Weighing up a second helping?

Christmas Feast


By Linda Uhr

Accredited Practising Dietitian


Many of us grew up being taught it was rude not to finish our meal.


You'd either offend your mum who had been slaving over the stove for hours or be told you're a growing kid that needs to eat lots to become big and strong.


So when we hit adulthood we are faced with the reality that it's time to flip our thinking about food and portion sizes.


No longer (for most of us anyway) can we get away with triple decker sandwiches, sneakily scooping Nutella of out of the jar when Mum has gone to the shops, or going back for second helpings of dinner every night.


Sigh …


Putting on weight is often like the slogan from the Pantene ad - "It won't happen overnight, but it will happen".


Each year without even realising we can put on a couple of kilos simply by eating slightly more each day (think about a biscuit added at morning tea) or not moving quite as much.


A balancing act

Weight is often described as a set of scales, with what we eat on one side and what we burn off during physical activity on the other.


Eat more than we burn and we put on weight; eat less than we burn and we lose weight. If the scales balance out evenly, our weight should technically stay the same.




In very simplistic terms, science has shown that if we eat an extra 600kJ of food every day on top of what we normally eat, over the course of a year this equates to weight gain of roughly 7kg.


This assumes your amount of physical activity remains the same.



We often joke about how broken biscuits in the packet don't count. This might sit well in our head, but unfortunately not so much in our stomach.


So what is the link between portion sizes and type 2 diabetes?


One of the main factors that leads to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance.


A common analogy used to describe insulin resistance, is that it is the process where the lock on the door off our cells, which glucose needs to enter through, becomes rusted.


Although people can be more genetically predisposed to insulin resistance, those who carry extra weight particularly around the middle are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


In a recent Australian study we now know that almost 80 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.



A big factor that directly influences what and how much we eat is our food supply system.


This has changed quite dramatically in the past 60 or so years, with processed food choices now often being the more convenient and cheaper options.


Layered on top of this is that portion sizes have steadily increased too, so it's no wonder our waistlines have expanded. (Marteau et al 2015).


Did you know that the serving sizes found on food labels are not standardised, meaning the manufacture decides what a portion is? This makes it easy to portion out foods in larger amounts than we realise.


What does a "bowl" look like to you?


Is it this?

 2nd Helping Small Bowl


Or is it this?

Second Helping Large Bowl



Where to from here?


Here are some top tips to follow when trying to stay on track with your portion sizes:


  • For accurate advice on portion sizes check out the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Research has shown that people rely on visual cues such as how much food is left on the plate to determine how full they feel. Putting slightly less on your plate in the first place or eating from a smaller plate are some ideas to try (Monroe, 2015).
  • If you have a sweet tooth, buy individually wrapped treats. Having to open another packet can be a good reminder that you are maybe eating a little more than you should.
  • Learn to read food labels. Booking in to see a dietitian or attending a free NDSS program called ShopSmart could be a good starting point. To register for this program in your area visit ShopSmart or call 1300 136 588.
  • If you are Smartphone savvy, download an app like Easy Diet Diary or Calorie King to understand how much energy is in common foods you are eating.
  • It is not recommended to weigh yourself every day as this can be off-putting and potentially deflating if you don't notice quick results.


The take home message is that there is no quick fix!


With the knowledge of how small daily changes can add up over time, this hopefully serves as the motivation you need to keep persisting.




Marteau, T. M., Hollands, G. J., Shemilt, I., & Jebb, S. A. (2015). Downsizing: policy options to reduce portion sizes to help tackle obesity. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 351, h5863-h5863. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h5863


Monroe, J. T. (2015). Mindful eating: Principles and practice. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 9(3), 217-220. doi:10.1177/1559827615569682


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