Supersize It

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Most of  us don’t even know what the phrase “portion size” means anymore. Eating out can be a portion size disaster, and even eating at home doesn’t mean you won’t be overeating. Food portion sizes have changed drastically over the years. This evolution reflects not only a change in nutrition and eating habits, but in our culture, economics, and societal norms. Here at home, this evolution has been particularly dramatic. The mentality of “supersize it” has had a major impact on public health and well-being for adults and children. 

How We Got Here

Initially, food portion sizes were based on practicality and necessity. With limited resources and manual labor-intensive lifestyles, meals were modest and centered around sustaining energy for daily activities. Portion control was natural, a direct result of needing to stretch ingredients and ensure food security.

The Industrial Revolution brought about profound changes in food production and consumption patterns. Advances in technology and transportation led to mass production and increased availability of processed foods. Portion sizes began to expand as convenience became prioritized over moderation. Larger portions were marketed as value for money, appealing to consumers’ desire for abundance.

Then, in the 1950s the development of the highway system led to longer commutes, more day trips and vacations. Americans started driving more than ever. Fast food became popular in response to this new on-the-move lifestyle. 

More for Less?

Part of the appeal of fast food was its “more for less” approach of oversized portions at affordable prices. This supersized mentality gradually became an accepted cultural norm. Portion distortion saw portion sizes expand beyond reasonable limits. Restaurants and grocery stores got into the act, leading people to no longer recognize normal serving sizes, underestimate their food intake, and inadvertently overeat.

As mom and pop grocery stores began to dwindle and were replaced by supermarkets, buying in bulk was introduced. Bargain deals and bulk discounts made buying more than you need a financially “smart” decision, while leading to overconsumption and waste. Portion sizes continued to grow, reflecting the prevailing consumer mindset of “bigger is better.”

For Example

When we talk about food sizes, everyone thinks of the 64 ounce soda. Many people would never consider drinking that much water, especially in one sitting. Yet, they easily consume one of these monster drinks a day. However, when you go into a restaurant and order a steak or chicken entrée, you are most likely being served an 8-12 ounce portion, while a recommended serving is 3-4 ounces.

In a restaurant, pasta servings are often 2 or more cups, while the serving size on the box is one cup cooked. Side dishes – everything from salads to French fries – often go well beyond single servings, yet are rarely shared. And when it comes to alcohol, the drinks themselves are large, and the amount of alcohol they contain is even larger. 

We’ve all succumbed to the supersized muffin for breakfast or a snack. And, unfortunately, it’s all too easy to forget that those big bags of chips, including the “healthy” ones, aren’t single servings. Even when we go to great pains at home to cook ourselves healthy meals, most of us serve portions which are way out of proportion, particularly of  protein and starches – because that’s what we’re used to.

When it comes to the word “recommended,” as in recommended portion, think back to our original standard when it came to portion sizes. Government recommendations aside, is the amount of food you are consuming centered around sustaining energy for daily activities, or something else? You can still enjoy your food, eating what you like and make it a social event by eating with others, without overeating. 

Impacts and Consequences

It’s no secret that supersized eating has had a tremendous impact on our health. Overeating, along with our sedentary lifestyle, has led  to the obesity epidemic and a surge in chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers – just to name the obvious. According to the Food Research and Action Center, 42.4% of adults and 19.3% of U.S. children are obese. That means they have a body mass index of 30% or greater. While being obese usually means being overweight, it’s not necessarily true. Even people who aren’t overweight per say can have too much fat and often not enough muscle. 

If all this weren’t enough to deal with, today food insecurity and obesity can co-exist in the same individual, family, and community. But then again, it’s also possible to be overfed and undernourished at the same time, meaning we can eat too much of food that offers little to no nutritional value. And then, less likely but still possible, we can eat too much of the food that is good for us. For many people, their relationship with food is…complicated.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

It is interesting to note that even eating too much of healthy foods can have negative consequences. You can gain weight, create nutrient imbalances, develop digestive issues, disrupt blood sugar levels, increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, have negative psychological effects including body image issues, and lastly but still highly impactful – put a strain on your budget. 

Aside from advertising and fast food, there are still many cultural norms that feed our love of supersizing. American culture often associates food with abundance, celebration, and indulgence. Social gatherings and holidays often revolve around large meals which encourage overeating as a form of social bonding. 

Addressing and shifting these norms with an eye towards changing our cultural relationship with food will require many societal shifts including public education and policy interventions. Slowly, groups and communities are beginning to address issues related to both food quality and quantity. In the meantime, while we wait for all of society to catch up, as individuals we can begin to shift away from excess and  indulgence. 

Start Now

Steps you can take today to make portion control a part of your healthy diet and 100 Year Lifestyle include:

Use smaller plates and bowls. 
Measure portions at home to become visually familiar with what appropriate portions look like. 
Practice mindful eating or what the Japanese call hara hachi bu. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied or, as the Japanese do, when you’re 80% full. 
Stop eating from bags and boxes. Place a portion of what you want to eat on a plate – and put the rest away. 
Be particularly careful of liquid calories – juice, soda, and alcohol – which can really add up.
Slow down. By chewing your food thoroughly and enjoying each bite you’re also giving your brain time to realize  your stomach is full!
When dining out, share your entrée with a friend or ask for half of it to be put in a to-go box before it arrives at the table!

Small changes add up. Making changes like these will make you healthier and happier! Your good eating habits are an important part of your 100 Year Lifestyle. Make sure you’re doing all you can to support the health of your body, mind, and spirit. Find a 100 Year Lifestyle provider near you today!

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