmmm, what can I get for $10?”

Here are some of my favorite pairs:

Calorie splurge: Cashews - 190 calories for a tiny golf ball sized portion
Budget saver: Sliced apple wedges – 70 calories for a baseball-sized portion

Calorie splurge: Guacamole – 100 calories per mini fruit cup sized portion
Budget saver: Red peppers cut intro strips – 40 calories for a baseball-sized portion

Calorie splurge: Dark chocolate – 300 calories for a petite portion, about the size of 2 matchbooks
Budget saver: Fresh strawberries – 50 calories for a baseball-sized portion

Calorie splurge: Whole grain roll – 190 calories for about the size of a computer mouse
Budget saver: Veggie Soup – 200 calories for a generous portion - about the size of 2 baseballs

Calorie splurge: Dried Calimyrna figs – 100 calories for 2 (about the size of a golf ball total)
Budget saver: Brewed unsweetened tea – 0 calories per the size of my favorite penguin mug

Before I sign off, here’s a small helping of trivia:
-A normal human stomach can hold about 6 cups (6 baseballs) of food.
-20 years ago, a typical bagel was 3 inches in diameter (about the size of a hockey puck) and provided 120 calories. Today’s typical bagel has swelled to double that size (with double the calories of course).
- In 1998, Winchell's House of Donuts created the world's largest doughnut. It stood 95 feet in diameter and weighed 5,000 pounds – yowza!
-Two snack sized Reese’s peanut butter cups (.75 ounces each - leftover from Halloween) provide 220 calories.
  • 1
Was this article helpful? Yes No

About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

Recent Blog Posts