What a Serving Size Really Looks Like


By: , – Betsy Emmert, SparkPeople Marketing Intern
11/15/2012 2:00 PM   :  76 comments   :  81,511 Views

Ever gulp down a container of juice, only to find out there were actually 2 1/2 servings in that 20-ounce bottle? Gobbled up a "personal" size bag of chips? What about that pint of ice cream in the freezer? That surely is one serving. Right?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you're not alone. Food companies and restaurants often try to trick us by making it really difficult to determine how many portions are in a package.

Most of us have experienced portion distortion, especially as we start our healthy living journey.  Portion distortion is widespread, but thankfully it's something that's easy to overcome!

Today we're sharing an eye-opening graphic that will show you how much many of us are really eating--and how much we should be eating! We put our marketing intern, Betsy Emmert, on the case!

Which of the serving sizes above was the most surprising to you? What food is hardest for you to properly portion?

Be sure to spread the word about portion distortion! Click the photo above to download and print it--and if you're on Pinterest, this is a must-pin!

Graphic by Stepfanie Romine
Photos by Elliott Giles
Research by Betsy Emmert

About the author: Betsy Emmert is from Cincinnati, Ohio and is a second-year student studying marketing at the University of Cincinnati. Betsy attended Saint Ursula Academy and is actively involved on UC’s campus, serving as a campus tour guide and communications director of her sorority. Betsy held a summer internship with SparkPeople, Inc., during the summer of 2012 and loved being a part of the SparkPeople Team! She hopes to continue spreading the spark every day and inspiring people to reach their goals!

