Over the past few years, the number of obese North Americans has skyrocketed, in both children and adults. There are two major factors that account for the obesity epidemic: consumption of more calories than we really need and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, resulting in a lack of exercise.
One of the ways that we are consuming more calories than we need is through supersize meal portions, both at home and at restaurants. As the movie "Supersize Me" demonstrated, North American fast food establishments are building their marketing on larger and larger food portions, including the notorious "supersize" meal portions. Consumers are tempted by the seemingly good value of larger portions for a lower cost per amount bought.
As the documentary "Supersize Vs Superskinny" shows, obese people also load up their plates at home with supersize meal portions. Our perceptions of what is a normal serving has increased, putting us all at risk of overeating without realizing. The recommended portion sizes for an adult meal are only 3 or 4 ounces of meat, or 1/2 cup of legumes, or 2 ounces of cheese, 1/2 to one cup of carbohydrates, and 1 to 2 cups of non-starchy vegetables. Take a look at how this appears on your plate -- if it looks too small, you are have probably fallen victim to the supersize mentality. We are also using high-fat sauces and dressings in larger quantities, and consuming little or no "good" fats.
So how should we handle the pressure to eat larger meal portions?
Here are my five top tips:
1. Know what a proper healthy portion size looks like
The size of an adult serving of protein is about the size of a deck of cards. Your serving of carbohydrates should be only about a cup. About half of your plate should be covered with vegetables in order for you to consume the recommended amount. Get to know which serving spoons you have serve the correct amounts, rather than being led by how you feel. Serve up your children’s meals for them, rather than allowing them to pile up their plates.
2. Split a supersize meal with a friend
Ask for a second plate, and you instantly halve your calories. This is a very cost-effective way of enjoying the fun of a cheap meal out, while reducing the obesity risk.
3. Stop eating when you are full
The tendency is to eat what is on your plate, but by being mindful of your body’s real needs, you can decide when to stop eating. A just-right sized meal should fill you up for about four hours, and a just-right snack for about two hours, although if you are used to oversized meal portions, it may take time to adjust. If it feels wasteful to leave the food on your plate, ask for a take-out carton and have the remainder as a meal or snack later.
4. Limit your supersize meal consumption to once or twice a week
Regularly eating larger meals that overload you with calories you don’t need is one of the fastest ways to gain weight without realizing it. Although it might be convenient, explore other options for eating healthier foods, such as pre-prepared fresh and frozen vegetables and lean meats, lower-calorie readymade sauces, and crockpot meals, which can be thrown together in the morning, or put in the fridge the night before, and left to simmer all day while you are out.
5. Balance out a supersize meal by cutting back on your next meal
Eating a whole supersize meal will weigh you down, but your appetite for larger portions will increase if you have another large meal at your next mealtime. If you are eating at home, eat about half your usual amount at your next meal, or try to eat more vegetables and less carbohydrates and fats. A brothy soup is a great way to compensate for a supersize meal the last time you ate.
Kessler, M.D., D. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York: Rodale.
Syto, Y. Nutrition Map: Your Guide to Healthy Easting in the Real World. Charlston SC: Yvonne Quinones Syto. 2010.