Recently, while watching Mad Men of all things, something struck me as funny. There was a dinner scene at home between the main character and his wife. All the drama aside- what instantly struck me was how small the plates seemed. Not only were the plates small, but the portions were… well… just right. The steak they were eating took up a small portion of the plate. The veggies on the plate were piled on and I think I just glimpsed a few free roaming potatoes on the plate to finish it off. (if you have never seen the show, it is set in the 1960′s)
Why would this jump out at me? Well, I think that like most people, I have just grown accustomed to larger sized portions. I know people who will purposely not visit certain restaurants simply because they feel the portions offered are too small. They would prefer to spend their hard earned money at the likes of Claim Jumper or Applebees where the plates are overflowing and big enough to feed 5 kids in Haiti.
Do they have it right? Should we aim to get the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to restaurants and our food? We are capitalists- so we should want those big portions right?
Sorry folks, but we have proven as a nation that we simply can’t control our portions. We are tricking ourselves into thinking we can handle it when getting these big portions at restaurants. These portions are several times larger than portions were in the 1960′s. When served, we eat most of what is in front of us. Why? Because we used to have to sit at the dining room table as young kids until we cleaned our plate. We have been conditioned from a very young age to eat everything in front of us. That is fine at home when finishing your green beans will help your body. However, when you are staring at a 1500 calorie plate of fettuccine Alfredo- it is simply not ok. Your body won’t know what to do with all that excess fat, calories- it will work overtime to get everything to it’s right place and the next time you go to eat it will crave more. And more. And more.
Dietitians and doctors estimate that the average person miscalculates their calories consumed each day by as much as 25%. Think about this- if you underestimate your daily intake of, say, 1800 calories by 25%, you are eating an extra 450 calories per day! It will only take you a little over a week to gain a pound. (3500 calories=1 pound)
Math aside- studies show that those people who are most successful at weight loss are those who are able to accurately calculate just how much they are eating. That is why programs like Weight Watchers work so well- it can take most people and teach them in very little time how to spot any food, calculate the portion and then assign points to it.
What should you do? I know I personally struggle with portion distortion often. By the time it comes time to load my plate, I am hungry. My eyes are often much bigger than my stomach so I pile it on there. Even if I don’t go back for seconds, I eat more than I should because my brain is telling me to finish every morsel on that plate. Even if I am full. Even if I don’t like what I am eating.
Here are some tips on how to ensure you have the right portions on your plate:
Here is a great resource to start to understand what actual portions look like. Use this as a reference until you start to feel comfortable with what to look for when it comes time to fill your plate.
Just remember- the first step in avoiding portion distortion is to really know what you are putting in your mouth. Read labels. Get educated. All food marketers want you to do is eat more and more. Be strong enough to take back that control and teach your body and your children when to say “enough.”