It’s What’s On The Outside That Matters

Why do we dirty a bowl with ice cream, outside of hygienic reasons, when we can create fewer dishes by eating directly out of the pint? Why do we pour chips into a plastic sandwich bag when we can take the entire bag to work and eat directly from it? 

Answer: The absence of food tells us when to stop eating, not the quantity.

Only our spoon or fingertips failing to grip remaining morsels of deliciousness make us stop eating. It’s not our stomach or our mind screaming at us to exercise proper portion control that stops our hand from searching for one more bite. Instead, it’s our eyes seeing there is no food left. So, in essence, we are given a portion (the pint, the family size chip bag, the king-size candy bar, etc.), and we decide whether we treat that portion as one serving or more. This is why the words portion and serving are too often used interchangeably. Portion is the amount you are given, not a single serving. 

According to Sara Ipatenco’s article, Restaurant Serving Size of Tortilla Chips, a fast-food portion of chips is approximately 280 to 570 calories whereas a sit-down restaurant serves a portion of chips closer to 910 calories. Especially in sit-down restaurants that serve bottomless chips, people can consume more than the amount of sodium they should have in an entire day before their food even arrives at their table. 

So what can you do?

For starters, pass on refills. The bottomless chips are not free. They’ll charge you in water retention, poor sleep, and waistline growth. Another strategy is to only indulge in the chip basket before your meal arrives. No need to continue chip grazing after you’ve finished your meal. If you ate chips before the meal and then consumed the meal, circling back to more chips is likely mindless eating and almost always less enjoyable than the chips were at the start of your dining experience. The same goes for free soda refills. Tell yourself one glass of soda is enough and move on to water after that, which is something that fuels your body and helps it feel full.

Restaurants aren’t the only ones distorting our understanding of a serving size though. One look in the checkout line of most supermarkets, and you’ll observe a sea of candy options that say Sharing Size. The title alone indicates the bag or box is not a single serving. Don’t candy companies know we can’t stop ourselves and that once we open a bag or box of any candy the odds of stopping our consumption at the single-serving mark, carefully sealing the bag or box, and returning to the goodie in the future is slim? 

Yes, they do. 

Companies are able to charge more for a Sharing SIze bag and can justify this by saying a consumer is paying for multiple servings. In reality, many people eat until the bag or box is empty which means no sharing happened, just one person consuming several servings of the candy at once.

Many articles boast that the candy companies are attacking obesity with moves like the replacing of King Size on their packaging to Sharing Size, but this feels like a self-serving approach to the obesity epidemic. Changing words are not helping those of us who stop eating when our utensils or fingertips hit the bottom of the bag or unfold the last bit of candy wrapper. We need candy, chips, and other items that should be treats in our diet, not everyday occurrences, to be in single serving size containers. We need restaurants to serve single serving sizes of their dishes. We need to see the quantity we should be eating, not the quantity we are expected to ration. 

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says growing portion sizes change what people, Americans specifically, think of as a normal portion when they are at home. They call this “portion distortion.” They ask people to consider the following portion sizes twenty years ago to now:

20 Years AgoNow
Bagel3″ diameter (140 Calories)6″ diameter (350 Calories)
Cheeseburger1 (333 Calories)1 (590 Calories)
Spaghetti with Meatballs1 cup sauce & 3 small meatballs (500 Calories)2 cups sauce & 3 large meatballs (1020 Calories)
Soda6.5 oz (82 Calories)20 oz (250 Calories)
Blueberry Muffin1.5 oz (210 Calories)5 oz (500 Calories)

One thing is clear. At some point, adult meals became remarketed for children, and adult portions increased to the point of confusion. While this was going on, so, too, was the emergence of King Size candy and the Sharing Size. No wonder it’s difficult to understand what a serving size looks like.

But here’s the good news: You have and always will be in control of what you consume.

  • Stop treating a portion size as a serving size. When that first basket of bottomless chips arrives at your table at the sit-down restaurant and you can’t return it with a polite no thanks, share and enjoy the basket with those at your table and then politely let your waiter know you do not want refills. Do the same with soda.
  • Keep storage containers that only hold half a cup. Put foods that should be treated as treats, like Cheetos and candy, in those containers. Your fingers will hit the bottom of that container much quicker than they will the bottom of a sandwich bag. This is a great tip when packing your children’s school lunch.
  • Instead of ordering from the combo menu at fast-food restaurants, order from the children’s menu. The children’s menu is closer to a single serving size. 
  • Use smaller dinnerware. Your eyes will simply see a full plate when looking at the smaller plate of food and will be content with much less.
  • When at a sit-down restaurant and ordering a non-children’s menu item, ask for a to-go container with the delivery of your food. Immediately, put half your order in the to-go container. You’ll have a delicious meal for another day and since what remains on your plate will be closer to a serving size, not a portion size, you won’t feel guilty for eating everything that remains on your plate.
  • Drink water thirty minutes before your meal arrives. Not only will it curb hunger pains but also, research suggests that being hydrated helps you separate hunger from thirst.
  • Keep a food diary. If you commit to this for one week, you’ll see how often you are tempted to have a portion size, not serving size.

The bottom line is that it’s what’s on the outside that matters because most of us eat until the outside (i.e. the bag, the pint, the plate, the packaging, etc.) tells us we’re finished. But no more. 

Consider this experiment: For one week eat only the single serving of an item at one time, both food and drink, within and outside your home. You’ll be amazed at not only how much extra you’re eating but also, how much extra you’re spending.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach