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9 Portion Size Mistakes That Are Easy to Avoid

Measuring Portion Sizes
Verywell

Do you think you are doing a good job of sticking to your healthy diet? You might be. But chances are good that you are eating too much of certain foods. Almost everyone makes portion size mistakes, especially when they are trying to lose weight. These are the foods that most of us overeat.

Portion Size Mistakes

Scan this list of commonly eaten foods. It’s likely that you are overindulging in at least one of them. Remember, even healthy foods can derail your diet if you eat too much of them.

Cereal

Whole grain cereal
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

When is the last time you measured your cereal before pouring it into a bowl? Have you ever checked the Nutrition Facts label to determine the correct serving size?

For some cereals, one cup is the recommended serving size. But the American Diabetes Association lists 3/4 cup as a suggested serving. If you pour your cereal straight into the bowl, chances are good you are eating up to two servings. And if you refill the bowl (as most of us do) you may be eating 3-4 servings.

Chicken Breast

Chicken
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Lean protein is healthy, right? Not if you eat too much of it. If you are eating a whole chicken breast for dinner, you might be eating too much.

The recommended single portion of chicken is 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of playing cards. Some people use the palm of their hand as a guide. Depending on the vendor, some chicken breasts are twice or even three times the size of a recommended serving. The calories in chicken breast can add up and ruin your diet.

Hamburger

Hamburger
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you are counting your hamburger patty as one serving of beef, you are probably underestimating the calories you’ve consumed.

A quarter-pound burger (four ounces) is slightly larger than the recommended serving size of three ounces. But many burgers, especially those served at restaurants, are 1/3 to 1/2 pound. You might be eating twice as many calories as you think you are.

Coffee Creamer

pouring coffee creamer into a glass of iced coffee
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Your morning cup of java might be the most fattening—and unhealthy—thing you consume all day if you add flavored creamer. And you’re not off the hook if you use the fat-free variety since these typically have added sugars to compensate for taste. A single serving of liquid creamer is one tablespoon. Do you pull out the measuring spoons when you add cream to your coffee? Probably not.

If you are drinking more than the recommended serving (remember to count each cup of coffee!) then the added sugar in your fat-free creamer starts to add up quickly.

Cooking Spray

spraying cooking spray into a muffin tin
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

You might skip the oil or butter when you cook healthy meals at home. This is good! But you might be neglecting to account for the calories in your cooking spray. If you use PAM to avoid adding calories to your food you might want to know that a single serving of the spray is 1/4 of one second. Do you keep a stopwatch in your kitchen? Most of us don’t.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest evaluated the spray and reported that a more typical six-second spray would have 50 calories and 6 grams of fat.

Bread

Bread
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you pack yourself a healthy lunch of a lean meat and vegetable sandwich on whole-grain bread, congratulations! You are probably saving yourself from the belly-busting caloriefest that you’d experience if you went to a restaurant. But did you accurately record the calories in your whole grain bread? If you think your sandwich equals one serving, think again. For many bread products, a single serving is only one slice of bread. Perhaps consider a bread swap.

Fruit

fruit platter of blueberries, bananas, apples, and more
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A healthy serving of fresh fruit is a great alternative to a high-fat dessert. But if you are counting your calories or watching your sugar intake you need to monitor how much you are eating. Take grapes for example. If you sit down with a bowl of grapes, you might add one serving of grapes to your food diary. Wrong!

A single (cup) serving of grapes is only 16 grapes. Get out your calculator before you start chomping.

Soda

soda
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Sugary drinks are one of the easiest things to overconsume. We often put them next to us and mindlessly sip away. But the calories in soda add up, even if you only drink one a day! And for many reasons, diet soda is not a good alternative.

A serving size of Coke is 12 ounces. But most of us drink plenty more than that when we fill up at the soda fountain. A 7-11 Double Gulp contains 50 ounces and 575 calories.

Salad Dressing

Creamy salad dressing
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A healthy salad is a great alternative to a high starch, high-fat meal. But the salad dressing can add calories that could make any prudent calorie counter blush. By some estimates, many restaurant salads contain over 500 calories, most often due to the fatty dressing.

A serving size of salad dressing is just two tablespoons. If you order your dressing on the side, your waiter will probably bring you much more than that and if you’re like many restaurant diners, you pour all of it on your salad.

Nutrition Facts vs. Portion Size

No matter what kind of food you are eating, portion size matters. Even if you are eating “healthy” food, you should be mindful of the amount that you consume. But you may not be able to use the Nutrition Facts label as a guide. This is a common blunder made by many.

The serving size listed on the label is not the recommended portion size. It is simply the amount that most people consume when they sit down to eat that particular food. It might also be the amount of food listed in your automated food log or diet app.

The best way to manage portion control is to measure your foods with inexpensive kitchen tools like a measuring cup, measuring spoons, or (my favorite) a digital scale. You can also measure foods without a scale, but calibrated tools are more accurate. Then keep a quick quide to the correct portion sizes for weight loss posted nearby as a reference.

Then, record the foods accurately with a calorie counting app. Most of the apps and websites allow you to customize your portion when you add each food. You may be surprised how just measuring your food makes a big difference in your food intake and probably in the way your clothes fit.

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Worst Sandwiches — Double-Fisted Diet Wreckers

Man Eating On The Go

7 Sandwiches to Skip, 7 to Enjoy

At many popular sandwich chains, you can unwittingly gobble up a diet disaster — unless you know how to order. Browse our gallery of the 7 sandwiches that are poor bets — items that are packed with hidden calories. Then check out 7 better choices at the same restaurants. And beware the turkey sandwich, which has become a blank canvas for fattening additions of all kinds.

