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Portion Distortion: The Perils Of Overeating, Even Healthy Food

Eating giant portions of even the healthiest food can hinder your progress or even make you gain weight. Learn which foods to ration and which foods you can pig out on!

Portion control isn't a fad. From the old food pyramid to the revamped food plate, we've long been told that the amount of food we put in our body matters.

We know that scarfing an entire bag of even the lowest-carb chip is a nutritional no-no, but when it comes to brown breads, ripe vegetables, and seasonal fruit, we tend to give ourselves permission to chow down buffet style. But new findings from Loyola University suggest that bingeing on healthy food may hinder weight loss.

Brooke Schantz, RD, CSSD, outpatient dietitian at Loyola University Medical Center, sees that many of her patients are shocked by the realization that eating whole grains, cutting down on salt, and packing on the fruit isn't a proven formula for weight loss.

Weight gain and loss are not as simple as a linear math equation, but those who burn more energy than they take in tend to lose weight. If they consume more energy than they burn, they tend to gain weight. So even if we eat healthy food, too many calories translates into extra weight for most people.

Schantz warns, "You need to watch the calories you consume and refrain from eating an excessive amount."

This includes "fat-free" or "calorie-free" food. The illusion of a guilt-free treat might be enough to cause you to unintentionally pack on the pounds. When in doubt, measure it out. Says Schantz: "People tend to give themselves the freedom to overeat 'healthy' foods. While the label might say low-fat or fat-free, foods that carry these health claims may be high in sugar and other empty calories. Regardless if it's an apple or a cupcake, you've got to watch your portion size."

Too Much Fruit?

Most Americans eat more food than what's recommended—except for vegetables. If you're on a healthy diet track, you've probably heard that you need to eat more fruits and vegetables. The problem is, most of us choose fruit instead of vegetables, and we choose to eat way too much. The recommended USDA intake is 2-4 servings of fruit per day. But a serving is much smaller than you think.

Veg Out

If you're looking for a nutritional free-for-all, where you can eat to your heart and stomach's content, veg out. Vegetables have more vitamin, minerals, and cancer-fighting agents than fruit. Also, according to Schantz, it's difficult to overeat non-starchy vegetables because of their high water and fiber content. However, she advises you to limit your intake of high-starch vegetables like corn, potatoes, and peas. These veggies act more like pasta and rice on your insulin response and blood glucose levels.

If you're looking for variety, go for color. Different colored vegetables bring complementary vitamins and minerals to the table. Yellow and orange veggies are high in vitamins A and B. Green vegetables generally offer vitamins A, C, E, and K.

The caveat however, is that you need to avoid sopping your veggies in creamy sauces, butter, cheese, and dressing. If you transition to the taste of raw vegetables, use training wheels. Start with one tablespoon of dressing per serving, or pair a half cup of raw veggies with a half cup of cooked veggies. You can also try salsa or some lemon or lime juice to dress up your greens. It adds some zing without many calories.

Manage Your Macro Portions

Carbohydrates are our main energy source, but even complex carbs can add up. Whether you eat white or whole-wheat noodles, 1/3 cup is a serving. If you pile your plate with carbs, you'll eat more than a third of what is recommended for an entire day in one meal.

Not sure how much lean protein is needed to fuel, and not overfill your body? Palm it. About 3-4 ounces of lean meat, a palm-sized portion no bigger than a deck of cards, is all your body needs per meal. Keep in mind: these recommendations are for a general population. You muscle gainers likely want and need larger protein servings.

All in all, the amount of food you eat is just as important as what you eat. Even if you have a fridge full of lean meat and produce, eating bowlfuls of strawberries before you go to bed probably won't help you lean down. A good rule of thumb: make sure you read the labels, and then adjust the recommended amounts to fit your nutrition needs and fitness or physique goals.


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About The Author

Stephanie Smith is a New York native who caught the fitness bug while earning a master's in journalism at the University of Missouri. Find out more.

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leanliftin

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leanliftin

"those who burn more energy than they take in tend to lose weight. If they consume more energy than they burn, they tend to gain weight."

Thank you! Finally an article that shows how simple it is to gain or lose weight.

