One of the many failed diet strategies I tried back in the day was serving myself portion-controlled meals.  I’d nuke a Healthy Choice dinner, or a Weight Watchers Smart Ones dinner, or a Lean Cuisine dinner, etc., and then try to convince myself I was satisfied after eating it.

Then I’d get hungry a couple of hours later and nuke another one … or two.

If you’d tried to lose weight by simply eating less of the same foods that made you fat in the first place, you know what happens:  you end up in a raging battle with your appetite.  You may hold out for awhile, but eventually your appetite wins.  It’s supposed to win.  That’s how Nature wired you.

The anti-obesity crusaders can’t get that through their heads.  They seem to believe obese people are like automatons who just consume whatever’s in front of them, with appetite having little do with it.  Just serve those fat people smaller portions, by gosh, and they’ll eat less and lose weight.

Sorry, but that’s like suggesting that if we ordered Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to sell cigarettes in packs of 15 instead of 20, people would smoke less.   No, they wouldn’t.  They’d just buy more packs.

When Hizzoner in New York wanted to ban large soda cups, I wrote that people would just buy more sodas.  A study reported in the Los Angeles Times came to the same conclusion:

After New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled his plan to ban the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces, comedian Jon Stewart complained that the proposal “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”

It turns out the “Daily Show” host was on to something.

New research shows that prompting beverage makers to sell sodas in smaller packages and bundle them as a single unit actually encourages consumers to buy more soda — and gulp down more calories — than they would have consumed without the ban.

Well, I don’t know if they’ll consume more over time, but I sincerely doubt they’ll consume less.

Not only would thirsty people drink more, but circumventing the big-drink ban by offering consumers bundles of smaller drinks also would mean more revenue for the beverage purveyors, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. The sales boost would probably offset the added cost of producing more cups, lids and straws to hold those extra drinks, the researchers found.

The results reveal “a potential unintended consequence that may need to be considered in future policymaking,” wrote the study authors, psychologists from UC San Diego.

Okay, two quick points:  1) There are ALWAYS be unintended consequences when policymakers decide how other people should live, and 2) the lesson that future policymakers need to learn is that they should stop making policies.

The findings come a month after a New York judge struck down a bid by New York City’s health department to halt the sale of super-sized soft drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and sports venues across the city, calling the proposed measure “arbitrary and capricious.”

The effort’s legal failure sparked a round of soul-searching by public health officials, whose anti-obesity efforts have focused heavily on reducing Americans’ consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages laden with sugar and calories.

Soul-searching by public health officials?  I doubt that happened.  If it did, neighbors would have reported hearing screams of “Oh my god, I have the soul of a fascist!”

On to the study …

The researchers recruited 100 undergraduate students at UC San Diego and set up a mock concession stand offering popcorn, pizza and an array of beverage choices packaged in single-serving cups and in bundles of cups.

In one setup, the researchers offered a full-service menu with 16-ounce, 24-ounce and 32-ounce drinks for $1.59, $1.79 and $1.99, respectively. In another, students could buy a single 16-ounce soda for $1.59, two 12-ounce sodas for $1.79, or two 16-ounce sodas for $1.99. There was also a “no-bundle” menu, offering only a 16-ounce drink for $1.59.

When ordering off the bundled menu, the subjects bought more ounces of soda than in either of the other two cases. They were also less likely to skip a drink when bundles were available — only 16% made that choice, compared with 21% who opted to go beverage-free when faced with the full-service menu and 38% who did so when the only option was the 16-ounce drink.

In other words, faced with a size restriction, the students bought more servings.

Another study purported to show that serving food on smaller plates could reduce childhood obesity:

Smaller plates, fewer calories? The latest study shows one way to fight childhood obesity may be to shrink the size of the dinner plate.

According research published in the journal Pediatrics, first-graders served themselves more and downed more calories when they used a large plate instead of a smaller one.

Simply advising parents — and kids — to eat less and exercise more hasn’t turned the childhood obesity epidemic around.

So let me get this straight:  advising people to eat less and move more doesn’t work … but if we give them smaller plates, they’ll eat less and then that will work?  We’re back to the automaton theory.  Apparently the millions and millions of frustrated dieters in the world never had the good sense to just use smaller plates.  Sure, they were trying to count calories and all that, but when they pulled a big ol’ plate out of the cupboard, they were unconsciously driven to fill it up and then ate too much.

With one in three U.S. kids now defined as overweight or obese, researchers at Temple University decided to study how effective shrinking plate sizes could be in keeping appetites in check.

A smaller plate reduces your appetite?! A piece of plastic or china somehow changes one of your most basic biochemical drives?

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

On half the days, the kids used plates that were 7 ¼ inches in diameter — about the size of a salad plate — and on the other days they were provided with dishes the size of a dinner plate at 10 ¼-inches in diameter. Their plates were weighed before and after they ate.

The kids served themselves 90 calories more on days when they used bigger dishes; they ended up consuming about half those calories and leaving the rest uneaten, which was still more than what they ate on days they used the smaller plates. “Studies show that when kids serve themselves more, they are going to eat more,” says Fisher, the study’s lead author.

Okay, so here’s what we’ve got:  when kids were given bigger plates, they served themselves an extra 90 calories – but then consumed only half of the extra calories.  That’s a whopping 45-calorie difference.  Hail, hail, the witch is dead, the childhood obesity epidemic has been solved!  Does anyone really think those kids’ metabolisms aren’t capable of adjusting up or down to cancel out a 45-calorie difference?

