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Portion Distortion

New research from Jenny Craig, one of Australia’s largest weight loss companies, reveals Aussies are eating more than ever. Here’s why…

Why are we a nation of over-eaters?  

There are several factors at play that encourage us to overeat and research shows over time our portion sizes, particularly for discretionary or treat foods has increased. Also, as a generalisation, we are a nation that values bigger sizes when it comes to food. Just think of all those two-for-one offers and upsizing meal deals. These appear to be just too tempting with 71% of men upsizing simply because it only costs a little extra. When we compare that to other cultures that put flavour and quality over volume, and you can begin to see why we are a nation of over-eaters.

In addition, our plates, cutlery and serving spoons have all gotten bigger over the years and many stores encourage buying in bulk making some smaller options more expensive than their larger counterparts. While all these factors don’t force anyone to overeat, all together they do encourage us to choose bigger portions, especially when serving ourselves, sometimes without realising it.

The research shows many Aussies are also not paying attention to their eating habits. Forty percent finish eating in less than 10 minutes, almost one in two eat their dinner in front of the TV and one in three still finish the food on their plate although they may already feel full!

Why is it so hard to get portions right?

There are many reasons why getting portions right can be challenging and the first is many of us just don’t know what a portion should be. And men are the worst culprits with the pure profile survey showing almost 47% of Australian men don’t know what a standard serve is across the different food groups. Then once you do know what a portion is, estimating portions correctly can be challenging when not eating at home. Numerous studies show estimating portion sizes is difficult for all people at all education levels and even harder when it comes to mixed food like a finished pasta or rice dish.

For example, it might be easier to know your food portions when prepping your food at home where you can use measuring cups or kitchen scales, but do you know how many portions of salad are in a burger or how much cheese is in on a chicken parmigiana when you’re out for dinner or lunch with the boys? Or if you’re short on time and buy lunch at work, like a chicken salad, what portions of the food groups make up that salad? Even though you’ve opted for a seemingly healthy option, too much of any food can be a bad thing.

Eating the right portions may be even harder for men as culturally they eat more than women. There are even products in larger sizes which are specifically targeted to men, making these larger portions appear normal. While some men will need more energy and nutrients than some women, this isn’t always the case and the number of portions eaten should be based on your individual needs, not just your gender.

What are the main mistakes people do when deciding on their favourite foods portion sizes?

When it comes to our favourite foods, we tend to choose much larger portion sizes than recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines and even larger than what would be considered normal by others that have different favourite foods. Often these foods tend to be treat foods such as cakes, biscuits and chips. The latest national nutrition survey showed these foods now make up 35% of our energy intake with men aged 19-31 eating more treat foods than their female peers. Also, most Australians admit they have a second helping of their main meal. So even when they do choose the right portion sizes, they undo their good work by topping up their plates. Millennials were the worse offenders with 77% revealing they go for an extra portion at dinner.


  1. Use measuring cups and scales at home to learn what a portion looks like.
  2. Use visual cues to recognise serve sizes when not at home.
  3. Fill half your lunch or dinner plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein and a quarter with wholegrain foods.
  4. Don’t be tempted by “man sized foods” and instead learn what you need and eat accordingly.
  5. Dish up meals away from the table and place left overs in containers in the fridge to minimise the chance of seconds.

What are the risks of getting portion sizes wrong?

The more we serve ourselves, the more we eat. This is a fact backed by research as when we increase the size of our portions, it can overwrite our internal cues of satisfaction and we don’t recognise when we’re full. While the impact of portion sizes will vary between people, one study showed that when a snack size was doubled, it increased the energy eaten by 35-80%. The problem here is that if we eat more energy than we are able to burn off through exercise, it can lead to weight gain. While some people may want to gain weight, if your goal is to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, getting portion sizes wrong may spell disaster.

What are the right portions?

To overcome portion distortion, you first need to understand what a portion is and how much of it you should be having. The best way to do this is to break food into the five food groups:

Group 1 and 2 – Vegetables and Fruit: Men need six portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit every day and an easy way to do this is to have fruit as part of your breakfast and a snack and include veggies at both lunch and dinner. Quite often where we get unstuck with this group is not aiming for variety and only sticking to two or three different types of veggies. So, aim for as much variety as you can. If you’re looking to save time, frozen varieties are fine.

