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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » The American fat epidemic culprit: portion sizes

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Author Topic: The American fat epidemic culprit: portion sizes
pickled shuttlecock
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Having lost 55 pounds since February, I think I have some expertise on the subject.

Here's my secret: Eat less. A lot less. (Seriously. Dieting isn't easy, but it isn't complicated, either.) I take a multivitamin to make up for what I'm not getting in food. Most days I skip breakfast. (Shock! Isn't that bad for you?) I consume 400-600 calories by dinner, giving me an allowance of 700-900 for the rest of the night. I've replaced our dinner plates with lunch plates to make dinner look large enough. (It actually helps a lot.) For exercise, I walk to and from school - about 40 minutes altogether.

So tonight I was at Dairy Queen with my son. I took a look at the nutrition information leaflet, and discovered that my small Blizzard (chocolate, with Heath - yum) was about 600 calories. For reference, at 5'9" - pretty average - I need 1800. (I need about 2000 with 40 minutes of exercise.) That thing is a third of what I need to maintain homeostasis.

Most people don't get the small one, though.

The most fattening things on the menu are the large chocolate malt and the large cookie dough blizzard: both 1320, which leaves your average American male with a calorie allowance large enough for a single PBJ and an apple. (Most sandwiches are about 400.) Why do they even sell these things?

This portion size problem isn't specific to going out to eat, though. It's an American culture thing: most of us eat off of large plates, which we fill, we take second helpings, and we have dessert. If there's an American fat epidemic (I'm not convinced, especially because the word "epidemic" is ill-suited to describe it), it has nothing to do with over-consumption of fats, sugars, or carbohydrates, or even lack of exercise. (An hour of exercise lets you eat an extra small cheeseburger. Yee-haw.) It's over-consumption in general. It's that we expect to be able to down huge and multiple portions without any ill effects. Where does this attitude come from?

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Jesse
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People used to exercise far more than an hour a day.

I used to spend 3 hours a day hiking, 8 hours a day rolling rocks or swinging a tool, and another 2 or so doing camp chores. I dropped from 180 to 157 in five months of that, while eating about 6,000 calories a day (according to our cook, who was a nutritionist).

That work load is pretty close to what most American men did 70 years ago, you know, the men for whom the four egg, two sausage, two bacon, four pieces of toast breakfast was designed.

An extra small cheese burger a day is actually enough to make a pretty darn big difference over the course of a year, even if that's all the benfit one hour of exercise brought...but it isn't. Exercise helps maintian healthy sleep, helps to prevent depression, increases metabolism for hours afterward, and reduces stress.

All of these things help to reduce weight, both through direct effects like reducing cortisol (and no, anti-cortisol pills have never been shown to work, but people with higher levels of that stress hormone do tend to put on more weight) and indirect effects (happy people don't eat gallons of ice cream while crying in the tub).

Now, I'm not a Dairy Queen fan, but about once a month I hit In-N-Out for a shake, fries, and a pair of double doubles. Why do they sell things like double doubles? 'Cause people buy em [Wink] More seriously, there is nothing wrong with eating stuff like that if you really can keep it to rare occasions.

I've been close to 220, and I dropped thirty of it in two months. For me, portions didn't change at all, what I ate did. Skinless chicken breast instead of cheeseburgers, stopped drinking half a gallon of milk a day, switched the potato chips for wheat thins, ect. I also went from almost no exercise to two hours + a day.

A huge part of caloric need has to do with employment. A guy lumping frieght burns a lot more calories than a waitress, who in turn burns a lot more than an accountant.

It's portion sizes, it's high-fructose corn syrup, it's low-fat and low-carb fads, it's a stunningly sedentary lifestyle (people e-mail the memos they used to walk around and pass out, yes, stuff that simple) it's subsidies that make food bereft of nutritional value the cheapest food there is, and it's increased automation of regular household chores.

It's a huge varity of problems, and a different set of solutions for just about every person.

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LinuxFreakus
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And then there is me... I am 6'7" and about 215 lbs (I'm very skinny for my height actually) and I can eat all I want (I often shock people with how much I eat) and never gain an ounce.