When kids put more food on the plate but then don’t eat it all, that tells me that they’re eating to match their appetites — exactly what I’d expect to happen.  As I’ve mentioned before, on most nights my girls walk away from the dinner table with food still left on their (large) plates.   On other nights, they’ll ask for seconds.  Sometimes they eat a little dinner, go do their homework, then ask for a snack – which we give them.  We don’t worry about how much they eat because their appetites are naturally controlled by the type of foods we serve them.

The point is, losing weight isn’t about plate size, cup size, or portion size.  It’s about fixing the hormonal drive to accumulate fat, which in turns ramps up appetite.   If your fat cells are sucking up a disproportionate number of calories and hanging onto them, you’re going to get hungry and you’re going to eat more – even if you eat from a teensy little plate.

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73 Responses to “Serving-Size Nonsense”
  1. Rob says:

    Not to mention that taking one meal in isolation doesn’t really prove anything. Sure, if I eat low fat I’ll probably eat less calories but you can bet that I’ll be stuffing down anything I can find an hour later.

    Bingo. That’s what the research shows.

  2. Bret says:

    With such brilliance in our government offices, it’s a real wonder that we can’t seem to stop running $1 trillion annual deficits.

    My mother-in-law had initial success with Weight Watchers and a year later, sure enough, regained all the weight. She has been impressed with how much thinner my wife and I have gotten and is considering going LC. The calorie obsession is still hardwired into her brain though.

    My dad has also put on some pounds and is constantly talking about needing to eat less. He’s a stubborn one who thinks he’s got it all figured out. I have been trying to broach this subject with him, but he doesn’t listen. He’s been convinced from the get-go that what I’m doing is some extremist fad. Hope I can change his mind before he starts getting sick.

    Yup, it’s frustrating when people who failed to lose weight look at people who have lost weight and say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  3. Miriam says:

    I have a technical question.

    If a desk is not available, what other items of household furniture are permissible for use in official illogic-response head bangs?

    Kitchen counters, dining-room tables and bathroom sinks are all acceptable substitutes.

  4. Is there anything being done in nutrition these days that doesn’t invoke your “Head. Bang. On. Desk.”. It’s so sad.

    Sure, there’s good some research being done.

  5. Rick says:

    Yeah, because all those small plates they use at the all-you-can-eat buffets keep people from eating more.

  6. Josh says:

    This New York drink ban reminds me a lot of the war on drugs. As the government started cracking down on drug use, drug dealers figures out ways to work the system. First they made their drugs much more potent, so they could be transported in a less detectable way. Then they started making designer drugs that were not illegal, but eventually became illegal. Then drugs like crack and crystal meth were invented that were so addictive, their customers could careless about the law. Now there is the issue with bath salts. With a ban on large sodas, soft drink retailers will just sell more smaller sizes (as the study shows). Then there might be laws against the amount of drinks one can buy in a day. Retailers will then figure out a way to sell beverages that are unsweetened and the end user adds their own (much like how one can add their own sweetener to coffee). Lots of laws, and in the end, people still get their fix.

    Exactly. It’s the wisdom of crowds, albeit without a positive goal. The crowd will find a way to out-smart the supposed experts.

  7. CJ says:

    My little brother and I are adopted. When we were younger our biological parents let us eat as much Little Debbie Snack cakes and drink as much pop as we wanted. I got fat, my brother stayed thin. Last year I watched Fat Head and went on a low carb diet. My adoptive father has never been fat in his life. He is still skeptical that low carb diets work. He told me that the key to staying thin is balance. My younger brother and I both pretty much ate the same amount of crap, so I don’t think balance is the answer.

    Naturally thin people tend to believe they’ve got it all figured out.

    • Chris Bennett says:

      As a naturally thin person I hope I have never been guilty of that. Some naturally thin people have alot of other problems caused by a high carb diet. I used to have digestive problems and shaky hands all the time. When I went extremely low carb those two problems both disappeared very quickly. I feel much more chilled all the time.

      Chareva is a perfect example of that. She’s naturally thin and was never concerned about weight, but she feels way better on a grain-free, sugar-free diet.

    • Gai Bennett says:

      OMG! I’m a fraternal twin. Growing up we ate the same three meals a day from the same table. We took the same ballet, tap, and gymnastic classes. We did the same Physical Ed classes all through school. My sister has always been rail thin and able to eat anything/everything she wanted. I have always been slightly overweight to at one point in my life morbidly obese. Genetics should not become a crutch or go-to excuse, But you need to come to understand how your body works on the fuel you feed it. I know now that my body does not like carbs. I’ve never been a sugar craver but loved bread and pasts. Giving up those carbs has made a huge difference.

      Same with our dogs — siblings from the same litter, they eat exactly the same meals, but one is significantly larger.

  8. Tom Welsh says:

    I always wince when I hear someone talk about “the law of unintended consequences”. It’s almost as bad as “the law of averages” – in the sense that if you toss a coin six times and it comes up heads every time, it is more likely to come up tails next time.

    To me, “the law of unintended consequences” is a generalization that stupid, ignorant people make to deflect blame from themselves to some mythical law of nature. It’s like phlogiston or animal spirits. If they were honest, they would say “I didn’t think it through”, or “My ignorance caused me to blunder”, or “My stupidity caused me to overlook my ignorance”. Actually, one can think of a lot of elaborations on those general themes.