Group 3 – Rice/Pasta/Grains: You might be surprised to know men should be aiming for six portions of grains such as rice, bread and pasta a day, contrary to trends to avoid carbohydrates. However, carbohydrate foods, particularly wholegrain carbs are great sources of important nutrients such as fibre, B Vitamins, iron and zinc and they provide us with energy.

Group 4 – Meat/Fish/Poultry: Meat, fish, poultry and meat free alternatives like tofu, beans and eggs should be eaten three times a day. This food group is best known for its high levels of protein, but it also provides other essential nutrients such as iodine, iron, zinc, vitamins, especially B12 and essential fatty acids. Nuts also fall into this food group and can make up your three portions needed a day. To ensure you have variety you should try to stick to replacing no more than one of your meat serves with nuts each day. It’s also handy to pre-portion your nuts before you start eating them and don’t eat them with distractions as nuts are delicious and very easy to overeat, particularly when served straight from the pack.

Group 5 – Dairy: Cheese, milk, yoghurt all fall into the dairy food group and men should be aiming for 2.5 portions a day. This group is well known for calcium and protein and it also provides other nutrients like magnesium, potassium and vitamin D. As with all food groups, its good to include a variety so while you’ve got two portions a day you should mix them up between milk, yoghurt and cheese.


When it comes to portion sizes it pays off to know what you’re looking for and to use tactics to estimate correct portions when eating out. If you eat foods in their right portions, then no foods are off limits in the context of a balanced diet. For example, if your diet includes plenty of foods that are low in energy, sugar and fats in their right portions, then a small chocolate cake can be included. Jenny Craig makes portion control easy by helping people learn what a portion is and how to include all foods without having to count calories.


Megan is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with a passion for demystifying nutrition and helping people discover the joy in food. She believes all food should and can be enjoyed when you find the right balance that works for you. As the Nutrition and Program Manager at Jenny Craig, Megan leads the Dietitian Team to develop, maintain and grow the Jenny Craig Program.



Jenny Craig is one of the largest assisted weight management companies in the world. Offering their members unparalleled support with weight loss consultants to guide them through their weight loss journey. They plan (and provide) their members with the meals to suit their lifestyle, including snacks to have throughout the day in the right portion sizes to support their goals. Jenny Craig provides the basics to help members develop a healthy lifestyle, and as they near closer to their goal weight, they learn how to prepare their own recipes and plan their menus using everyday foods to manage their weight healthily in the long term. Once they reach their goal, members will have the skills and knowledge to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Step 1: Your support

  • Create your personalised weight loss plan with your consultant
  • Have your weekly consultations in centre or over the phone
  • Weigh and measure in private, never in front of others, so you can see your hard work paying off

Step 2: Your Menu

  • Design your Jenny Craig menu for the upcoming week and beyond
  • Track your progress, discuss challenges and refresh your menu

Step 3: Your Success

  • Learn how to transition off the Jenny Craig menus so you can maintain your weight on your own
  • Many of our consultants have had success on the program so they know what you’re going through
  • Jenny Craig gives you the tools you need for long-term success!

Easiest Vegetable Soup Ever

One simple way to cut down on your portion sizes and kilojoules is to start each meal with a side of vegetables. Not only does this help to put veggies on centre stage – and let’s face it we call all do this a little more – but it also fills you up on foods low in kJs and high in nutrients. Then when you reach for your main course such as a hearty beef stew or a spicy curry, you’ll be more likely to stick to the right portion and not reach for seconds. Try this vegetable soup to get you started, only four ingredients and ready in 15 minutes…


500g frozen mixed winter vegetables (includes frozen beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower)
2 cups salt reduced beef stock
400g tinned tomatoes flavoured with onion and garlic
1 tsp dried mixed herbs


1.Place all ingredients into a medium-sized pot.
2.Bring pot to the boil and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes or until soup has thickened to your liking.
3. Serve as an entrée to your favourite meal.

Tip: If you like it hot, add your favourite hot sauce.

In January 2019, Jenny Craig commissioned company Pure Profile to conduct an online survey. The survey was a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Australian adult respondents (18+).

For more info go to


For the full article grab the July 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

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