On The Table

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Portion Distortion: Why Bigger Really Isn't Better

Are Bigger restaurant portions really better for your health? See what BistroMD has to say

Portion Distortion: Why Bigger Really Isn't Better

Ah, the good life. Dining out, shopping for clothes, dining out, shopping for clothes, dining out, shop--. Wait, there seems to be a pattern here!

Although Americans are eating out less than they did 10 years ago, leading researchers say it's still a big part of why so many of us are overweight. Big portions cause portion distortion!

Bigger Just Seems Better - At First Glance

When we eat out, we are usually getting a portion of food that is double, or even three or four times the size of what is considered a single serving.

Many restaurant meals are upwards of 1,000 calories for a single meal! Remember what a big deal the Quarter Pounder was when it was introduced in the 1970s? Nowadays, it's not surprising to see one-third and one-half pound burgers on a menu.

And it's not just at restaurants. Grocery stores, bakeries, delis, everywhere, the portions are simply ballooning. Remember when a muffin was roughly the size of a cupcake? Not any more!

Yet researchers find that we're still eating the whole thing, whatever the thing, without comprehending the alarming increase in our daily caloric intake.

Why Is This Happening?

It's not that restaurants and food producers are deliberately trying to make us fat. They're just trying to protect their market share of your food dollars, and to do that, they look for ways to improve value and appeal for their consumers.

Actual food ingredients are relatively cheap, compared to packaging, labor, rent, research, marketing, lobbying, advertising, and all the other expenses of bringing you that meal or snack. So from their end, it's just good business to give you more and make you feel like you're getting a deal. Everyone loves a bargain, and good value keeps us coming back.

The regular old 7-11 soda grew into a Gulp, and then a Big Gulp and then a Super Gulp. The basic American hamburger and fries meal got supersized, then double-sized.

But no matter how big they get, we keep eating whatever is served. With that much more food passing as a single meal, they might as well call it trouble-sized!

Many of us were raised hearing the admonition to "clean that plate," and we feel obligated to finish whatever is served, whether or not Mom is still watching.

So take a plate full of way more food than we need, together with the training to eat more than we might even want, and you have a pretty reliable recipe for over-eating, and hence, weight gain.

But perhaps the most important consequence of all the commercial super-sizing is what it's done to our perception of appropriate portions.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

As we get used to seeing those big portions when we eat out, we tend to recreate them in our home kitchens, so that even when we do our own cooking, we again serve ourselves more than we need, or even should have. The simple saying from childhood, 'monkey see, monkey do,' is especially applicable here.

Researchers found that of all the places where we’re getting bigger portions, fast food servings have grown the most, followed by those we dish up at home. Our sense of appropriate servings has simply been distorted.

How Rehab Your Portions

So, what to do? When you’re at home, fill the plates from the stove and bring them to the table. Repeated studies have shown that if the food is within arm’s reach, we’ll eat it. But if we’ve got to go and get it, we are less likely to have more.

And before you do go for seconds, just sit a few moments and let your body catch up. It takes about 30 minutes for the hormones that signal satiety to get the message from the stomach to the brain.

When eating out, just imagine that every meal you order has a notation in the menu that says "serves two." Decide how much you want to eat at the beginning of the meal, and before you even start, put the rest in that take-home container.

And when you’ve had enough, stop. Being satisfied doesn’t mean feeling stuffed, and enjoying a good meal shouldn’t leave you uncomfortable afterwards. That mountain of mashed potatoes isn’t Mt. Everest, and you don’t have to eat it just "because it’s there."

Finally, whether you’re driving through, or sitting inside, or even ordering delivery, always resist the temptation to super-size.

It may seem like a great bargain at the moment, but in the long run, you end up paying for the extra calories, not with those extra few cents, but with your health.

THROUGH THICK & THIN: Large portions
Remind yourself that you
don’t have to eat everything you’re served, even if your mother is with you. After being trained all our lives to "clean that plate," this can be a tough one. But go ahead and ask for that doggie bag, or give yourself permission to just leave some of your dinner on the plate.