I'm sure that will all change one day, but that is the way I've been for the first 27 years of my life so far.

I'm somewhat active... I belong to a health club and go there a few times a week, and I do random other things on weekends like hiking, etc... but I'm not really *that* active all things considered... not active enough that I really have any business eating as much as I do.

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LinuxFreakus
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My wife tells me I should only need about 3300 calories per day, but if I only ate that much I'd probably starve. I probably eat more like double that on average... on a good day, I've already had that much by lunch!

And no, I don't have a tape worm or anything icky like that, lol.

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pickled shuttlecock
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Are you saying you consume the equivalent of 8 sandwiches by lunch? [Big Grin]

Count the calories sometime. To make it easier, round to the nearest fifty on every food.

3300 calories is an awful lot, actually. If I ate that much, I'd put on 2.6 pounds every week.

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pickled shuttlecock
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Too bad about not having a tapeworm.

"You have a tapeworm? Can I borrow it for a month?"

[LOL]

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LinuxFreakus
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quote:
Originally posted by pickled shuttlecock:
Are you saying you consume the equivalent of 8 sandwiches by lunch? [Big Grin]

Well... I dont know what a large bowl or two of cereal adds up to, but then if I add a couple blueberry muffins from dunkin donuts on my way to work... those puppies are 2000 calories each.
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LinuxFreakus
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My lunches are a little more sensible I suppose though. I usually have a big sandwich. I make them with three slices of bread (real bread, not that wafer thin stuff they label as sandwich bread these days) and double the meat/cheese/jalapenos or whatever. Then I have some sort of fruit, often an apple, a yogurt, and some chips or something.
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LinuxFreakus
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And I don't drink soft drinks very often, I prefer water for the most part, or unsweetened iced tea, that might help too. But I *know* my calorie intake is still ridiculous anyway.
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LinuxFreakus
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That said, I totally agree that portion sizes are out of control. To me the key seems to be to just stop eating when you aren't hungry anymore instead of just going until all the food is gone. For many people, that is easier said than done though, and therein lies the problem.
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LetterRip
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Most food producers mislead about calories. Basically they find what amount of the product is 100 calories and set that as the 'serving size'. (Oreo cookies - serving size 3 cookies; 160 calories per serving). So even though typical consumption might be say 9 cookies per sitting (480 calories). They fool the majority of consumers who pay little attention to what amount constitutes a serving.

LetterRip

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kenmeer livermaile
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I wouldn't call that direct misleading. What consitutes a serving size is *very* arbitrary. We all know that 9 cookies is not a fat-reducer.
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Jesse
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That's true Ken, but how about a blueberry muffin?

They are calling a serving size "one third of a muffin" on the packaging.

Actual conversation with someone I knew who had a weight problem, when I had a money problem.

"You know, those muffins are about 900 calories each?"

"Yeah, I know! and they're only a BUCK!"

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canadian
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<Splurting coffee>
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LoverOfJoy
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Wow. I've never seen any go so far as to call a serving size 1/3 of a muffin. Out of curiosity, what brand was it?
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kenmeer livermaile
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Ha! That's funny! eSPECIALLY WITH CANADIAN COFFEE ALL OVER IT! (Caps oops)
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Jesse
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Sorry LoJ, I don't recall the brand. Whatever muffins I used to grab off a shelf at 7-11 when I was on my "things wrapped in plastic or handed too me through a window" diet.

[ October 28, 2006, 12:35 PM: Message edited by: Jesse ]

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canadian
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This morning it's a Belgian Chocolate coffee.

BTW, thanks everyone for that 'coffee' thread. I never auto drip anymore, it's the bodum every morning.

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javelin
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quote:
Originally posted by LoverOfJoy:
Wow. I've never seen any go so far as to call a serving size 1/3 of a muffin. Out of curiosity, what brand was it?

ABC News story on Serving Size

quote:
How about the Bon Appetit blueberry muffin? Most people would eat one for breakfast. And when the label tells you there are just 215 calories per serving, you'd think you were having a reasonably low-cal breakfast. But you might be surprised to see that the label, in tiny print, also says the serving size is one third of a muffin. So, your low-cal breakfast jumps to 645 calories if you're like most people and you eat the whole muffin.

