8 Factors That Can Alter Your Food Portions

Your food portions will change from meal to meal and day to day.

Not only is it important that you understand how to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, but it’s also important that you understand why your portion sizes change from meal to meal, so you can use those little insights about yourself and feel more secure. how to best nourish your unique body.

There are many different factors that can influence how much you eat, and if you are not aware of these factors, you may eat portions that are not aligned with your body’s needs.

Be more aware of because If you feel like you need a larger or smaller portion, it will guide you to find the right amount of food you need.

Read on to see what you should keep in mind when choosing food portion sizes so you can strengthen your ability to use your hunger and satiety as a guide.

Why your food portions may change

Keep this in mind when monitoring your hunger and determining what your food portions should be.

1. What you have already eaten (or not eaten)

A common factor that is likely to influence your food portions is what you have already eaten or not eaten and how nutritious the food you have eaten was for you.

For example, if you have intentionally or unintentionally eaten little throughout the day, this can cause your body to feel intense hunger which can lead to consuming larger portions. These larger portions can often cause you to overeat because you are so hungry.

Additionally, when we eat little for a long period of time and then consume a large amount of food due to exceptional hunger, this can cause blood sugar spikes. These can lead us to feel less satisfied and satiated overall, perpetuating the cycle.

On the other hand, let’s say you’ve eaten a large dinner and now you’d like to enjoy dessert. That dessert portion will often times naturally be smaller due to its adequate intake at dinner. Eating a very small dinner before dessert can often lead to a larger portion of dessert because our hunger signals were never fully satisfied.

It is also important to consider how nutritious the foods you have chosen to eat are for you and how you balanced them during your meals. If you have eaten a well-balanced Five Fundamentals meal, you will feel fuller between meals, but if your meal was unbalanced, you will probably feel hungry shortly afterward.

2. Activity levels

Our activity levels can also affect our food portions.

On days when you are more active, you will probably notice that you need a larger portion of food to support the level of activity you do. To accommodate this, look for healthy carbohydrates and fats that will give your body the sustained energy it needs, along with some protein that will help rebuild muscle tissue.

When you notice that you are more active than usual, keep this in mind to make sure you adjust your portions to your needs.

On the other hand, if you’re normally very active and are resting or taking a break, your body won’t need as much nutrition, so you’ll want to pay attention to how your hunger changes on your less active days. .

3. Environmental triggers

A common factor that can influence your portion size without realizing it is environmental triggers. This is anything in your environment that prompts you to eat something or eat a certain amount.

Some environmental triggers can be very supportive, such as having more nutritious food options at eye level in the refrigerator, rather than stored in the produce drawers below. This can remind you to choose larger portions of vegetables and greens because they are most important to you.

However, some environmental triggers may not support the type of eating habits you want to experiment with for yourself. For example, one of our Mindful Nutrition Method™ program members noticed that she often ate chips or cookies in the afternoon. After some exploring, she realized that this was because she was always passing by the office kitchen to go to meetings or have her tea again, and would simply grab a snack because it was already available.

Taking notice of your eating patterns to see when you may be influenced by your environment can help you identify if and when you are affecting your portion sizes.

4. Stress levels

Stress can affect your food portions in two different ways.

  1. Smaller portions

When stress initially sets in, your appetite is likely to decrease because your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) puts your body into “fight or flight” mode to respond to the stressful situation. Your brain tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which increases your heart rate, sending blood to your muscles and heart so it can take action, temporarily curbing your hunger (1). When the stressful situation passes, your SNS returns to its initial level.

If you are not aware that stress suppresses your hunger, you may notice that you are undereating. While we use our hunger cues to guide our food choices, it’s important to recognize when those cues may not be working (i.e. due to stress) and nourish yourself well anyway.

  1. Larger portions

The second way stress can influence your portions is when you experience chronic stress. If stress is not controlled or relieved, the SNS will continue to activate and respond to that stress.

When this happens, your body releases cortisol, which is why it is often referred to as the stress hormone. Unlike adrenaline, which can curb hunger, cortisol can increase appetite (2). If your stress response remains active, your cortisol levels may remain elevated.

If you experience this chronic stress, not only are you more likely to experience physical hunger, but you are also more likely to experience increased comfort or cravings for carbohydrates or sugary foods.
Sugar can release dopamine, the feel-good chemical that activates the brain’s pleasure centers (3).

This stress eating can lead you to consume larger portions of those foods.

5. Eating distracted or hurried

Distracted or hurried eating is exactly that: eating while you are distracted or hurried during a meal. This commonly looks like eating in front of the TV, at your desk, while scrolling through social media, or anything else that distracts you from sitting down and enjoying your meal.

When you’re distracted or in a hurry, it’s much harder to use your hunger and fullness signals as a guide for how much to eat. This can lead you to eat more or less than your body needs because you are not aware or in tune with your body’s signals.

6. Lack of sleep can influence food portions

Research has shown that poor sleep quality leads to increased cravings for processed or sugary foods, overeating during the day, and not eating as many fruits and vegetables.

Try eating high-protein, high-fat meals when you’re tired, for more sustained energy throughout the day!

7. Your cycle

Nearly 30 percent of premenopausal women are iron deficient (4), and if you are a vegetarian or vegan or have a heavy menstrual flow, you are at higher risk for iron deficiency. Additionally, menstruation itself reduces the amount of iron in the body (5).

Because of this, you may feel more tired during menstruation, which signals to your body that it needs energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s fast-acting form of energy, so you may notice that you crave carbohydrate-rich foods or feel like you need a larger serving to get that energy source.

Be sure to eat plenty of iron-rich foods, especially during your menstrual cycle, to meet your body’s needs and energy levels.

8. How hydrated you are

Water is responsible for all body processes, including metabolism. By drinking enough water every day, you help keep your digestion working, while supporting an efficient metabolism and much more (1) (2).

If you are dehydrated, you may feel hungry when you are really thirsty. Staying hydrated will help your hunger signals be more accurate.

When you are hungry, drink 1 glass of water, wait 10 to 15 minutes, and reassess your hunger cues. If you are still hungry, you may be experiencing true hunger, and if your hunger decreases, you can try drinking a little more water to see if you are just thirsty.

How You Can Strengthen Your Ability to Find the Right Portions

Finding the right portions takes patience and practice. It requires the ability to tune into your body and discover what physical hunger and fullness feels like to you and then also have the right knowledge to know how to use that information in a supportive way. This is what we support our members with within the Mindful Nutrition Method™ program.

You can sign up here for our free workshop where we share an exercise to help you better tune into your unique hunger and satiety signals and guide you through our Mindful Nutrition Method™.


  1. Pharmacology of appetite suppression: implications for the treatment of obesity. Halford JC. Current pharmacological objectives. 2001;2:353–370.
  2. Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of changes in food cravings and weight over 6 months. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017;25(4):713-720. doi:10.1002/oby.21790
  3. Rada P, Avena NM, Hoebel BG. Daily sugar binges repeatedly release dopamine in the accumbens shell. Neuroscience. 2005;134(3):737-744. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.04.043
  4. Camaschella, C. (2015). Iron deficiency anemia. N Engl J Med, 2015(372), 1832–1843.
  5. Blanco-Rojo, R., Toxqui, L., López-Parra, AM, Baeza-Richer, C., Pérez-Granados, AM, Arroyo-Pardo, E., & Vaquero, MP (2014). Influence of diet, menstruation and genetic factors on iron status: a cross-sectional study in Spanish women of childbearing age. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 15(3), 4077–4087.
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