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  • 76
    I DO watch my serving sizes. Yes, I DO eat just a scoop of ice cream. I can not and will not give up the things I love. I believe in moderation and that has worked for me. It's all about self control. - 3/27/2015   10:46:06 AM
  • 75
    we know all this - what i don't understand is why we are continually sucked into this stuff. NO ONE eats only half cup ice cream or 1 oz of choc. it is best to leave all that stuff alone.
    as far as the packagers - they should be held to the standard that ONE SERVING per container only is allowed -- but still - people would just open up two or three . whatever - 3/26/2015   4:09:41 PM
  • 74
    I wasn't really surprised but only because I've been on SP for so long. The apricots and almonds are hard for me because their portion sizes seem SO much smaller than a normal serving, but that's why I count/measure/weigh just about EVERYTHING these days. - 11/2/2014   1:41:17 PM
  • 73
    That popcorn was probably movie theater butter popcorn, you can get really tasty 100 calorie popcorn bags where you can eat the whole bag, they are smaller but still enough to be a filling snack. - 2/28/2014   12:48:41 AM
    I've started to count my chips, pretzels, cheese servings, and such. Bags often say something like 24 pretzels = 120 calories or 1 oz of cheese I just pop on the digital scale. (I don't trust a spring scale anymore). Whats more I'll count an entire bag into snack size plastic baggies, then put them back into a larger bag or even the big bag it came in. - 1/6/2014   12:39:58 PM
  • 71
    I don't think the popcorn is accurate. There are two sets of nutrition facts on the box, and one says "as packaged." Who would eat popcorn as packaged, without popping it?! You have to look at the nutrition facts for the popped popcorn, which I don't think this author did. - 1/1/2014   4:44:27 PM
  • 70
    There goes the Twizzlers! I could never just eat 3 so I have to make the decision to not have them at all because the calories in 3 just isn't worth it. - 10/23/2013   12:30:55 PM
    I don't actually have many chips but the personal bag SEEMS like a serving. I hope I would turn it over and check the number of servings. In fact, I was at a deli last weekend and pickup up a bag. I don't think I looked at it. Luckily, I shared with my daughter anyway. - 10/23/2013   9:21:01 AM
  • 68
    WOW... - 8/29/2013   1:03:12 PM
  • 67
    I knew about the nuts, but the apricots surprised me. Gives ya something to think about when it comes to "mindless eating!" - 8/24/2013   8:12:37 AM
    great visuals! - 8/22/2013   10:46:21 PM
  • 65
    The only surpise was that the popcorn had 12g fat in a single (4-cup size not a surprise) serving. Then I realized that corn probably wasn't air-popped....or maybe it had a little butter.... - 8/22/2013   6:58:43 PM
  • 64
    I love the visuals. I have a really hard time having just one portion of ice cream. Even though I know that a portion is 1/2 cup I always dish out more. - 8/22/2013   3:37:14 PM
    Ice cream is my downfall. Back in the "olden" days, we would use a cereal bowl for a serving. Since I have no intention of giving up ice cream, I had to compromise - now I use the small 6-ounce glass serving dishes. There's room for my 1/2 cup of ice cream, and seeing the dish almost full is much more satisfying than seeing a little 1/2 cup serving in a larger bowl. - 8/22/2013   12:30:44 PM
  • 62
    Not that surprising to me... now. I weigh (especially nuts and chips) and measure everything. I always look at labels and serving sizes. This is something Sp has taught me, ty. - 8/21/2013   11:17:46 PM
  • 61
    I was surprised with the chocolate bar and the popcorn.I guess I've been calculating the whole bag of popcorn's nutritional info incorrectly this whole time! - 8/21/2013   11:10:32 PM
  • 60
    I was most surprised by the twizzlers. Haven't eaten them in a long time, but there was a time years ago when I'd down a whole bag at the movies, thinking I was doing well eating that "no fat" treat - 8/21/2013   6:59:38 PM
  • JOYM51
    Wow! What an eye opener! I love twizzlers and chips I never can stop eating them until they are all gone. Will have to do some reading of the serving info on the back of packages from now on. Maybe stay away from my trigger foods for awhile if not forever. - 8/21/2013   6:58:00 PM
    Twizzlers are 40 calories each??? I knew about the other foods but that one surprised me - 8/21/2013   4:17:52 PM
  • 57
    I think the dried fruit and the nuts are the most surprising - it's a great reminder that even "healthy" options can pack a lot of calories and that even just a few bites can add up (and a few more bites can add up even more)! - 8/21/2013   1:40:55 PM
  • 56
    This is a great reminder to ALWAYS READ LABELS. Also, I always assume that the manufacturer is trying to trick us into thinking that there are less calories. (LOL! It's true!!!) - 8/21/2013   1:23:30 PM
  • 55
    Oh Twizzlers, my one true candy love. Why are you so horrible for my waistline? - 8/21/2013   1:22:30 PM
  • 54
    The chips are totally not worth it! And the correct ice cream portion looks very small as well. Good thing I rarely buy them both! - 8/21/2013   12:57:28 PM
  • 53
    I am a person that does best to just not have any of those foods in my house. I will measure out the right portion size, BUT, I will eat the portion and keep measuring out until they are gone. So for me measuring is not a problem, stopping before it is empty is. Thank you for the great reminder on portion size. - 8/21/2013   12:56:48 PM
  • 52
    I have gotten a lot more accurate at estimating a cup of something or a quarter of a cup. But I have absolutely no idea what an ounce looks like. And when I try a random search for an ounce, I get pot references. - 8/21/2013   12:55:15 PM
  • 51
    Twislers! - 8/21/2013   12:53:15 PM
  • 50
    The one that throws me off is the ice cream. I hate having to portion it out, because my 1/2 cup measuring spoon isn't shaped in a half-ball like an ice cream scoop is. So it becomes a pain in the behind to portion it out properly. Now I just try to stick with ice cream bars, so that I know that ONE bar is the portion size without having to measure anything.
    I used to have issues with trail mix / nuts as well. I also stick to the individual-serving packets for those as well, even though it produces more packaging waste. I cannot be trusted to measure those suckers out myself. - 8/21/2013   12:04:27 PM
  • 49
    Double posted. Sorry. - 8/21/2013   11:55:20 AM
  • 48
    I'd recommend trying Popchips, if you have them in your area. 20 of those are actually REALLY satisfying and they "feel" like a generous portion.

