According to a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, portion sizes offered by fast food chains are two to five times larger than when first introduced. When McDonald’s first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 1.6 ounces; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 8 ounces. Serving size increases in other fast foods can be seen in this graph.
Interestingly, since the movie Supersize Me, some portion sizes at McDonalds have actually decreased. This table shows some selected fast food items and the change in portion size from 1998-2006.
The mayor of New York Cityis planning to ban the sale of oversized soft drinks in restaurants in a bid to make people consume less. If his legislation is passed, restaurants will need to limit the size of soft drinks to 16oz (that’s two standard size soft drink cans by the way). Patrons can buy more than one serving of course, but will be forced to think about whether or not they want that second serve.
So…. we may be making some kind of headway in the right direction but we have a long way to go.
Does portion size effect how much we eat? You bet it does! In a study which used self refilling soup bowls to measure whether visual cues relating to portion size effected how much we eat, participants who were unknowingly eating from the self refilling soup bowls ate 73% more than those who had your normal run of the mill, everyday, no tricks soup bowl.
Despite this large difference in soup intake, the subjects did not believe they had eaten more, nor did they report feeling more sated than those eating from normal bowls. In other words, we eat what’s in front of us, and the amount we eat doesn’t really determine when we stop.
How many of us grew up being told to finish what’s on our plate? I certainly was. How many of us tell our own children to? I’ve been guilty of it, but I must say generally because my 5 yr old announces he’s full when all that’s left on his plate is broccoli!
The bottomless soup bowl study shows us that if eating your plate clean is considered the norm, then we’ll eat what’s put in front of us, just because the expectation that is an appropriate sized serving has already been set.
Larger portions and packages suggest larger consumption norms. The amount we put on our plate suggests the amount which is supposed to be eaten. As the researchers put it “A person’s eyes may influence how much they consume, leading them to be less influenced by physiological cues of satiation. As a result, their estimate of how much they have consumed and how sated they are may have to do more with what they believe they saw themselves eat and less with how much they actually ate.”
Turning it around
It stands to reason that these visual consumption cues can also be used to suppress our food intake. Here are some tips for reducing the amount you eat
Use a smaller plate, bowl, cup or glass. This should lead you to thinking you are having a full portion, and make you less likely to ask for more.
Repackage bulk products into smaller ziplock bags (eg nuts, seeds, and dare I say it potato chips). Doing this for kids especially will lead them to believe they’ve had a full serving and eat less than what they would normally consume.
Don’t serve food at the table. Having food sitting in front of you at the dinner table is very suggestive of it being normal to have more than what you are originally served.
Pick smaller pieces of fruit if possible.
Look at the weight and calorie yield of a slice of bread – compare packets before you buy the bread. The size of a slice of bread these days seems to be about twice the size it was when I ws a kid!