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.
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
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