Let me start by asking you all to pardon my Southern slang in the title to this post. But I am on a mission. I spent 35 years trapped in an unhealthy body because I lived to eat. Now that I am freed from the bondage of morbid obesity, I notice things that I never used to notice and things bother me that never did before.
What is up with the portion sizes in America?? Is there ONE restaurant that knows what size a portion should be? I want to preface by saying that I am not blaming the obesity epidemic on restaurants, but they certainly do not help. We have grown into this society that lives to eat in many cases we judge a restaurant and its worth and its value, not by the quality of the food but by how big the portions are that are given.
Food is almost a sport to us in this country. How many of us live in a town where there is a festival that has some type of eating contest? I cannot watch those things at all. It literally makes me sick. At some point after the Great Depression, when food was no longer as scarce, how much food you had in your house or on your plate became something of a status symbol. Then as life grew busier and with more households where both parents had to work etc., convenience foods crept into the picture.
We all know that processed foods are NOT anywhere near as good for you as fresh unprocessed ingredients. Then came the fast food chains that are full of fat and empty calories and foods that are engineered to taste great and make us crave them and want more. Read this article by Linda Bacon.
Who Owns Your Tastes?
I hope that you are now reading food labels, and more attuned to the word “flavor” appearing on the ingredients list. Whether the label says “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor,” this is an indication that the taste you perceive is likely to have come from a laboratory cocktail as opposed to real food – and one is not necessarily better or worse for you than the other.
Now let’s consider the implications of what we’ve learned. First, remember that little is objective about the taste of food: the flavor you perceive is in part mediated by your subjective experience, with surprisingly little unaltered information emanating from the food’s flavor compounds. This means that you – and others – have extraordinary power to manipulate what foods are appealing to you.
Next, let’s put this in the context of the extent to which modern food processing pervades our lives. As mentioned earlier, 90 percent of the money we spend on food goes towards processed foods. This means that we are much more accustomed to added “flavoring” than to the actual taste that is part of “real” foods. Added flavoring is much more intense than a food’s original flavor and lacks its complexity. (Food processors tend to rely on simple intensity, like sweet and salt, and rarely bring in other taste sensations.)
Our tastes and physiology adapt to the foods we eat, and we come to expect this intensity. When processed foods are your regular diet – like most Americans – you come to need them to get good “flavor” from foods as you have lost your ability to perceive (and enjoy) a wide range of taste sensations.
Since most people are much more accustomed to “raspberry flavor” than to raspberries, they may be disappointed when they taste a real raspberry. It lacks the intense sweetness they have come to associate with raspberries, and their tastes are no longer sensitive to all the marvelous complexity of the fruit. Cook’s Magazine, for example, recently found that in a blind taste test, chefs preferred vanilla flavoring to actual vanilla. Our industrial diet has dulled our taste for the “real” qualities of foods.
Check out food labels on the foods you commonly eat. How many products contain “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor,” giving you the illusion that you are tasting food? Are you less drawn to unprocessed foods, like whole fruits and vegetables?
It is not surprising if you like to eat french fries at McDonalds and you find broccoli boring. Your tastes have been manipulated by a very powerful food industry. They have shaped your attitude, and even influenced changing the biology of how you perceive flavor to get you hooked on their processed foods. This is of course much more income-generating to the food industry than if you liked whole foods.
Linda Bacon, PhD
University of California, Davis
Interesting stuff isn’t it? If you still do not believe that processed foods are designed to make you crave them, read this: Check out this article
There are so very many cultural factors that work together to make the problem of obesity much worse in this country. Portion size is a largely overlooked problem, but one of the worst in my humble opinion. If you talk to someone from Europe, they will likely tell you how different the portion sizes are in Europe. How many times have you traveled to London or to Berlin or Dublin or Oslo or anywhere else overseas and seen all you can eat buffets on every corner? Why do we equate value with size?
My husband Ben and I go out to eat with our family quite often and we travel quite a bit and are very lucky that we eat almost the exact same things. We both love the same foods and also dislike the same foods. This makes it easy for us to share meals. Many many times we will order a meal and share it and still have food left over.