    Actually, I don’t cite it to deflect blame from policymakers. I cite as something they should have expected. For example, is anyone surprised that after being ordered to buy expensive insurance policies for all employees who work 30 hours or more per week, employers have responded by cutting employees down to 29 hours per week, thus making them worse off? The government’s attempt to “help” them backfired — exactly what I expected.

    • “Unintended” consequences happen when you think having a certain intention will magically guarantee a certain consequence, so talking about “unintended consequences” is just another way of saying that reality pays no attention to your *intentions*.

      What policymakers don’t seem to grasp in that in economics, actions produce reactions, just as they do in chemistry and physics.

  9. Stipetic says:

    Maybe those tiny plates are made of some leptin polymer, no? That could explain there innate ability to reduce appetite. Had you even considered that! ;-)

    No, I didn’t consider that possibility.

  10. Megan says:

    I agree that kids tend to eat with their stomachs and not with their heads – but I don’t…if I am given a huge meal, I will invariably eat everything on my plate. I hardly ever stop eating until all my food has disappeared. even if I am full. this happens with all foods, even if I am eating carb free (which i do most of the time).

    Maybe I was brought up that way or maybe I just hate food waste, But whatever the reason, I tend to eat more when I serve myself more (and the opposite is true).

    For this reason – I usually use a smaller plate and top it up if I am still hungry. or I serve smaller portions that I expect will fill me up. Getting a smaller portion is easier to do when I use a smaller plate,. it is a better visual clue. maybe I eat more later to compensate or less if I have a larger plate. But I don’t think so.

    I seem to be happier to feel a little hungry later on in the evening if I finished my dinner.

    I think it is too simplistic to simply say that our biology will always drive our appetite. There are too many psychological and emotional connections to food to say that this is the case all the time.

    In a study of fast-food meals, researchers found that people do indeed eat more if given a big meal … but then they eat less in subsequent meals, and their calorie intake over a week-long span is remarkably consistent, even with big meals in the mix.

    • Miriam says:

      I’m not sure, but I took the point to be that with kids who haven’t been trained by habit to overeat, or who don’t have broken metabolisms due to years of chronically high blood sugar, you CAN trust their appetites. You and I may not always be able to do so because we have a lifetime of bad habits behind us. We’ve grown accustomed to things like that. I know in my house growing up you were not permitted to leave food on your plate, and all food served at a restaurant was consumed–precisely as you say, to avoid waste. And of course, there’s the old “no dessert till you’ve finished your dinner” ploy, which meant that you would stuff yourself beyond full in order to get that sweet treat. (Which somehow there was always room for; anyone else struck now years later by a feeling of “DUH!” when you consider how you never thought anything of that?) I still find myself feeling guilty about not eating everything I’ve taken.

      But if my parents had never forced me to eat everything on my plate; had considered it normal to not finish everything at the restaurant if you weren’t hungry any more; hadn’t said when I was full at the restaurant, “Well I guess you don’t want any dessert then, if you can’t finish your dinner;” and had not fed me so much grain and fruit as the basis of every day’s diet–to the point where I became resistant to insulin and began to pack on weight–would things be different? Would I be able to just eat to satisfaction and trust that? I can’t say for sure till I can change the past, but I think so. Even now, after six months of no grains, no starchy vegetables and no fruit and lots of saturated animal fat I find I’m beginning to trust my hunger instincts.

      • Linda R says:

        You said a mouthful, as the saying goes!

        I look back now at the way I raised my daughters and I am ashamed of using all those silly tactics on them as well.

        I also recall my mother reminding me of the “starving children in China” when I didn’t finish my meals.Thinking of that now, what a ridiculous thing to tell a kid! How was my uneaten food going to provide a meal for a kid in China?!?!?

        It has also taken me a long time to finally trust my appetite. I began LCHF back in July of 2008 and I STILL find myself ignoring my appetite at times and meandering to the fridge after a good sized meal.

        Even as a kid, I never understood being told to finish everything on the plate. Uh … what if I’m not hungry anymore? If kids try to skip dinner and then fill up on junk later, that’s another story.

  11. Beowulf says:

    “Scientific” treatments and studies concerning obesity really got off-track when we switched from thinking of it as a physiological disease to a psychological problem.

    Bingo. It’s chemistry, not character.

  12. Stephen says:

    This has given me an idea. If they reduce the number of holes in salt shakers this will reduce the amount of salt people consume and reduce hypertension. Brilliant yes?

    I’m pretty sure you could get a grant to study that hypothesis.

  13. desmond says:

    Right on Tom! Since your plug of the “Slim is Simple” video, I have been trying Jonathan Bailor’s advice. I have been stuffing myself with more non-starchy veggies in addition to my meat, eggs, coconut and other real food until I am happy and satisfied. At least by volume, and perhaps by mass, I am eating more than I ever have in my life, but my waist size is down to what it was half a lifetime ago. I don’t even care what I weigh because I am putting on muscle.

    On portion size, though, I admit to liking the little 90-calorie cans of soft drinks. Every couple months when I am in the mood for a Cuba Libre, I find a 16-ounce can too much. The pack of 8 cans @ 8 oz. is a perfect year’s supply.

    If eight cans last you a year, I’d say you can get away with the sodas.

  14. Carolyn says:

    I stopped trying to force my kids to eat everything on their plate a long time ago. I now admire their ability to know when they are hungry and when to stop eating. They also crave the nutrients their bodies need.

    I never understood haranguing kids to eat past the point where they’re satisfied.

