This won’t be a stunning insight for many people. I knew it in an abstract way, but I haven’t made a serious effort to live with it. If I, as an adult, am gaining weight in spite of regular exercise, I am eating too much. I eat too much because I eat what I buy or cook, and I am buying and serving large portions.

There is a fair amount of news and information on this topic in the media, although it is presented on back pages, among science and lifestyle issues. Stories about the relationship between portion size and obesity tend to be treated the same way as a first person puff piece about fad diet, and they compete with stories about personal empowerment through luxurious cooking and eating. I wonder if the regular media aren’t just lukewarm about stories that suggest decreased spending and consumption and a more ascetic or less voluptous relationship with food. On the other hand the counterculture media are marginal and their stories on this topic lose credibility by associating good eating habits with weird food preferences. My ex-wife knew something about nutrition but it was mixed up with her interest in Network marketing, countercultural healing, and her personal quirks, and I tuned out her advice.
It seems simple enough. Eating is necessary. Eating well and gorging create feelings of contentment. It may be a historical thing, something in the primitive part of our culture – a day with a lot of food may have been a successful day or the end of a good growing season or hunt, a day blessed by the gods. Today I can supershop at the superstore and cook large meals, and I can purchase large portions of prepared foods in restaurants – and supersize those for “value”. For prepared meals especially, the regular helping – the 6 inch sandwich at Subway, the small regular hamburger at a fast food place – is plenty of nutrition. But the larger helping seems like a better value for me as buyer because it’s 100 percent more food for only 50 or 60 percent more cash, and then having bought the food, I won’t waste it.
It may help to remember that the extra ingredients only cost the seller pennies, and that I am not getting an extra two dollars worth of bread, lettuce and cold cuts for the extra price. It isn’t the same thing as buying the large package of dried cereal in the grocery store. There is a huge mark-up and the seller is profiting nicely by selling the larger portion. It may help to strategize to prepare all my own food (yes to bag lunch – the shame of it), or to split the larger portion with a companion, or to save the extra for another meal. But the typical prepared restaurant meal is too much. The restaurant portion may also have become the yardstick for my instinctive sense of what’s enough in regular cooking at home.
The advantage of scaling back portions is that there is still room for treats and beer. Eat normally, but eat less. I don’t know what’s really enough because I don’t know enough about the ingredients and quantities. I will have to work on this.

Update: 2016

Bigger portion = more calories.  It isn’t possible to burn those calories through the metabolic demands of daily living or even moderate exercise.  Marion Nestle’s books, including Why Calories Count and her Food Politics blog are interesting


7 responses to “Portions”

  1. You and my doctor, man! Do you know each other?
    Saw her again this morning for my regularly bi-monthly appointment. Now that my blood pressure is okay and my heart turns out to be fine, she’s harping on my weight and cholesterol again. She’s giving me a couple of more months to make a dent in my cholesterol by myself (very difficult, she says), and then she’s putting me back on cholesterol medication (Lipitor). And the weight. She basically told me to stop dicking around and start dropping pounds. I’m hovering at 25 to 30 pounds less than I was at the start of last cycling season. She wants me to lost… 50 more pounds! WTF. I’ll be eating rabbit food. You guys will have to count me out of the post-ride beer plans.

  2. If you have any insights, please share them. I need to lose 20-30 pounds. My eating has improved considerably of late. I am weaning myself off pastries, am eating multi-grain bread, skim milk, use Splenda instead of sugar, steaming lots of broccoli, and bbq’ing salmon, chicken breasts and sirloin steaks. Am getting back to the gym as well.
    I wonder if reducing portions would help. Yesterday, I had salmon, a small potato, and steamed broccoli and carrots, with skim milk. I was hungry before bed, so drank a 70-calorie yogurt drink rather than eat solid food.
    Getting older is a bitch, isn’t it?

  3. The easy secret to losing weight and keeping it off is……………………………………………………………………

  4. But seriously. The secret is eating less, eating better and getting exercise. Last summer I did nothing to change my eating habits, except drink more beer, and I dropped 20 lbs and went down a pant size. I’m afraid to weigh myself, but I know I must be over 200lbs again. Without the cycling the weight wants to go on again. I just love food though.

  5. Brave Kelso Avatar
    Brave Kelso

    It’s easy to think of strategies but it’s harder to work with them because we like our familiar tasty meals and snacks. Phase in reduced portions instead of making drastic changes that will leave you feeling empty. Switch to filling but less nutritionally bad choices. More salads, broccoli. But don’t add cheese to broccoli; maybe some low-cal salad dressing. Water instead of soft drinks or instead of some soft drinks. I don’t know. I am just starting to come to terms with this, realizing that cycling in the summer doesn’t prevent weight gain in the winter.

  6. garth danielson Avatar
    garth danielson

    I think you should eat more and die young, someone is going to need your parking space soon.
    I have a hard time leaving the candy alone. i could shed pounds from not eating junk food. I did not feel very good after the Canadian candy binge last year.
    My problem is mostly i hate most food, not that there aren’t many things to eat. I read the menu items you were making last year and what Randy is eating and all I can go is yuck. I do try to avoid the fast food places as often as I can. I have even switched to eating small bits of food in the evening, like an apple, or some cheese, or popcorn and maybe some toast and jam or peanut butter, rather than eat a second meal…I try to have a full meal at lunch. That seems to make my heartburn less imposing.
    Notice how many more comments you get when you’re talking about people’s fat asses.

  7. Zosma Zack Avatar
    Zosma Zack

    Exercise alone doesn’t drop the weight for me. I can happily coast at the same weight through cycling 4,000 Kilometres. The only thing that knocked 30 pounds off my ass last year was reducing the amount I ate.

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