There is a steakhouse in Pensacola, FL that we adore. We will go in and order a rib-eye steak which comes to you complete with a huge salad and a hue baked potato. The steak is 16 oz. We are so used to eating these gigantor portions in this country that most of us think NOTHING about tearing up that steak ad potato and salad. Pre-operatively, sure I could have finished most of it. We were there last week to have dinner with some friends and I just looked at the meal and thought to myself, this could easily feed three to four people. Who needs to eat a pound of beef and a huge potato at one meal? Ben will cut me off a small piece of the meat and I will eat the salad while he eats a little bit of the potato. We rarely finish the steak even between the two of us.
Now if this were not bad enough, the same restaurant brings you out a huge slab of bread to feast on before the super-sized meal arrives. Why? Most of us will sit and eat it mindlessly and not think twice about it at all.
I sat at my table last week and looked around at everyone around me mindlessly gnawing away at the mounds of bread and the huge steaks and the nachos that literally sat 8″ high on the plate and I truly became sad. We have no idea how we are killing ourselves as a country with these huge heavy empty carb-laden meals.
We have another local favorite Greek restaurant where the portions are out of control and we have actually asked the manager WHY they serve so much food. For example- the grilled lamb chop entree is 15.95 and comes with two side items contains THREE CHOPS, YES THREE AND THEY ARE EACH ABOUT 8-10 OUNCES! Ben and I will share this entree and for the two sides we will get the Greek salad for me and the lentil soup for him. The salad is literally big enough to be a meal and the bowl of soup is more than I can finish. Usually I will eat about 1/2 a chop and Ben will eat one and we will take one home.
I asked the owner one day why such huge amounts and he candidly told us that is what people want. People talk about their portions and how they love going there because it is such a great value. When I talk about this restaurant, I talk about how the lamb chops are so perfectly grilled and the quality of the meat is incredible. To me the huge portions are only good because my husband and I can share dinner for under twenty bucks. I also asked if people ever really finish it all and he told us yes, they do every day. Plus appetizers. Wow. Think about that for a minute.
There is nothing wrong with food being a pleasure. I am a recovering food addict and always will be, but I will never cease to be a “Foodie”. My husband and I love to try out a new restaurant and try cuisines from all over the world. the difference is that now we just eat a lot less of the things we love. We choose foods that are high in protein, low in fat and empty carbs, and more nutrient dense. We avoid buffets like the plague, except for the occasional trip to the local Chinese restaurant that has a Mongolian Grill in addition to traditional buffet fare and you can fill a bowl with protein rich seafood or meat and fresh veggies and have it grilled up right in front of you.
My husband and I have a new philosophy that it is OKAY to throw away food. We try not to and try to not be wasteful, but we will, if we are not in a position to take the leftover food home with us. We were all taught as kids not to waste and when you combine that with the idea the value comes from getting the most and the biggest for the price, that leaves some warped thinking and ideas in our heads.
For the new way Erin thinks, and Ben too, value means getting a meal that is well prepared and with good quality ingredients and going out to dinner is an event. We love going to a nice restaurant and taking our time and enjoying just being together and talking and sampling some delicious food in small portions. We appreciate the beauty of a well done presentation and the art of blending really good ingredients and the uniqueness of a certain dish.
We never eat desert and rarely order an appetizer. Ben is an excellent chef and we love to watch Food Network and try great new recipes and we love to eat at the restaurants of celebrity chefs. Bobby Flay’s restaurant in Las Vegas made for an excellent anniversary dinner during our recent trip to Vegas. We love Kouzinna by Cat Cora when we are staying at the Boardwalk in Disney. My cousin Josh is the head chef or Chef du Cuisine at NOLA, Emeril’s flagship restaurant in New Orleans. YES you can still be a foodie and love good food after weight loss surgery. You just have to retrain your head and rethink what makes food a good value.
This will never change overnight, because it didn’t become a problem overnight, but we need to start refocusing ourselves on looking at the quality of food and not the quantity. Stop looking for the restaurant with the largest portion sizes and the buffets and look for the restaurant who uses the best ingredients and the freshest produce and has the most talented chefs.
If we can gradually change the way we think about portion sizes as a nation, I would almost be willing to guarantee that obesity rates would go down tremendously. If you have never really paid attention to the size of restaurant meals before, I challenge you to start looking closely at he amount of food that comes to the table.
The next time you go out to eat, and your meal comes, snap a picture with your phone and then post the picture on the Bariatric Guru Facebook page and let us know how many meals you made from that one portion! I have a feeling the results will surprise you!
Have a wonderful Holiday weekend!