Schlotzkys deluxe original sandwich

Schlotzsky’s: Poor Bet

The medium-sized Deluxe Original-Style Sandwich has double servings of smoked ham, two kinds of salami, and three types of cheese. Layered in between, there are a few healthy things — like black olives, red onion, lettuce, and tomato — but that’s not enough to offset the fat, calories, and sodium. All that meat and cheese equals a whopping 980 calories, 47 g fat, 19 g saturated fat, and 3,820 mg sodium.

Schlotzkys chicken breast sandwich

Schlotzsky’s: Better Bet

The Small Chicken Breast Sandwich is a better choice at Schlotzsky’s. It has only 330 calories — fewer than half the calories of the “original-style” sandwich — along with a slim 2 g fat and no saturated fat. Chicken, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and fat-free spicy ranch dressing on a sourdough bun keep the calories and fat in check. But watch out for the sky-high 1,150 mg of sodium.

Blimpie meatball parmigiana sandwich

Blimpie: Poor Bet

Again, meatballs are bad news. The large Meatball Parmigiana has beef and pork blended meatballs covered in marinara sauce, melted provolone, and sprinkled Parmesan. All that meat and cheese equals 1,490 calories, 78 g fat, 32 g saturated fat, and 4,170 mg sodium. When ordering at a restaurant, beware of specialty breads, which often have extra calories.

Blimpie Beat Bet Roast Beef

Blimpie: Better Bet

Order the 6-inch Roast Beef and Provolone on wheat for a healthy and satisfying sandwich. The tally is: 460 calories, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 1350 mg sodium, and 6 g fiber. Keep these other Blimpie subs under 400 calories by skipping the cheese and sauce: ham, turkey, veggie, or club. Have it on wheat for a healthy dose of fiber.

Arbys roast turkey sandwich

Arby’s: Poor Bet

Arby’s Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon  Sandwich has bacon, turkey, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and ranch sauce. It all adds up to a colossal 800 calories, 34 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, and a shocking  2,420 mg sodium.

Arbys Best Bet Roast Beef Sandwich

Arby’s: Better Bet

A plain, Roast Beef Classic Sandwich is a decent choice for controlling calories. But skip the melted cheese, mayo, and the “horsey” sauce (50 calories and 5 g of fat in a tiny packet.) Arby’s sauce adds flavor with zero fat and only 15 calories. The nutrient tally before additions is 360 calories, 14 g fat, and 5 g saturated fat. The high sodium content may be a deal-breaker for some at 970 mg.

BK Worst Bet Tender Crisp Chicken Sandwich

Burger King: Poor Bet

“Crisp” is a red flag for high-fat, fried food. And the TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich is a classic example of fried chicken on a bun slathered with creamy, high-fat dressing. It tops out at 670 calories, 41 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, and 1,080 mg sodium.

BK Best Bet Tender Grill Chicken Sandwich

Burger King: Better Bet

The TenderGrill Chicken Sandwich on a Ciabatta bun is a juicy, grilled chicken filet topped with lettuce and tomato. Dressed with mayo, it has 470 calories, 19 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, and  850 mg of sodium. Skip the mayo for a slender 320 calorie sandwich. Pickles, onions, and mustard add kick without too many extra calories.

Boston Market Worst Bet Meatloaf Sandwich

Boston Market: Poor Bet

The Homestyle Meatloaf CarverSandwich sounds wholesome, but “hearty” or just plain “fattening” might be better descriptions. It has 960 calories, 49 g fat, and 23 g of saturated fat — the daily limit of this unhealthy fat for most people. With 1,990 mg of sodium, it nearly tops the daily limit for healthy adults (2,300 mg). 

Boston Market bbq chicken sandwich

Boston Market: Better Bet

The Pulled BBQ Rotisserie Chicken Sandwich is a tasty choice at Boston Market. Roasting the chicken makes it moist and tender. It’s relatively healthy compared to some of the other choices. It has 730 calories, 28 g fat, and 13 g saturated fat. But it has a whopping 1,990 mg of sodium. Take off the top layer of bread to cut calories or eat half and save half for another meal.

Subway chicken bacon ranch melt

Subway: Poor Bet

The 6-inch Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt is a fatty choice at a restaurant better known for its healthy options. This 6-inch sub weighs in at 590 calories, 30 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, and 1,360 mg sodium.

Subway Best Bet Ham Sandwich

Subway: Better Bet

Keep your personal calorie count low with the 6-inch Black Forest Ham Sandwich. This 6-inch sub has 290 calories, 4.5 g fat, 1g saturated fat, and 800 mg sodium. The restaurant has other low-calorie choices: roast chicken, roast beef, club, turkey breast, turkey breast and ham, veggie delight, or sweet onion chicken teriyaki. Top them with lots of veggies to keep them in the range of 230-380 calories.

Wendys asagio ranch chicken

Wendy’s: Poor Bet

The Asiago RanchClub With Homestyle Chickencan turn a quick lunch into a fatty affair that lingers on your hips.  Wendy’s tops their breaded, fried filet with 3 strips of bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo for  690 calories, 36 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, and 1,630 mg of sodium.

Wendys Best Bet Ultimate Chicken Grill

Wendy’s: Better Bet

Wendy’s Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich boasts only 390 calories, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, and 1,080 mg of sodium.  This simple yet satisfying sandwich of grilled chicken, lettuce, and tomato is topped off with tangy honey mustard instead of slathered with high-fat mayo — for a dietitian’s delight.

Sodas And French Fries

Side Dishes and Drinks Count, Too

Before you order, glance at the calorie listing to be sure your choice is a “better bet.” And watch menu items that come with a side dish. Sidekicks that send the calories soaring include giant drinks, fries, chips, and salads loaded with dressing. Better bets are non-calorie drinks, fat-free milk, water, and sides with fruits and veggies.