Nov 12, 2012 6:55pm | report
BrandenHull

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BrandenHull

It's funny how many people fail to understand this concept though haha :P.

Nov 13, 2012 9:37am | report
diguincoutoreis

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diguincoutoreis

Yeah...

when i tell "The important is your macros, comming from good sources" to people on my gym, they laugh, lol!

They don't eat on cutting, and eat "lots of trash" on bulk...

haha :)

But is simple: more cals than met rate, more weight, less cals than met rate, less weight :P

Nov 14, 2012 6:06am | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 14'6"
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rakingmillions

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rakingmillions

but what is considered a "serving" of fruit. . . is one apple a serving? one banana? 1 cup of watermelon chunks?

Nov 13, 2012 10:39am | report
dsully1995

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dsully1995

"those who burn more energy than they take in tend to lose weight. If they consume more energy than they burn, they tend to gain weight."

I dont believe this, its all about what you consume, not the amount!

Nov 13, 2012 12:20pm | report
leanliftin

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leanliftin

So if I ate 50 bananas in one day, that would equate to a caloric intake of around 5,000 calories. Or, say I ate 100 ounces of grilled chicken breast. If I only burned 2,500 calories during my day, I just had an excess of 2,500 calories. Are you saying I will not gain any weight?

Lol at this kid all day long.

Nov 13, 2012 4:09pm | report
Trumper23

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Trumper23

Dsully1995,

1) i assume you were born in 95' we all have been doing this since you were in diapers.
2) i made an account just so i can comment back to your stupid reply
3) Honestly? go squat something, or are you scared you will lose muscle doing this?

Nov 15, 2012 7:47am | report
Mtrebs

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Mtrebs

i am pretty sure a banana counts as 2 servings of fruit.

Nov 13, 2012 12:42pm | report
Boochie21

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Boochie21

Interesting article. I always get my fruit servings in the morning to get it out of the way.

Nov 14, 2012 11:26am | report
xtinataguba

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xtinataguba

great article! really helpful.

Nov 15, 2012 1:01am | report
jklosak

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jklosak

Lets say I'm trying to build overall muscle mass. Is overeating still bad? Should I eat less, but focus more on carbs protein and veges alone?

Nov 15, 2012 5:01am | report
JaySeeMe

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JaySeeMe

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you more calories burned than consumed will net in weight loss. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you if you over eat, you will gain weight. This is not some earth shattering news. However, despite what this article is trying to say, overeating on an array of natural organic foods is REALLY **** HARD TO DO, especially with any amount of exercise. I mean... you would have purposely try to eat the wrong combination of food... and chances are good your body would revolt sooner than later. I would stress NOT CHEATING on your diet... keeping it clean from preservatives and processed foods, and even better keeping it natural and organic. Portions are a moot point with a little common sense and exercise. You will go broke or get tired of eating before you get fat. BTW, I have cut down from 212 pounds to 156, and eat a bowl full of strawberries before bed at least once a week. Go figure?

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Nov 23, 2012 1:20am | report
jjmann21

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jjmann21

i think when it comes to weight loss and weight gain ( loss in particular) everyone is totally different.. we all burn calories differently, absorb nutrients at different rates and im sure we all do different forms of exercise... yes it only makes sense that the more you eat and the less you burn will stack up and incur you to gain weight ( 3500 calories = 1lbs ) but also remember that muscle tissue weighs more then fat cells. if you're looking to lean down... eat clean and reduce your caloric intake by 200-500 calories depending on your daily needs... ( IE I " require" roughly 1800 to maintain my weight... yet I try and get between 1200-1500... ) no possible way im going to gain fat this way, especially with going to the gym... also keeping track of what you eat and having more small meals every few hours is much more beneficial way for your body to burn its fuel over the course of the day... rather than 3 large meals.

Nov 23, 2012 8:23am | report
flyingkangaroo

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flyingkangaroo

Amazing, had no idea that a serving of fruit was only 80 calories! Thanks for the info, I enjoyed reading and look forward to putting the new info to use, though admittedly I am a bit sad since I love fruit...it's pretty clear though that I need to cut down for the sake of my sugar/carb intake.

Mar 15, 2013 8:43am | report
Showing 1 - 14 of 14 Comments

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