Why are North Americans still gaining weight? Of course we can blame lack of exercise, inactive lifestyles, stress, advertising, genetic predisposition, emotional eating and yo-yo dieting, but none of these things have changed. There is still something that is happening to food today that is causing adults and kids alike to get fat. Portions. Portion sizes have increased and as a result so are we.
Food is everywhere, portions are getting bigger and we are eating mindlessly. We are losing track of how much food we are eating in a day. It’s easy to get, it’s quick and the choices are endless. When we go for ice cream, we can’t help but try a few flavours just because there are so many to choose from. At the “all you can eat” sushi you need to eat your money’s worth, at the buffet you need to taste everything and at the movies it is a much better deal to get the large popcorn and soft drink than the small one. Is it the ice cream, sushi, pop or popcorn that is making us fat? No, it is the amount we are eating.
I have an 80-20 rule, if you eat well 80% of the time it is okay to eat not so well 20% of the time. This speaks to quality, but when it comes to quantity, you can still get too much of a good thing. We trust in visual cues to help us determine how much we have eaten. In a study where participants were asked to sit down and eat soup from a bowl until they were satisfied, 1/2 the group had normal bowls and the other ½ had refillable bowls that they were unaware of. Those whose bowl kept refilling unknowingly ate double what the other group ate but both groups estimated they ate the same amount of calories.
Package size is increasing as well. Research shows that the more you are offered the more you will eat. People who served themselves cereal from a jumbo box served themselves more cereal than those who served themselves from the small sized box of the same cereal.
Visibility and Convenience:
There is a McDonalds at every highway exit. You likely pass a fast food joint on your way home from work daily so you are seeing advertising for food all the time. And, now you no longer have to get out of your car to eat you can go through the drive through. It’s so easy to just stop and buy dinner, why go home and make a healthy meal? The convenience of eating out and the larger portions you get when you eat out are leading to increased consumption. Constantly being exposed to visual reminders of food is also leading to increased consumption. The bowl of candies left on your desk will be consumed faster than if they were stored in your desk or better yet, 2 meters from your desk.
What can you do to reduce consumption? Change your dining environment.
- Buy smaller packages and containers. There more there is the more you will use.
- Use visual cues to help you judge how much you have eaten. Use a smaller bowl or plate when serving yourself.
- Make tempting foods less visible and less convenient.
In the same way you can increase consumption of fruit and vegetables by buying larger packages and containers, making fruit and vegetables more available and convenient and increasing visibility. Buy big bags of apples and carrots, don’t hide them away in the crisper, cut some up and store them in clear containers on the front of fridge shelves for all to see when they open the fridge. Put a large salad on the table and offer a few types of vegetables at dinner. Send 2 types of fruit in lunches and offer a selection of berries for dessert.