    • Walter Bushell says:

      Hard times when you don’t know where tomorrow’s food or next months food is coming from. People who lived through the gross unpleasantness around the 1930s and 1940s had a tendency to this syndrome. There’s nothing like a good supply of fat to carry you through a famine, which given modern politics and agricultural policies is quite likely.

      There was an article in the NY Times recently about the growing hunger among children in Greece.

      Or we could get an outbreak of disease resistant TB or other wasting disease.

      Don’t think it can’t happen in America.

      The food shortage during the Great Depression was largely artificial. FDR, being an economic ignoramus, decided high farm income would lead the nation out of the Depression, so he paid farmers not to grow crops and had the federal government destroy millions of livestock and millions of pounds of produce to raise prices.

      But yes, an economic meltdown can lead to food shortages anywhere.

  15. It’s astonishing to me nowadays how little I eat compared to my “I give up” phase when I just ate whatever junk was available in whatever amounts made me stop being hungry–I used to consume gut-busting meals (whole pizzas washed down with a 2-liter of soda) in an attempt to stave off hunger, and 4 hours later I’d still want more food.

    Now, my idea of a meal can be as little as “cup of tea with cream in it”. Even on the days when I snork down a big helping, I don’t put ON any weight. I don’t feel bloated and miserable after meals. I don’t have horrible burning stomach pains that I have to quiet with Tums. I don’t get horrible shakes if I go without food for more than four hours and my blood sugar plummets. My legs and feet aren’t swollen and painful. Even my hip joints and back don’t hurt me any more, and I thought that pain was irreversible.

    I could literally go on for more than a page with this stuff–and I’m still discovering new things every day. For a while, I was stuck on diet soda because I’d feel ill if I just drank water–some residual unhealed stomach problem, I think. Well, I started drinking sparkling water alongside the diet soda. This past week, I’ve been on only the sparkling water. Now I’m down to just water and I don’t feel the weird queasiness in my stomach any more. YAY! And people wonder why I go ballistic when I hear some ignorant person telling overweight folks to “just cut back”. I try to remember it’s ignorance and not malice, but it can sure feel malicious when you’ve been through what I have.

    It is ignorance, but then again, some people mix arrogance with their ignorance. That’s when I go ballistic.

  16. George Wilson says:

    Nobody ever considers the unintended consequence. Seems like the #1 step would be to get the US Government to declare they were wrong about fat. I’m not going to hold my breath on that point. Admitting mistakes is not a big feature of politics.

    I do use smaller plates to some extent because it helps me not overeat. (You know the “See Food Diet”: See food – eat it.) I eat good stuff but too much makes me uncomfortable. I would not like it to be policy but it’s not a bad technique. I like Robert Lustig’s idea about seconds – wait twenty minutes to see if you are still hungry.

    Since I cut back on refined carbs and sugar I note my taste is changing significantly. I’m not wearing a hair shirt on the subject, I’ll have sugar but when I want it not when a food processor wants me to have it. Our daughter left the grandkids over recently and delivered them with a box of Popeye’s Chicken Strips. I picked one up and ate it. I was amazed at how sweet it was – definitely sugar added.

    Although I do occasionally get a scoop of ice cream (the more expensive and the higher the butterfat content the better) for the most part I’ve come to like your wife’s ice cream recipe, heavy cream and frozen fruit, as a routine dessert. I froze a big batch, which I cut into chunks and keep in the freezer. A few seconds in the microwave and it’s ready to eat. I also find 72% dark chocolate plenty sweet, paired with a glass of red wine or a shot of bourbon to end the day.

    • Tony Dickson says:

      Even the 90% dark chocolate tastes good to me now… when I first tried it, pre-LCHF it was bleagh.

      Your taste buds have adjusted.

      • Rae says:

        Sugary gluten-y desserts rarely even tempt me now that I’ve discovered 90%+ chocolate broken up into a bowl of heavy cream and berries. Hmm… I think I know what I’m having for lunch!

      • Peggy C says:

        Me, too. Time was I only liked milk chocolate. I’ve worked my way up to 88% dark chocolate, which tastes wonderful (and a little goes a long way.) I can no longer tolerate the cloying sweetness of milk chocolate.

  17. Marilyn says:

    And if smaller plates don’t work, there’s a “portion control” gadget one can buy — four plastic circles joined in the middle — to put on your plate before you add your food.

  18. Marilyn says:

    @Jennifer Snow: Not all “plain water” is the same. I still can get a belly-ache if I drink very much water from the (treated) city water supply. I can gulp our own well water to my heart’s content, and feel just fine.

    • Walter Bushell says:

      I too get sick to my stomach when drinking too much tap water, in NYC which has some of the best city water in the country, some of the other water is to me undrinkable in any dose. I use a filter which is much less than ideal, but what to do? Buying water that sits in plastic jugs for indeterminate time is not altogether better and more expensive.

      Except in the most pristine environments one needs to have ones well water checked periodically too. When I asked my father (when I was a teenager) about our well water and the people living above us having septic tanks, he said, “I don’t like to think about it.”

    • Even filtered water was giving me gyp for a while there–my stomach has been going through a lot of changes in the past two years adapting to the new lifestyle. I’ve always had problems with dehydration because I don’t get really thirsty so I have to remind myself to stay hydrated at all times.

      I have persistent issues that won’t clear up–my skin is still red and inflamed a lot, for instance. I suspect I may need antibiotics.

  19. Firebird says:

    Every time I read stories like this, I bang my head on a desk, resulting in a concussion. Therefore, low fat diets cause head injuries.

