Portions for Real People

Americans are super sized kind of people.  Two-thirds of us are medically overweight. That’s about 66% if math isn’t your thing.  One-third of those overweight people who are medically overweight are further categorized as obese.  As bad as those statistics are it is even worse when you consider how these statistics have changed over the past 30 years.  In 1970, 47% of Americans were classified as overweight.  That’s a 20% increase in 30 years.  There have been volumes written on the reason for the increase in the percentage of overweight people in America, but the one I want to focus on is that of portion size.  When I started my weight loss plan, I realized the portions I had been eating were ridiculous and I needed to get back to reality.

I am like most Americans.  I want the best value for my money, and the best value is often the biggest item on the menu.

For example 20 years ago, two average slices of pizza contained approximately 500 calories.  Today, the average slice of pizza is 850 calories.  That’s a huge difference calories, and undoubtedly contributes to our nationwide weight problem.  Besides the fact that most of us who struggle with our weight rarely eat only two pieces of pizza.  I had been known during my fat years, to eat 5 or 6 pieces of pizza without stopping to breathe in between bites.  I would sometimes even put an extra piece aside for myself and tell the rest of the family that the pizza was all gone.  I wonder if anyone ever noticed. . .   And it’s not just pizza that has gone super-sized. 

A majority of foods we commonly eat have been inflated.  The food industry, most likely in response to Americans demand for better and value and bigger sizes, has willingly complied by serving us portions that are completely inappropriate for healthy habits.  I went along happily for years overeating and indulging with a passion.  I loved going to restaurants were the platters were bigger than my head.  The food was so abundant that I had to rest a bit while I was eating so that I could make room in my belly for more food.  We can’t blame the food industry for giving us what we demanded. 

It’s not just pizza either.  Bagels are double the calories they used to be, from 140 calories for a 3″ bagel to today’s 5″-6″ bagel that carries a whopping 350 calories.  The 8 oz. Coke bottle of yesteryear that contained 97 calories has been replaced by the 20 oz. Coke at 242 calories. Even our plates are bigger now.  Twenty percent larger in fact.  In 1990 the average plate size increased from 10 to 12 inches.  If the plates are 20% larger, you would most likely be inclined to put 20% more food on that plate and eat it all.  I know I did.  Serve me a full plate of food I like and I’d clean it up.  Not only that I may go back for more later when no one was paying attention to me. 

Portions are perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of diet and nutrition to control, because it seems everything we touch is already bigger than it should be.  Even something as innocuous as coffee has gone from being an around the office pick me up to a dessert.  The most famous coffee shop in America has lattes that contain over 300 calories per cup.  That’s a far cry from the regular brewed coffee with a just a teaspoon of sugar for 16 calories a cup.  So, what are we to do?  How can we control our portions when all around us restaurants and food companies are super-sizing our food without us even being aware of it.

You have got to be religious about it.  In a sense, you have to look with suspicion at any restaurant meal you are served.  If I’m not sure what a portion of a certain food is, I will often make a fist and then compare the amount on the plate to my fist size.  It’s a good habit to get into, and you will soon find you can spot an overgenerous portion just by looking at it.  In following the fit to the finish plan, your goal should be to only eat one portion of a food at a time.  (The exception to this would be most vegetables, since they are loaded with vitamins and very low in calories.)  If you can work towards eating one portion at a time, then you will be surprised how quickly the number on the scale will move in the right direction.

Here are some good resources with regard to food portions:  http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/  This is a portion distortion quiz which takes you through some visual examples of portion sizes then and now.  Enjoy!

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