When I was growing up, my parents had a simple rule when it came to food: “Finish everything on your plate.” We had to sit at the table until we did.
They meant well. They wanted us to understand that food should not go to waste. The problem with this advice — and I’m sure I’m not the only American who grew up with it — is that we learned early on to eat everything put in front of us when we sat down to meals. Then the size of the plates grew — and so did the amount of food we consumed.
It’s called portion inflation. Take a look at the illustration at left. It’s based on an analysis published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association which found that typical restaurant portion sizes today are two to eight times as large as those in 1955. Back then, people who consumed a typical American meal (a hamburger, French fries, and a soda) had only one portion size to pick from. Today we can choose from multiple portion sizes: reasonable, big, bigger, and ridiculous (as I’ve come to think of the sizes listed in that last column).
Portion size matters. The bigger the portion, the more calories you can consume. An example using a table of calorie information available online in the nutrition section at McDonald’s: By choosing the largest size in each category, you’ll end up consuming nearly triple the number of calories in a meal as you would if you chose the smallest portions.
|Food||Smallest size/calories||Largest size/calories|
|Hamburger||3.5 oz/250 calories||11.1 oz/750 calories|
|French fries||2.5 oz/230 calories||5.4 oz/500 calories|
|Coca Cola||12 oz/110 calories||32 oz/310 calories|
|Total calories||590 calories||1,560 calories|
Partly as a result of portion inflation, we’re eating more. Dietary surveys indicate that, on a per capita basis, Americans consumed 200 calories more per day in the 1990s than they did in the 1970s. That may not sound like a lot, but over time extra calories translate into extra pounds. Some experts calculate that people who add 150 calories a day to their diets, without increasing physical activity to burn those calories off, will gain as many as 15 pounds in a year. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*