  20. Chris says:

    It’s just the low flow toilets. Now you have to flush twice.

    Low flow? I don’t like the sound of that.

  21. Chris Bennett says:

    I was very happy to read this article because just a couple of days ago I was watching a TV programme called Secret Eaters(in the UK).
    Basically they interview one or two people at the start of the programme about what they eat, those people lie about what they eat, they then have cameras in their house and teams follow them round that then show them after a week how much they actually eat. They like to shame them mainly about calorie content not what they are eating.
    Anyway in this programme they always conduct a ‘social’ experiement. They normally tend to be very along similar lines. The one the other day was some bunch of students watching a presentation or something while having unlimited crisps provided. One group could take a small bag of crisps and go back for more when they wanted some and the second group had bigger bags to choose from. The students with the bigger bags ate 40% more crisps.
    At the time I was arguing with my wife that the study was rubbish while she thought there was something in it. I could not come up with a good justification why it was rubbish back then apart from gut instinct. I realise now that the students with the bigger bags ate until they were full which obviously takes a while with carbs. The group who had the smaller bags probably were not full when they stopped they were just feeling guilty for how many packets they had opened. It does not prove anything because they will just snack later.

    That’s what I’d predict. Our bodies decide how fat to be based on hormonal factors, then our appetites and metabolisms adjust accordingly.

  22. Mike P says:

    I think your analogy to the number of cigarettes in pack is absolutely brilliant and I plan to shamelessly use it…

    Grok On!

    Borrow to your heart’s content.

  23. Mister Worms says:

    I agree with a couple of the comments that say our appetite and consumption isn’t purely driven by our physiology even given a real food diet. Environmental cues like the plate sizes you reference, size of packaging, availability, physical surroundings, social/peer group, etc. all have an influence. The book Mindless Eating was an interesting one on this topic. I can also identify with not wanting to waste food.

    My own appetite is extremely low and especially so since losing my sense of smell (which sucks btw!). Yet I like to join my family for meals, I enjoy the routine of coffee in the morning and I like good food in general. So most of the time I am eating I am not truly hungry and it doesn’t take much to make a real hungry signal go away – sometimes nothing at all.

    I think environmental factors can influence a particular meal, but research shows that people tend to consume a remarkably consistent number of calories over the course of a week. Eat more at one meal, they spontaneously eat less at another.

  24. Pierson says:

    I agree with you, in that it’s unwise to enforce standards on others, when one doesn’t have all the available information. Still, if these government regulations were just more willing to accept that they’re incorrect and change accordingly, federal regulations could easily work wonders. Really, government policies are made for the same reason any policies are made, be them from parents, teachers, schools, work, etc.–to prevent harm to the individual, and expenses to others. Really think about what would happen if there was absolutely no government interference beyond protecting people against harm done (by others) to their physical bodies, finances, reputation, property, and employment. If some junkie gets high (on drugs which are now easily available) and goes out and attacks someone, who is paying for that if said junkie is poor? If a large company doesn’t have to provide for disabled or poorer individuals, then who will look out for them if times get hard? You can’t always rely on another company to save the day, and it’d be heartless to just leave those you have the ability to help. I’m no bleeding heart (honest!), but it’s really just a matter of taking care to make sure that enforced policies are pragmatic and effective, instead of half-assing one’s way to a conclusion, and sticking others with the burden–even if it’s an unintended consequence

    Federal regulators are now and always be influenced by the companies they’re supposed to regulate. So all we do is give self-interested people the power of law and enforcement. Just look at the incestuous relationship between the USDA and Monsanto, AMG, Cargill, etc. That’s hardly an exception. Regulatory capture is the norm.

    It is nearly impossible for a small group of experts to have all the relevant information. That’s why the (spontaneous, unregulated) wisdom of crowds produces better solutions than committees do.

    If a junkie gets high and mugs someone, the junkie should be prosecuted. I have no problem with government protecting people from violence and fraud — those are legitimate functions of government.

    Private organizations can and did care for the downtrodden before government programs came in and largely displaced them. The private organizations were also far more efficient, so we got more bang for each charitable buck.

    • Pierson says:

      In that case, perhaps more corporate regulation may be a good way of preventing such corruption. After all, who watches these people, anyway? Also, I honestly did not know that private charities existed (no sarcasm, I really didn’t) prior to federal intervention. Really, when did that happen?

      Private charities were big 100 years ago. Churches were involved, communities were involved, prominent citizens regularly threw charity balls, etc. Government “charity” largely displaced private charity. As for more corporate regulation, when most people talk about corporate corruption, they’re thinking of cases where corporations bribed government officials. They do that because when government officials have the power to rig the game, bribing them is a rational decision. Take away the government power, that kind of corruption goes away too.

      • Davida says:

        Big government and big business love each other.

        Indeed.

      • JIll says:

        Yes, and there was a lot of physical and sexual abuse of orphans, wards, young pregnant girls etc.. Totally private organisations are not always healthy, well run or happy places.

        Surely you’re not suggesting those abuses never occurred in state-run wards?

        • Jill says:

          No I’m not, and i wouldn’t. Some awful things happen there.

          But private institutions were shocking and there’s no point pretending they weren’t. Many people still suffer the effects of their experiences then.

          Replying late because I just saw your response while revisiting!

    • Miriam says:

      Agree with Mr. Naughton’s comment here. And every once in a great while, a government regulation accidentally happens to coincide with a voluntary change in people’s behavior, and then that regulation appears to “succeed.” This is then trumpeted as an excellent example of how wondrous government regulation is and how it will save us all. Of course the 700 other regulations passed around the same time that didn’t “succeed” are simply ignored.