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Clark
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I'm 6 feet and 160 lbs and had a roommate in college who is 6'8" and about 185. We'd go shopping and calculate which foods gave us the most calories per dollar. (That's what happens when skinny nerds have to feed themselves.) We'd consume a box of Pasta-Roni for dinner (1200-1500 calories if I remember correctly) and a frozen pizza for our midnight meal (another 1200 calories or so). I'd usually drink about 500 calories of apple/other juice per day. Plus we'd have other meals. 3000+ calories per day easy. In the two years I lived with him I bulked up from about 155 to about 165 and I don't think he gained an ounce. We both got married and our wives haven't faired any better at putting weight on us. I guess my point is that there are people out there that can consume 3000 or more calories per day and barely break even.
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canadian
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Wait 'til you're 30.
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canadian
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I'm 5'11" and I went up to 195 lbs before I decide I'd like to get back to being able to actually move quickly and dropped 20.

Before 30, there's no way I could have packed it on like that...metabolism slows down around then.

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Jesse
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canadian speaks truth.

I used to have "dinners" consisting of a tube of pringles, a pint of ben&jerrys, a chunk of carrot cake, two large hot pockets, a quart of orange juice and a quart of chocolate milk.

That's on top of a couple tigers milk bars and quart of OJ for breakfast, and a couple peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.

I mean, every night. The girls in the dorm (State Park dorms) used to just stare at me...

Couldn't break 180, no matter what. Now, if I don't watch it, I'm over that 200 mark in a flash.

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LinuxFreakus
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quote:
Originally posted by Clark:
had a roommate in college who is 6'8" and about 185.

Goodness, and I thought I was rail thin at 215. I guess I have a "large frame".

At least as defined here anyway:

http://www.healthdiscovery.net/links/calculators/ideal_bw_men.htm

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The Drake
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One problem I've seen, is that Unit Cost rules in terms of food purchase. If you can get an extra patty for 15% more dollars - hells yes, I'll take it !

I'd be a bastard if I didn't!

The problem is that we can't save the second patty for later. A known consumer response is to stockpile goods which can be stored for a long time when they are on special. Americans, in particular - but not exclusively, are stockpiling calories inside our bodies.

Except in this case, we keep buying regardless the size of our stockpile (waistline) and the food in question is never off-deal.

The only known answers are dangerous drugs to alter your metabolism and life-threatening stomach surgery. [Smile]

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Lisa M.
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Or just stockpile salads.

Or just don't eat out and have that extra patty offered.

Or make conscious choices to only keep healthy foods in the house.

Maybe it's just that as a former wrestler I'm used to dieting all the time, but when I had to stop wrestling (yaaaay injuries), I swore that I'd never diet again. And I haven't. Occasionally, I'll think to myself "you know, you really shouldn't eat that," but I usually ignore myself. And yes, I put on 15 pounds in the few months after quitting wrestling. I went up to a healthy weight. And I've managed to maintain that weight within about seven pounds of fluctuation (depending on the season - goes up in the winter).

I don't know. I just don't think that maintaining weight is that difficult unless one has a real metabolic problem.

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Funean
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Or is over 30...

Seriously. It's the big 'F-you' of adulthood.

Along with simultaneous wrinkles AND zits (not that *I* would know, of course).

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pickled shuttlecock
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa M.:
I don't know. I just don't think that maintaining weight is that difficult unless one has a real metabolic problem.

It mostly isn't, for most people.

I find it's not terribly difficult to shed pounds after all. It just took the "Oh, maybe I should eat less" epiphany. That just never occurred to me before - I always attributed it to lack of exercise. The nearest thing I can figure for a reason is that I was confused by all the complicated CRAP that people spew about losing weight or maintaining healthy weight.

That complicated CRAP helps them sell books, though.

I just think we desk-job Americans have a terrible habit of eating like construction workers or farmers. If this is due to social momentum, why don't the French have this problem?

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Jesse
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As much as they hate to admit it, the French are a bit heavier than they used to be, and the Brits are nearly as bad as us.

