4 Reasons Why You Should Ignore Serving Sizes

woman looking at groceries in grocery store

For many years of my life, I let serving sizes on nutrition labels rule my life. For example, I remember realizing that a serving size of bread was only one slice. I then decided that I could only have one piece of bread at a time. To have two sliced was wrong! The label clearly said you could only have one slice at a time. So, sandwiches with two slices of bread were sadly out of picture. Just not allowed.

Now, I’ve happily realized that it’s totally fine to have two pieces of bread at a time. More than fine! It’s awesome. Sandwiches are so much for satisfying with two slices of bread.

Who makes this stuff up anyway?

What recently crossed my mind about this is how arbitrary serving sizes really are. Who makes this stuff up anyway? How are these serving sizes I so religiously followed for so many years even decided?

Well, it’s not quite as scientific as it seems. Some foods are labeled with what is determined to be the average amount eaten in one sitting, others are really just arbitrarily determined. Even the executive director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion recommends ignoring serving sizes when determining portion size.

That said, there are certain times when having an idea of what a serving size is might be needed. For example, if you’re in the early stages of recovery from an eating disorder, you may be working with a dietician and have a meal plan. In this case, serving sizes might be necessary. Your internal hunger cues could be very off due to bingeing or restricting. However, when you’re farther along in your recovery there may be a time when it’s appropriate to stop letting serving sizes rule your life. There comes a time when listening to your hunger and fullness cues can become more important to your recovery than religiously following the guidelines on a food label.

Here’s 4 reasons why you should ignore serving sizes

1. Serving sizes are individual

Only you know when you feel full and satisfied. For some foods it may be more than what the label says is a serving. For others, it may be less. Using your hunger and fullness cues is a much better way to determine what a serving size is for you.

2. Companies have their own agenda

Diet culture definitely can influence the serving size you see on nutrition labels. For example, if a reasonable serving of a certain food has high calories or fat a company may decide to cut the serving size in order for the food to be more “diet friendly”. So, the serving size you see could be manipulated into an an abnormally small portion in order to make the food more appealing dieters. Don’t let this mislead you.

3. It doesn’t take your circumstances into account

Serving sizes don’t take into account what you are (or aren’t) eating with that particular food or your special circumstances such as age, height, activity level, etc.

Think about it this way. On Monday your breakfast consists of a bowl of cereal and milk, toast with peanut butter, a banana, and orange juice. By Friday, you need to go grocery shopping. That morning, all you have is cereal. You’re likely to need more cereal to make you feel full and satisfied on Friday than you did on Monday because you don’t have any other foods to go with the cereal.

Serving sizes also don’t consider variables such as your activity level and age. An eighty year old man who sits on the couch all day will likely be satisfied with smaller servings sizes than a thirty year old woman who goes to spin class in the morning, walks a long distance from her car to her office building, and is uses a ton of mental energy all day. Nutrition labels don’t consider any of this.

4. It can drive you crazy

Even if you feel like you’re in a good place in your recovery, serving sizes have the potential to drive you crazy. Do you really want to be counting out the number of goldfish you eat your entire life? Or weighing your banana? Being hyper-focused and militant about serving sizes can really end up taking up valuable time that could be better spent.

I give you a challenge…

I challenge you to (if you feel it’s right for you) deliberately ignore serving sizes for awhile. This may be hard, because a lot of serving sizes might already be programmed into your head. However, do your best to serve yourself however much of a food feels like enough for you. Really try to tune into your hunger and fullness cues.

Remember that there isn’t a perfect formula for deciding what a “correct” serving size is. It’s really up to you and what your body is telling you. Don’t let that nutrition label rule your life.

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