      A good example would be seat-belts. It’s not the regulations commanding seat-belt use that have saved so many people. If every seat belt law in the country were dropped tomorrow, not one car manufacturer would leave them out of next year’s models, because they…wait for it…RESPOND TO MARKET DEMAND. We demand safety, and they will always put seat-belts in our cars. The government regulations in this case followed the trend pretty closely, and the result was you have this regulation everyone thinks is a great example of the government saving lives, when it’s really just a great example of how the market works and how people are convinced by science and evidence: not policies. No one gets into their car and thinks, “Gee, I’ll put my seat-belt on. After all, its what the Almighty, Gracious and All-Knowing Traffic Commission has deemed best for me!” They put them on because they think, “Gee, I’ll put my seat-belt on. I think I’d rather not get hurled through the windshield today.”

      Oh, and the one guy I know who refuses to wear a seatbelt? It has nothing to do with not caring about his own safety. He refuses to wear it because he denies the government has the legal right to compel him to do so. Whenever he does go through the windshield, I shall ultimately blame his own stubbornness: but if the government had not stuck their big fat noses into his life he would have just worn them. Because he’s not an idiot.

      I started wearing my harness religiously after I saw post-crash pictures of people who didn’t. No one had to compel me after that.

      • Walter Bushell says:

        I know many people who buckle up because it is illegal not to. It’s apparently a revenue source. My father put seat belts in his cars before it became mandatory, and every car I ever drove there after had seat belts because of the law.

        On the other hand I know people that got tickets for driving without seat belt in the last 5 years, not that I normally have much to do with people that careless with their own life. Some of these people end up with a Darwin award right after saying, “Watch this!”.

        Sort of like the Jeff Foxworthy line: If your last words are “Watch this, y’all!” you might be a redneck.

    • JIll says:

      Don’t go too far with this “wisdom of crowds” stuff Tom.
      Remember, crowds make up mobs.

      True, but the “wisdom of crowds” doesn’t mean every crowd (or mob) has the right idea. It means when large numbers of people who are interested in a topic share information and ideas, they tend to come up with better answers than little groups of supposed experts.

  25. Marilyn says:

    Ah, yes. The LeanCuisine/HealthyChoice, yadayada. Been there, done that. I suspect that if I’d eaten the same number of calories of plain fatty meat — microscopic though the portion would have been — I’d have been more satisfied.

    This whole portion size thing conveniently ignores another factor: genetics. I just got a lovely letter from a woman who’s over 101. She’s very slim and tiny — has been all her life. Yet she could tuck away a big fried chicken dinner, including several ears of corn, along with the rest. Never on-a-diet a day in her life

    As most of us are aware, this whole weight thing — plate size, food pyramid, whatever — is not about the nation’s health, it’s about control. Not good.

    Agreed.

    • Stephanie says:

      I know several octogenarians and I am always amazed at how much food they eat and all maintain a healthy weight.
      One in particular was raised on a subsistence farm where they grew all of their own food and had raw milk, etc. She is 84 and still walks several miles a week, takes care of her husband, keeps up her house, cooks their meals, and hosts holiday gatherings for the large extended family.

  26. johnny says:

    Knowing how government operates I predict that after the smaller plates for kids failure the government will introduce the following: Reduce kid’s plates to coffee cup plates. If it doesn’t work, reduce them to expresso coffee cup plates.

  27. Josh says:

    About two years ago, my mother-in-law had lap-band surgery. She lost a lot of weight. Since then, her portion sizes have been quite small, and I seriously doubt that she eats much in between meals. On her recent visit to our house, I noticed that she has been putting on weight again. Her portion sizes are about the same (after all, her stomach is probably still a fraction of its normal size). That got me thinking about 2 other people that I know who have had lap-band, and they regained their weight within a couple of years. Do you know of any studies that have looked at the long term effectiveness of lap-band? From what I have seen, it seems to go along with what is being said here, portion control is not a long term solution.

    Regaining weight is a common problem:

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1381/096089202321144649

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1381/096089206777822359

    • Walter Bushell says:

      And even the successes need more medical care and they have to go on a low carb diet, because that is the only way to get sufficient nutrition in the small quantity of food they can eat.

      So why not low carb first, but that would be heresy and deprive all those hard working surgeons of their jobs.

      Ah, bariatric surgery an ideal job, totally elective surgery, 3AM phone calls and surgery at you convenience.

  28. Liz says:

    As someone who can’t tolerate lactose, gluten, wheat, soy, oats, or (gulp) alcohol, I got fed up and started eating corn products, three times last week. Guess what? Belly is bloated and swollen. Underneath the soft subcutaneous fat is a rounded, hard abdomen. Definitely not in my head. I guess I have to add corn to my list of no-no’s. It’ll take me over a week for the swelling to go down.

    Hmm, corn, soy, wheat, oats…same stuff that fattens up cattle! Why should I be surprised at my own bloated self?!

  29. PaFatBack says:

    Tom- what do you think of this “How Does Your Heart Feel about Your Diet” Infographic?
    https://www.xango.com/buzz/infographics/all/how-does-your-heart-feel-about-your-diet

    Some good, some bad. Whoever created the chart thinks fat will kill you.

