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Portion Distortion

Eating with awareness

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Portion Distortion

In recent years, Canadians have been suffering from a new type of health hazard known as "portion distortion syndrome."

In recent years, Canadians have been suffering from a new type of health hazard known as “portion distortion syndrome.” In other words, due to the supersizing of food items, a majority of people are eating more than ever before, without even realizing it.

Along with our ever-increasing portion sizes, the waistline of the average Canadian has also grown drastically. According to results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, almost 60 percent of Canadians over the age of 18 were in a weight range that increased their risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Of this number, 36 percent of Canadians were considered overweight (with a body mass index between 25 and 30) and 23 percent were considered obese (with a body mass index greater than 30).

Sneaky supersizing

Part of the weight issue is linked to an increase in portion sizes. With a gradual increase in the amount of food being purchased and served, people have lost touch with what a healthy amount to eat actually is. Over the past 50 years, North American portion sizes have increased dramatically without consumers even being aware.

For instance, one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that in 1955, a typical order of French fries weighed 2.4 oz (67 g) while today, a typical order is 7.1 oz (200 g). The average size has almost tripled! (See "Supersized" for more examples.)

Unfortunately, when most of us are served more, we tend to eat more—hungry or not. Research by the American Institute for Cancer Research has revealed that 69 percent of people will finish their meals, even when the portions are huge.

In order to break the urge to overconsume, two steps must be implemented. We must:

  • become aware of average portion sizes
  • practice awareness eating.

Proper portioning

According to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, food is divided into four groups: grain products; vegetables and fruit; milk products; and meat and alternatives. Here are their suggestions for how many servings of each category to consume—and what a single serving is.

Grain Products

Vegetables & Fruit

Milk Products

Meat & Alternatives

Daily recommended servings (adults)

5 to 12

5 to 10

2 to 4 (3 to 4 if breastfeeding)

2 to 3

Examples of a single serving
  • 1/2 bagel
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) rice or pasta
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 oz (30 g) cold cereal
  • 1 medium sized fruit or vegetable
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruit
  • 1 cup (250 mL) salad
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) juice
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk or fortified soy beverage
  • 1.5 oz (50 g) block cheese (such as cheddar)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cottage cheese
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) yogourt
  • 2.5 oz (75 g) poultry, meat, or fish
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) beans
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) peanut butter

Don’t have a measuring cup?

Here are some other tips to help you properly estimate your portions:

  • tennis ball = 1 fruit serving
  • deck of cards = 1 meat, poultry, or fish serving
  • 9 volt battery = 1 hard cheese serving
  • palm of your hand = 1 grain serving
  • half a baseball = 1 vegetable serving
  • 4 stacked dimes = 1 fat serving

Eat sufficiently

The second approach to watching portion size is to eat consciously and with awareness. A dear friend’s grandmother once said to me, “For health, you should eat until you are sufficiently sufficed, not stuffed!” What wise words those were. Instead of gobbling up too much food at a hurried pace, eating in a slow manner until you are 80 percent full is far better for health.

Once you are aware of the average portion size of specific foods, the other critical step is to take notice of your true hunger signal. The next time you overeat and feel stuffed, ask yourself, “Was I truly hungry, or did I eat because of stress, sadness, boredom, or other reasons?” Remember, this process takes time and practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

To start eating with awareness, when you do feel the urge to eat, you must stop, take a breath, and focus your awareness back to how you are feeling. Is it hunger or is it an emotion or a craving? Try implementing the following steps when beginning awareness eating:

  1. Take sips of water between each bite to slow you down.
  2. Do not take the entire bag or container of food while eating. It is best to dish out the amount or serving size you would like to eat in a small dish or bowl.
  3. Whenever possible, do not mindlessly munch in front of your television or computer screen. If you do want to snack while watching your favourite show, try some air-popped popcorn at only 31 calories per cup.
  4. Take several breaths between bites and chew your food well before swallowing.
  5. Do not keep high-glycemic-index snack foods in the house such as candies, cookies, or baked goods. When temptation or stressful events strike, you will likely fall off the health wagon and overconsume.
  6. Play the “name it” game. While sitting down for a meal, pick one or two things that you are really enjoying about your food. Is it the colour of the strawberry? The crunch of the walnut? This will slow down your eating and snap you back into awareness.
  7. Try to make your meals last a minimum of 20 minutes. It takes 20 minutes for the stretch receptors in your stomach to say to your brain, “Hey! I am full.”
  8. Do not skip meals. Skipping meals will lead to overeating.
  9. For optimal health and wellness, eat larger meals earlier in the day and smaller meals in the evening. Follow the saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
  10. Do not eat until you are uncomfortable. Eat until you are approximately 80 percent full.
  11. Allow yourself to get hungry and feel your stomach grumble. It is important to be able to identify real hunger versus eating merely for the sake of boredom.

By becoming aware of portion sizes and implementing the simple steps above, you will instill mindfulness into your eating habits, which will halt overeating the wrong types of foods. The result—improved health and a smaller waistline!

Supersized

Consider these increases in serving size over recent years:

  • Most convenience stores boast a drink container that holds a whopping 64 oz of fluid—that’s 1.9 litres!
  • Many fast food chains offer “value meals” which are better priced than individual items—making it actually cheaper for a customer to buy (and eat) more food, rather than a single item.
  • The standard dinner plate used in most restaurants has increased from 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).
  • In 1961 Americans consumed 2,883 calories per person per day. By 2000 this had increased to 3,817 calories.
  • Twenty years ago a muffin had 200 calories and was 1.5 oz (40 g). Today, the average muffin is a whopping 500 calories and is over 5 oz (140 g).
  • Twenty years ago a bagel had a 3 inch (7.5 cm) diameter and was 140 calories. Today, the average bagel is 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and is 350 calories.

Gauging your hunger

Here are some signs to help you decide whether you are eating with awareness, are in the habit of eating too much, or are simply comforting yourself with food.

Emotional Eating Emotional

Awareness Eating

Eating is quick and sudden. Within 1 to 2 minutes, you can gobble up an entire meal without ever tasting the real essence of the food.Awareness eating is slow and gradual. You enjoy and are aware of every element of your food, including taste, colour, texture, and flavour.
Emotional eating is triggered by a certain feeling or situation. For example, your boss yelled at you or you are fighting with your boyfriend.Awareness eating is in response to true signs of hunger.
Emotional eating causes overeating the wrong types of foods. Symptoms such as bloating and feelings of guilt often accompany the food binge.Awareness eating never results in feelings of guilt. Following a meal or snack, there is a feeling of being sufficed, not stuffed.
Emotional eating is absent-minded and unconscious. For example, you realize you just ate an entire bag of chips.Awareness eating lets you know exactly how much food you have consumed.
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