The French tend to walk more, but that sure isn't all of it. A BIG part of our nations problem is massive consumption of raw sugar, mostly in the form of soda, which they just don't seem to have the taste for.

Also, they tend to see our consumption of massive quantities as...tacky. They have a different cultural relationship to food.

The 35 hour work week doesn't hurt, either. More leisure time, less stress, lots of public parks and stuff to do for free or nearly so.

You're right, by the way, the fad crap is just that, crap...with one exception. Sugars screw up your blood sugar something awful, set your metabolism to racing and crashing, screw up leptin and insulin levels, and are the short road to diabetes.

That doesn't mean "carbs are bad", ya need em. It's just best not consume a lot of sugar or white flour.

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canadian
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or salt.
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scifibum
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Or hydrogenated oil.

But "eat less" is a more useful rule than any specific dietary restriction. There just aren't that many skinny people with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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Lisa M.
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I'm a skinny person with heart disease!

Even if it took a third opinion to get a diagnosis.

Because apparently 18-year-old girls who aren't morbidly obese don't develop heart disease, even if it runs in the family, and even if they are having constant heart palpitations and angina at least daily, which are more indicitave of nerve problems than muscle problems, which aren't affected by fat or age.

... sorry. It still bothers me.

But, yes, High Fructose Corn Syrup = bad. And apparently it's not the hydrogenated oil, it's the partially hydrogenated oil that's really bad.

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scifibum
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Sorry Lisa, that sucks. [Frown]
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Lisa M.
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Eh, it's not so bad. It's mostly just annoying.

I'm just pissed about how two different doctors concluded that there was "absolutely nothing" wrong with my heart, despite all of the symptoms, because my age, sex, weight, race/ethnic background don't fit the description of the "typical" heart-disease patient.

Aaaaand back on-topic. Ready? Go.

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scifibum
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ahem, yeah, so lots of Americans should try to eat less.
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Storm Saxon
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I totally agree with the first and second posts of this thread, however I'd like to add another culprit--crappy city planning. For a lot of cities, it's impossible to walk or bike unless you go to a special spot. No sidewalks or bike lanes to speak of, and drivers that don't respect pedestrians.

Along those same lines, but for different reasons, I think children aren't able or allowed to walk or bike to school like they used to. When I went to elementary school twenty odd years a go, I and many other children walked or rode our bikes to school. After school, we played pickup baseball or tag or swam with other children, and had to be drug home at sunset, exhausted after a day's play.

I haven't looked this up and I don't have any statistics to backup what I'm saying, just personal observation.

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Ben
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Ah, shopping for maximal calories per buck, in college as a 6'-2" skinny freak at 145 lb... I remember grabbing a nice deal on mac & cheese when I could get 5 boxes for a buck, then I'd snarf down a couple boxes. But now my wife takes care of me and I make a bit more money so I don't worry so much about calories and try to focus on nutrition a bit more. My metabolism has slowed a bit but I'm still at the 145 mark unfortunately, though given the magic 30 coming up in a few months, I'll have to remember to post how that changes things later on. Anyone else near the magic 30 mark and wanna post results on it like a few others have been on the magic Omega-3 thread?

Random thought, my favorite explaination suggested by someone else for my lack of weight gain was not a tapeworm, but rather combined with my sternum popping at the time, one of these Aliens incubating in my body. Too funny!

And yeah on the lousy city planning that we have in most new American developments, etc. with lack of walkable neighbors and such. I'm fortunate to have had nice places in older parts of town in the past, though I have to move soon, hoping to find another nice house nearby. We'll see though... But given how oil prices go up, we might see a slight return to the local living city planning that we lost with the start of the auto era...

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philnotfil
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6'2", went from 152 (held steady for about ten years) to 205 in a year, and have now made it all the way to 215.

*sigh*, oh to be 25 again.

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Jesse
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According to my Granda, once you turn 60 it starts to get easier to keep weight off again [Smile]
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kenmeer livermaile
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Yeah but at a lousy price: lack of digestive capacity, muscular atrophy, stuff like that.
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