Health and Fitness

Are Increased Portion Sizes Changing How Much We Eat?

Are Increased Portion Sizes Changing How Much We Eat?

I ate at Claim Jumper for the first recently. “Be careful,” Kris warned me. “The portions are huge.” I didn’t think much of her warning until my food began to come. The portions were huge! I ended up taking home enough food for two additional meals. drow names dnd

Get in my belly
By one measure, eating at Claim Jumper is a good deal — you get two or three meals worth of food for your money. But by another measure, dining there is dangerous. And it’s not just Claim Jumper. Portion sizes in the United States have been increasing for some time. According to USA Today article from a couple years ago, “a typical restaurant meal has at least 60% more calories than the average meal made at home.”

Portion size wouldn’t matter if we were able to limit our calorie intake. We’d eat what we needed and take the rest home. But that’s not how our minds work. As portion sizes have increased in the past twenty years — not just in restaurants, but in pre-packaged foods, too, and even at home — Americans have done a poor job of compensating. When offered large portions, we tend to eat large portions. And we do a poor job of adjusting what we eat later. Larger portions in restaurants make larger portions at home more acceptable, leading to a dangerous spiral.

Portion size research
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control published a wonderful plain-English review of the research into the effects of portion size. Among the points the paper makes:

  • The fundamental rule of weight management is that people gain weight when they eat more calories than they expend.
  • Short-term studies show that people eat more when they are confronted with larger portion sizes.
  • Even though there is information available about appropriate serving sizes, people generally do not correctly assess the amount they are eating.

The paper recommends the following steps to reduce overeating due to portion size:

  • When dining in a restaurant, either split your entrée with a companion, or ask the server for a doggie bag before the food is brought to the table. Reduce the portion size first.
  • When eating at home, take steps to reduce the desire for “seconds” and “thirds”. Don’t bring the serving dishes to the table. Dish up reasonable portions on individual plates.
  • When eating in front of the television, allow yourself a reasonable amount of food. Put the rest away before you begin eating.
  • Control hunger between meals with healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.

Grandma Jean’s pasta
I’ve noticed the affect of larger portion sizes in my own life. Though I try to do a good job in restaurants, it’s easy to give in. One of my favorite dishes is Grandma Jean’s Pasta at a nearby Italian joint. It features an enormous plate of penne coated in tomato sauce and sauteed with pepperoni and pork ribs. It’s great stuff. But the portion the restaurant serves is — I’m not joking — enough for three or four meals. Most of the time I’m smart, and I stretch this food over a few days. Sometimes, though, I give in, and eat most of it in one sitting.

Worse, though, are the pre-packaged foods. If a manufacturer is going to put a certain amount in a container, I’m often going to eat it all in one sitting, regardless of the “serving size” stamped on the label. That’s a habit I’ve been working to break, too.

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