Omg Portion Sizes These Days
Ok, people, it’s time to talk about this. Portion sizes.
Our perception is way out of whack. Something’s happened since the Second World War (or when farming got kicked into high gear through greater use of mechanization and advances in things like scalable nitrogen fixing) and steadily the sizes that we’re served in restaurants has crept up. Now the amount of food you’re served would be comical if it wasn’t so absurd in comparison to 50 years ago. Look up what a McDonalds burger from the 60’s looked like. Even leaving out such fine establishments as Claim Jumper or Cheesecake Factory, your local sandwich shop items are stuffed with 2 inches of cured delicious and served on a bed of fries, your coffee shop serves a 300 Calorie latte, and that froyo you bought by weight isn’t so innocent when it has more calories than a meal (crap, just made myself hungry).
How did this happen? I can think of a couple of anecdotal causes that I’m going to use. One is that with the advent of super cheap sugar (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup*), many prepackaged food companies now had an excellently profit-conscious way to make their foods even more palatable without the need for expensive seasonings or production methods. Nowadays it’s become incredibly hard to find reasonably priced food that isn’t loaded with added sugar. And a fun side-benefit (sarcasm) to this is you find that because all the Calories are concentrated in the added sugar, the amount devoted (per serving) to the other things our bodies need like protein and fat are crowded out and you’re left with a thousand empty-Calorie dinner that has no chance of sating you for long. The other reason that makes sense to me is that at some point (quite possibly just related to our evolutionary experience via fear of famine), our idea of eating a good satisfying meal has come to mean quantity over quality. Filling and not nutritive. Restaurants and grocers know this, so they compete to sell the most gross tonnage of food that isn’t too healthy but rather that you’re more likely to buy. They’re not your parents; they’re not trying to make sure you’ve got enough fiber in your diet. Their responsibility is to shareholders and the dough in their wallet. Over the years this seemed to just became a game of one-up. A good example is burger size. Quarter pound! Half pound! 2 patties! 3 patties! And we are all too happy to play along. And now we’ve forgotten what a reasonable serving is supposed to look like.
So when I started this process, I knew that the basic tenet of “move more, eat less” meant that I had to cut down the size of my portions. At first, it was kinda easy. After all, when you’re 400lbs, it actually takes quite a lot of calories to maintain that bulk at rest. Certainly more than the recommended daily 2,000 (an entirely arbitrary number, but that’s a topic for a smarter blogger). But as you lose, the amount your body needs to maintain a certain weight goes down as well. As I lost the lbs the weight would inevitably reach the equilibrium for the reduced intake, at which point I stall, then have to cut out more. Stall, cut, stall, cut. It was a cycle. All the way down until my goal weight where a single Thanksgiving Day plate is now probably enough to keep me fed for 3 days (If I could portion it that way. Which I can’t.)
The gradual whittling away of the amount of food per day that I eat had a silver lining: if I knew how much I’d be eating at my goal weight, I would have told you there’s NO WAY I’d be able to maintain it for more than a week. But, again, the small changes were easy to adapt to and I didn’t shock myself. Now I’m at a point where I can really marvel at how LITTLE your body really needs to do it’s thing. Really incredible, and I almost feel bad overburdening it for all those years (almost. Because smorgasboard).
I won’t actually say specifically what you’d see in my “Calorie journal” as it’s not a rule of thumb that I think can or should be applied to everyone. It’s something that you have to experiment with yourself. Take out, little by little, until your general trend is down (if that’s your goal).
Take a little heart, though — you don’t have to become a diet Puritan and start referring to California Burritos as tools of the devil. As long as you keep it to a treat (some say cheat meal) and make sure you’re monitoring your data points, it’s not an issue. And you shouldn’t make it one. I have a personal go/no go threshold where if I’m at or under a certain weekly average, I can get that treat come the weekend. It’s really hard to keep it like this, but it makes it a kind of “logic gate” and removes certain emotional baggage from whether or not fun can be had.
Did you know there’s a taco shop in la Mesa that makes a lumpia-stuffed California Burrito wrapped in quesadillas? If you didn’t… courage be with you on your quest.
*I do not endorse the idea that HFCS is intrinsically evil. It’s not turning us crazy, it’s not giving us diabetes, it’s not corrupting our youth any more than cane or beet or honey or agave or whatever sugar can. The only thing it’s done is made that sugar extremely cheap. You eat any sugar the amount that you eat if HFCS, you will get just as fat, diabetic, and Twinkie defensy.