Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Problem of Perception

When we talk about making an effort to shed some pounds, the discussion normally centers on what we should, and should not, eat. But according to the April 2013 issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, maybe we ought to be paying a lot more attention to portion sizes. Since the 1950s, food portion sizes have grown about 300% and Americans seem to be growing right along with them. The following data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta tell the story:

     Food                         1950 Portion                 2012 Portion
     Hamburger                    3.9 oz                            12.0 oz
     Fries                              2.4 oz                              7.0 oz
     Soda                              7.0 oz                            40.0 oz

It doesn't help that restaurants and food companies have deployed innumerable clever marketing and presentation tricks to help us eat the larger (and more expensive) portions that now surround us. "We believe that people overeat because food tastes really good or because they are really hungry," explains Brian Wansink, Professor of Marketing at Cornell University. "In reality, those are two of the last things that influence how much people eat." The amount we eat, as opposed to the food choices we make, tends to be strongly influenced by our perception of portion size.

Here are some suggestions for reducing the quantity of food you eat without leaving yourself feeling deprived or unsatisfied. I've tried them and amazingly enough, they really work.

1. Use smaller plates, cups and bowls. When the plate looks full, we
    perceive it as being a larger portion. Studies show that children
    will serve themselves 28% more breakfast cereal when given a
    large bowl to eat it from. For adults, the discrepancy is even
    greater - 53%.

2. Use smaller utensils. It will take you longer to eat what you have,
    and you will perceive that you have eaten more and will feel more

3. Slow it down. Eating more slowly leaves you feeling fuller and
    more satisfied. It also allows you to tune into "fullness" signals
    that your body sends when you have had enough.

4. Eat with a friend. Having a conversation along with your meal,
    besides being socially rewarding (unless its with your kid about
    his math test), will generally result in your eating slower (see
    above) and being happy eating less.

5. Don't leave the serving plate on the table. Men eat about 29%
    more - and women 10% more - if the serving dish is left on the
    table instead of over on the counter.

Again this is really not about "cutting back" so much as it is relearning how much is enough. Give some of these ideas a try and see if you don't discover that less really can be more.

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