  30. It would be more accurate to call it the “Law of Unknowable Consequences.”

    “Unintended” sounds catchier, but to the uninitiated could be interpreted to imply that if only they had smarter people, or bigger computers, or another billion dollars, those consequences could’ve been accurately predicted and adjusted for; that there is actually, as Tom W’s comment seems to imply, a “correct” answer, but the bureaucrats just screwed up and got it wrong.

    @Pierson
    Sorry, friend, but the way you can tell someone is in fact a bleeding heart is when they appeal to “pragmatism.”

    Cheers!

    • Walter Bushell says:

      The thing is many if not all the “unintended” consequences were quite predictable by people of average intelligence.

      Come on, for example, requiring health insurance for full time workers leading to more employers going to more part time workers is not such a leap of logic as to be unpredictable. Or a ban on large sodas leading to people drinking more either. Perhaps theaters could have a store next door that sells 2 liter bottles of soda and charge a corkage fee.

      Those are examples of consequences we could predict, yes. But there are many we can’t.

    • Pierson says:

      I do support the EPA wholeheartedly, but I’m not too keen on (too much) government control either. Nevertheless, I do think that offering to help people to help themselves is always preferable to laze-faire anything, so long as the offers are completely fair and voluntary, and there’s no shady motivations

      Fair and voluntary IS laissez faire.

      I also suspect that if you knew some of what the EPA was up to, you wouldn’t support them wholeheartedly.

      • Pierson says:

        I thought that laissez faire meant no government help of any kind, period. I guess I was mistaken

        Also, what do you mean about the EPA? I am a bit of a nature buff, so if they’re doing anything which has the effect of hurting wildlife, I really would like to know what it is. Do you have any links, books, etc?

        It’s a matter of terminology. You wrote about “fair and voluntary.” There’s no such thing as “voluntary” when government is involved. Every law, every regulation, no matter how nicey-nicey it is, no matter whether or not we agree with its purpose, is enforced UNDER THREAT OF VIOLENCE. If you don’t believe that, violate some regulation and inform your government officials. When they send you a notice you’ve been fined, write back and tell them you don’t agree with the regulation, so piss off. Then ignore their ensuing demands. At the end of the chain of events, armed men show up at your door.

        As for the EPA, here is a typical (and true) action I sincerely hope you wouldn’t support:

        A couple buys a big and expensive chunk of land to build their dream home. As construction on that home is just getting started, a state-owned dam breaks and their land is flooded. The couple calls the state and is told the state can’t fix the dam, better call the feds. They call the feds, end up talking to the EPA, and are told their land is now a “wetland” and they cannot re-build the dam (even if they’re willing to pay for it themselves) and cannot attempt to drain the land. If they do, they’ll be fined $30,000 per day and ordered to reflood it. The couple now has to make their mortgage payments on the land, but can’t build on it. Since they can’t build a home on it, they can’t sell their existing home and must continue to make payments on it as well. The government has essentially confiscated their land for “wetland” use (never mind that it only became a “wetland” when a state-owned dam broke), but doesn’t give them a dime in exchange. Unable to make both sets of payments, they eventually declare bankruptcy.

        @#$% like that happens all the time. The EPA has gone rogue and is run by bullies who have no regard for what they do to mere humans — it’s all about the wetlands and the snail darters, you see.

        • Thorn says:

          This sounds like one your typical Tea Party / Neo Libertarian paranoid fantasies. Link to this story, Tom, or I’ll just assume you made it up.

          The Koch brothers are a lot more responsible for grinding this country into the ground than the EPA.

          You do know Nixon founded the EPA, right?

          No, it couldn’t be true, could it? No, our noble EPA would never engage in such behavior. Government people are GOOOOOD!! — especially any government people who claim to be protecting the environment. (Now who’s engaging in fantasies?)

          Read about and watch your do-gooder EPA in action:

          http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-03-21/politics/35448416_1_chantell-sackett-epa-issues-idaho-couple
          http://m.spokesman.com/stories/2011/dec/06/property-owners-tangle-with-epa-over-wetland/
          http://www.cato.org/blog/louisiana-man-wins-17-million-epa-malicious-prosecution
          http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/1998/06/01/epa-charged-widespread-abuse-power
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxSdLdOyDzU
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PGBIml1pKw
          http://epaabuse.com/10540/videos/epa-goes-rogue-6000-new-regs-impacting-private-property/
          http://www.examiner.com/article/epa-set-to-regulate-ditches-and-gullies-on-private-property
          http://reason.com/archives/2013/01/09/the-epa-pushes-the-envelope-again

          Correction: it wasn’t a broken dam. It was a jammed-up bridge that flooded the couple’s land.

          Yes, the EPA was founded by Nixon, and protecting the environment against pollution was a bi-partisan movement back in the day. We didn’t have a left-right split on the EPA until it became a rogue agency populated by statists who have no respect for property rights.

          • Thorn says:

            Ah, the Cato institute. That completely impartial ‘libertarian think-tank’ that’s funded and controlled by the Koch brothers.

            Good to see your ‘news’ sources are without bias or hidden agendas.

            I’ll rip apart the rest of your links as my work schedule permits, but I can’t let that one slip by unnoticed.

            I see you’re engaging in the same rhetorical nonsense as my liberal pal Paul on my other blog: if a story you don’t like is only reported in conservative media, then you dismiss it by saying it only appeared in conservative media. How convenient … if the (left-wing) major media choose not to run stories that don’t support their (left-wing) agenda, you get to say those stories aren’t real because the NY Times didn’t report on them.

