The psychology behind eating, and the decision process about the types of foods we eat has been researched for decades, as the scientific community tries to provide information that will help change awareness and lifestyle habits, in response to the increasing population health risks of obesity.
At the same time as our lives have become more sedentary than ever before in human history, something else has crept up in tandem with our weight management difficulties; and that’s portion sizes. We’d like to discuss how the deck (and our plates) are stacked higher, and why self-education about portion size matters so much, when you are working on achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
You Aren’t Imagining It! Our Plates Got Bigger
In the late 1960’s, the average plate size in American households was only 9 inches in diameter. Today, the plate size most commonly found in home dinnerware sets is 12 inches wide. Why is this a big deal? Because at the same time as our expectation of what we will consume at an average meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) has increased, our activity level has decreased.
It is that programmatic or ‘mindless’ easting that gets us into trouble. In 2007, Brian Wansink (a professor at Cornell) published a book called “Mindless Eating” and he was featured in The New York Times for his experiments on the psychology of eating.
Psychologically, the larger portions serve several economic purposes for the food service industry. If restaurant guests are served a large portion, they are likely to be satisfied with their first meal and shorten the length of time they remain at their table (without ordering extras). The highest priced menu items are always the largest, and most satisfying entrée. And in some restaurants, guests are even prohibited from ‘splitting’ an entrée without an upcharge, or from taking leftover food home (as is the case with buffet establishments).
The plate is figuratively stacked against us, and our goal to monitor the portion size, and number of calories we consume (and burn) daily. The Obesity Action Organization provides an informative table that compares portion sizes, net calories, fiber and calories for some popular American restaurant chains, versus cooking a similar meal at home.
What Are the Guidelines for Meal Portions?
There is a great deal of nutritional misinformation online, and fad diets make it hard to know how much you should be eating, and what types of nutritional sources you should be choosing every day. The results and myriad of pictures of individuals who lost a hundred pounds or more by following the keto diet, can make it seem like eating bacon three times a day works. A notion that cardiologists and nutritionists do not support as a healthy long-term solution for weight management.
Women and men over the age of fifty years, should aim for these nutritional targets daily:
Dr. Pamela Peek, the author of The New York Times bestseller “The Hunger Fix” states the struggle with weight balance perfectly: “In youth, it’s all about growth and maintaining a body that can procreate. After the age of 50, the goal is to prevent disease by maintaining an optimally healthy and active mind and body”.
But what about portion sizes? The National Institute on Aging provides some excellent resources to help retrain the behavioral expectations we have for portion sizes, with some easy to remember examples.
Now that we’ve had some time to think about the size of our meals and snacks, what lifestyle changes can you make to help correct your own ‘portion distortion’ to help you reach your healthy weight goals? What works for you? Share your comments with us.