Healthy living starts by eating smaller portions

EDMONTON — Gaining weight is blamed on lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle, pressure, advertising, genetics and emotional needs.

However, it may also be as simple as forgetting how much food we eat, says an American dietician.

“We think we know how much food we’re eating, but we don’t. We get fooled,” said Jim Painter, a professor with Eastern Illinois University.

“It’s not what we eat, but how much we eat.”

Portions are bigger and food is everywhere. Everything has increased in size from bagels to chocolate bars to hamburgers and french fries, and it is available everywhere.

In the 1970s, people had to go inside a restaurant to find food. Now, people can get 1,000 calories in 35 seconds without leaving their vehicle, Painter told farmers at the FarmTech conference.

Chocolate bars have jumped from seven to 26 ounces, and few people have enough willpower to resist eating the entire bar. Bagels have doubled in size from 140 calories to 350 calories, and that doesn’t include the cream cheese.

A bagel might seem like a healthy breakfast, but it has the same calories as five pieces of bread. No one thinks eating five pieces of bread is healthy, he said.

A hamburger that contained 333 calories 20 years now has 590 calories, but large burgers with 1,420 calories are also available. Add in the french fries and soft drink and consumers are eating more than a daily calorie limit in one meal.

“The problem with food is that it digests, and by the next meal you are hungry again.”

Spaghetti in a restaurant used to be about 500 calories, but bigger portion sizes have increased that to 1,000 calories.

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“We know it is bigger, but we don’t know how much bigger.”

Painter recommended asking for a take away container and putting half the meal in it before starting to eat. Most people will stop eating when their plate is empty.

Taking away half the meal before they start to eat will reduce the temptation to continue eating until it’s gone.

A cookie recipe from 1949 used to make 100 cookies. The same recipe now makes 60 because people want larger cookies.

“We demand bigger.”

In one study, Painter gave a group of students big bowls and big spoons and told them to eat all the ice cream and toppings they wanted. He gave small bowls and small spoons to another group and also told them to eat all the ice cream and chocolate they wanted.

The group with the bigger bowls ate twice as much as the group with smaller bowls.

“The size of the plate or bowl and glass makes a difference,” he said.

“You can control your weight by controlling your portion size.”

Painter also recommended using smaller plates, bowls and cups at home.

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“As soon as it is on a plate and it is put before you, you eat it.”

Keeping food out of sight or inconvenient to access has also proven to be an effective way of eating less, said Painter.

One study found that candy kept on a desk, within reach, was nibbled all day.

Consumption decreased by 30 percent when it was kept in a drawer and by 60 percent when it was two metres away.

“Have it a little inconvenient. Don’t keep things out. The proximity of food or the visibility of food makes a difference.”

On the flip side, the consumption of carrots, fruit and other healthy food also increases when it is visible.

To test his theories on food consumption, Painter rigged up soup bowls that were refilled through a tube at the bottom of the bowl as the test subjects ate. They ate twice as much soup with the refillable bowls, but thought they ate the same as the people without non-refillable bowls.

Painter said one of the simplest ways to eat less is to track food consumption.

“If you write everything you eat down before putting it in your mouth, you will lose weight. If is amazingly powerful if you write it down,” he said.

“You need to change people’s behaviour at the point of consumption. All you need is a piece of paper. It works.”

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Contact mary.macarthur@producer.com