    Not really surprised about any of this, honestly. Ever since I cut down my portions to "recommended" serving sizes, I've noticed that I just don't need THAT much food - no one does! - 8/21/2013   11:55:20 AM
  • 47
    Great reminders, did find that Kellogg has a baked chip in a bag with only one serving, it saved my numbers on a road trip recently. - 8/21/2013   11:38:26 AM
    I've started weighing everything. That way I always have to look at the package to see how much 1 serving weighs. That helps with the overeating (at least when I'm at home). - 8/21/2013   11:19:09 AM
  • 45
    Wow the twizzlers got me although I have never eaten a whole thing of them, I know someone who has! - 8/21/2013   9:57:46 AM
  • 44
    I would say that spaghetti and other long pastas are the hardest for me. It's hard to figure out what is a cup of it when it's cooked. I love pasta and want to have it in the proper portion sizes! - 8/21/2013   8:47:35 AM
  • 43
    I love Twizzlers!! I don't even buy them anymore because there is no way I could only eat 3 (usually the whole bag is gone before I know it), and even so, if I did somehow manage to only eat 3, that's still 120 calories for 3 little sticks!! Guess I'll remember that every time I'm tempted to throw a bag in the grocery cart! - 8/21/2013   7:09:55 AM
  • 42
    Gotta read those labels and check for serving sizes! My hubby will eat a whole lot all at once and not even realize he has eaten three or four servings. I think that it is easy to do the way the food is marketed and the manufacturers want us to eat that much so that we will buy more! - 8/21/2013   7:07:17 AM
  • 41
    wow such a waste of my calories I could enjoy a great meal if I plan right that is great to know, now I can purpose to plan more effectively. - 8/21/2013   4:35:58 AM
  • 40
    This was an eye opener for me :[ - 1/7/2013   2:36:57 PM
  • NLYR20
    Chips, Ice cream and pop corn... Hard to get them to portions... - 12/12/2012   9:23:08 AM
  • WILSON1926
    Great info
    THX - 12/9/2012   6:24:29 AM
  • 37
    The fast food beverage looks like an iced tea. Unless it's sweetened iced tea, I don't know where those calories came from...! - 12/4/2012   10:53:26 PM
    The chips really surprised me. I eat them maybe once every two years, but when I do I eat half a bag at least. - 12/3/2012   2:14:43 PM
  • 35
    Wow, considering how many times I've eaten a whole bag of Twizzlers, that was pretty eye opening. - 11/20/2012   3:09:12 PM
  • 34
    I eat almost none of the foods in the article's graphics. i think an article illustrating portion distortion in common dinners like lasagna, enchiladas, pasta, etc. would be much more helpful. - 11/18/2012   10:13:01 PM
  • 33
    I am trying to stay away from processed food. - 11/18/2012   8:55:24 PM
  • 32
    When I became more aware of my health and started reading labels, I was shocked at how many servings were in a so called personal size package. Take the Honey Bun for example. I'll admit it. I used to eat those. Well, I had no idea that one of those buns was really TWO servings. I'd look at the label and see 350 calories and think that's not too bad. Nope, it was really 700 calories. The same thing with a jumbo muffin. Thought they were only 400 calories. Same thing, two servings per muffin. 800+ calories for that jumbo. portion distortion indeed. - 11/18/2012   6:29:45 AM
  • 31
    Unsure of what that drink is from the drive in. Is it tea with sugar? Looks like tea.. I only drink plain brewed tea,, nothing in it.. like coffee.
    Is that popcorn popped in a pan or in that bag? Is it air popped? Not quite clear.. - 11/18/2012   6:27:18 AM
    Thanks! That was helpful. - 11/17/2012   5:24:29 PM
  • 29
    Twizzlers have been my go-to candy for eons.

    So horrifically high in calories for such a fleeting sense of enjoyment. - 11/17/2012   4:01:00 PM
  • 28
    I wonder how that stacks up with favorite food to binge on. Actually, it's Good and Plenty candy. I'm a helpless sugar eater when it comes to licorice. I only buy the small box but my grocery store sells the movie size of 4.5 servings! It's so gross to have to enter that many calories on my tracker. - 11/17/2012   3:20:02 PM
  • 27
    I'm also realizing how even the serving sizes listed on packaged foods are too high. I'm finding that the most appropriate serving size for me in many cases is half the listed serving size ... and it's more than enough. And I too was shocked by the massive number on the twizzler package. I always thought that was one of the relatively better choices of candy. Learning something new every day thanks to SP. - 11/17/2012   2:01:51 PM

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