Sunday, September 16, 2007

Supersize it-American portions sizes are out of control

Indulge me a bit while I rant about portion sizes. Last week was at the store still at 6pm when we like to eat dinner. (Using my coupon to buy 20 lbs of chicken at $0.49 a lb if you must know, and I'm going back tomorrow for another 40lbs and then I won't have to buy chicken for at least two months I expect, maybe longer. I shop the sales and then stock up, it's cheaper.) Anyway, I was feeling very behind and needed to think about dinner for the kids and I. Between the grocery store and home on the route that we walk is a Wendy's, and a Boston Market. (The cheapest thing would have been to turn around and walk back into the store to purchase one of their rotisserie chickens for $6 or so. But I didn't feel like dragging my children all the way to the back of the store and then go through the checkout all over again. But I digress. I went for Boston Market. I figured home style meals with fresh ingredients and things like green beans and mashed potatoes on the menu was a better option than cheeseburgers.

I bought 1/2 of a rotisserie chicken and two sides. While I waited for them to dish up my order I happened to glance at the menu and realized that I had just ordered from the individual meals menu. I worried about there being enough for dinner. Well, when I brought it home and put it all on one of my large serving dishes it filled the dish quite nicely. There was enough food there for me and my children and I still have some leftover chicken in my fridge that we didn't eat.

Which leads to my conclusion, as mentioned in the title.

My in-laws are sometimes this way about dessert. I say I can bring some brownies or make some cookies and they respond, "Okay, we'll get some ice cream and make some fudge sauce too so that there is enough for everyone." Granted there are many teenage boys at that house but I didn't know that dessert came in meal sized portions. It seems to my way of thinking that dessert is for taste and that two cookies or one large brownie is plenty.

Portion sizes are out of control, and so are waistlines, in direct proportion I'll venture. Why are we so afraid of being hungry? We've all done it. We stand in line at a fast food restaurant and we place our order, and then we think to ourselves, "Oh I'll just get some fries too in case I'm still hungry after the burger." Of course we eat all of the fries too, even though we weren't really hungry after all. Healthy eating experts say that we should only eat until we stop feeling hungry, not until we feel stuffed. Most of us don't feel satisfied enough to stop at not hungry. We have trained ourselves and our bodies to need to feel full before it clicks that we are finished eating. Friends, this is MESSED UP! It has to stop.

So I offer a few ideas that help me to rearrange my thinking and how I feel about how much I'm eating. I slip back into this pattern of eating from time to time and these usually work for me.

1.) Remind yourself that it's only one meal, there will be more. So you think you have room to stuff another little bit into your body before you're finished lunch. Dinner is only 5 hours away or so. You don't feel hungry right now, and you don't feel heavy, you can last 5 hours until you eat again. THIS IS NOT YOUR LAST MEAL EVER! YOU WILL BE HUNGRY AGAIN, AND YOU WILL EAT AGAIN! It's that simple. Stop acting like you need to stock up for later or your body will too and you will start to look like a refrigerator.

2.) This is stolen directly from French Women Don't Get Fat (see side bar) ask yourself if you can be satisfied with half of what's on your plate. Put the other half in a doggy bag if you are out or discard it. I've read about people pouring salt all over their leftovers so they aren't tempted to keep eating. I just ask them to take it away as soon as I'm done and take the rest home for later, or for my kids. (I hate to waste food.)

3.) Use a smaller plate. You will eat less and feel satisfied. Or put your food artfully in the very center of the plate and be sure to leave a wide margin around the perimeter.

4.) Use tiny pretty dishes for dessert. This works amazingly well. I have some lovely little bowls that I use for dessert. One tiny scoop of ice cream and a cookie or piece of fruit and it is full. It takes me just as long to eat as a large bowl because I unconsciously go slower and savor it more. My children are learning along with me that desert is just a taste of something yummy as a finish to a meal, not a meal in itself. It's now completely normal for me to eat just a little bit, instead of a giant bowl. I do the same for my husband. If he wants more he can get more later, but when I get dessert for him I give him a small portion. I've noticed since I started that he goes back for seconds less and less frequently, and so now I make it a point to offer to get things for him and I give him what I think is a reasonable portion.

5.) What's your hurry? Eating is not a race. Slow down and enjoy your food. You will feel satisfied sooner with less, simply because you were mindful of your meal. If you have a toddler, most of whom are notoriously slow eaters, try one day matching your eating speed to theirs, just to change your perception and reset your habits. You will find you're not as hungry as you thought.

6.) When you are finished eating get up and do something else to signal to yourself that the meal is definitely over. Brush your teeth, clear the table, have a cup of tea, whatever works for you. This will keep you from continuing to eat when it's time to stop.

Try doing these for a month or two and you will be surprised to find out how much food you were eating that your body didn't really need. You'll feel lighter, have more energy, and your clothes may even fit better. Go on give it a try, and then come back and tell me how it worked.


carrie said...

Just found you via Meredith's blog.

This is a fascinating post. I am way guilty of eating "full-size" desserts, and this is something I need to think more about.

Smoov said...

I'm so with you! I ordered a small tea the other day from Wendy's and I was astounded at the size of the cup they gave me. I grew up with a traditional southern family. We ate a lot of fried things. Fried things fill me up faster. As a kid, my mother used to really push me to eat more as I was very skinny. But she failed to see that my dad was also very skinny, it's just how we were made! I never did become a member of the clean plate club and remained fairly scrawny as a kid and teenager. My mother ended up writing me off as a picky eater and I believed that about myself until I got older. Then I discovered that I'm just not an emotional eater like she is. And I eat until the hunger goes away. And I have very discerning taste buds! If it's too salty (as lots of my mom's cooking was) I won't eat much of it. If it's bland, I don't eat much. Under normal circumstances I don't eat more than I need, not even of sweets anymore. So, when my kids claim they are full I allow them to be full. So what if they ask for a snack 3 hours later? We're built to graze anyway, and it keeps your metabolism revved if you eat often in small amounts. And I don't feel bad about the food they leave behind because the dog enjoys it ;)

Emily Jane said...

I don't know how I missed this post earlier, but I'm giving it a shot! I am only going to eat half of my portions from restaurants and will eat on a smaller plate at home... I'll let you know how it goes. I think I've already shed a few pounds since Bryan's been sick and we've been eating better. I love you guys. Thanks for all of your guidance and support!

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