            If you Google “Sackett case Supreme Court,” you find more references than you can count, from all kinds of media sources, on a similar case. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the EPA ran roughshod over a couple’s property rights — one of the few cases where Ruth Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia were on the same side. That means even the justices who ruled that it’s okay for a city force homeowners out of their homes to make room for a private shopping mall thought the EPA trampled on property rights in this case. It takes pretty egregious behavior by a government agency to get a bitch-slapping from the entire Supreme Court.

            I don’t expect you to agree with the Cato Institute, or John Stossel, or any other conservative/libertarian commentators, but to claim they’re just making up news stories smacks of desperation on your part. Here’s our exchange so far:

            1. No, no, no, the fine folks at the EPA would NEVER do that! Show me your sources or I’ll assume you’re lying.
            2. Okay, here are several sources.
            3. Well, ya know, the Cato Institute is funded by the Koch brothers, so they probably just made up the whole story.

            Conclusion: you’re still the same moron.

            The EPA has attempted to essentially confiscate the use of private land for their goals. It’s a fact. Deal with it instead of acting like a child and pretending it didn’t happen just because you’ve decided ahead of time the EPA is populated by good people.

        • Pierson says:

          Yikes! Regarding the EPA thing, was their decision because of an ‘act of God’ type clause? I ask because I remember when I was living in Florida (as a child), an endangered species of gecko (I think) was living on our yard, and we didn’t know about this until a storm had caused part of a neighbors tree to fall. We weren’t allowed to clean it up because of the said geckos, and the tree issue was considered an ‘act of God’, so the neighbor didn’t have to pay. Such things really are quite a headache, so that should be looked at.

          The EPA doesn’t care if it’s an act of God or not. If they believe if your private land is (or even could be) a habitat for a species they consider endangered, they’ll order you to leave it as is. In one of the Stossel episodes I linked, we heard from a guy who bought land to develop and then was ordered not to build on it because it COULD BE a potential habitat for a species of frog that hasn’t been spotted anywhere in his state.

          As far as I’m concerned, if the federal government wants you land to be a permanent wetland or a species habitat, they should either buy it from you or rent it at the market rate — not just order you to put your land to their purposes.

          • Pierson says:

            Well in that case, no, I don’t support that aspect of the EPA at all. Really, as keen as I am on protecting all species (darters and frogs included), I think there’s a difference between ‘civic duty’ and ‘outright theft’, especially in the case of impossible laws and hidden regulations.

            Glad to see you’re a reasonable man. Unfortunately, some people equate protecting the environment with blindly supporting the EPA. If the EPA wants to turn my land into a wildlife sanctuary, they can buy it, not hijack it.

  31. David says:

    I remember this friend of mine whose mom still to this day is obsessed with everything to be low calorie and fat could only find Weight Watcher brand frozen meals. She would add cheese to make it better and mom got mad saying “cheese is fattening!” And with me explaining you need fat for fuel and health maintenance, she said “if only I had the metabolism of a teenager to young adult” and I just ended up shaking my head but it was a laughable response. Just like the same about this lady who fears eating cashews.

  32. CeeBee says:

    Here’s what I’m wondering: Why, if the government is so concerned about our health, are they not going after the food companies that add MSG to EVERYTHING.
    After all, isn’t MSG an excitotoxin which can potentially harm the entire endocrine system? There is no telling how much MSG children are consuming over the course of a week. What long term effect is that going to have on their health? Does anybody know, or care?

    • Walter Bushell says:

      And, of course, MSG is a big source of non-food reward. It’s addicting, like wheat, but more concentrated.

  33. Lori says:

    Oh, Tom. Don’t you know that when people get divorced around age 35 or so, they run out and buy new dishes, and all the dishes out there are really big now, so they put more food on their plate and overeat. And of course when people get married, they start eating off of real dishes (large now) instead of flimsy little paper plates that single people all eat off of. That’s why married people and middle-aged people are heaver. Single people are thinner because you can’t put very much food on a paper plate. Or they go to coffee shops and drink coffee.

    Kidding aside, I do think that itty-bitty juice glasses are a good idea if you’re going to drink juice. It’s liquid sugar, and for some of us, a big glass of juice is going to bring on hunger an hour later.

    I agree on that, but soda addicts tend to drink the same quantity of the stuff over the course of a day whether they drink from big glasses or little glasses.

  34. Dan says:

    I wish government would stay away from telling people what, and how, to eat. Denmark have recently brought in sugar and fat taxes, and obviously this is with good intentions, but there is just not enough evidence that fat is bad for you to tax it. And for that reason sugar should be left alone too because potentially we could be wrong there too.

    Didn’t Denmark repeal its fat tax?

  35. Catherine says:

    Here in the UK, we have a fascinating TV programme called “Secret Eaters”, which I am glued to every week. It follows two people every week who just can’t understand why they’re piling on the weight when they don’t think that they eat very much at all. Their homes are rigged, with their agreement, with cameras, for a week to record everything they eat at home. They’re asked to provide a diary of the food they normally eat each week, before filming starts. Almost without exception, their days start with modest cereal breakfasts, or none at all, salad for lunch, and meat or fish with steamed vegetables for dinner, very little alchohol, and fruit for snacks. What they don’t know is that they are being tailed, outside their homes, by a couple of guys who are clocking precisely what they eat when not at home. It is just stunning the amount of junk food these people consume without, apparently, acknowledging it. Chocolate, sweets, pastries, cakes, takeaway meals of all kinds, and far more alcohol than they imagined in some cases. What annoys me about the programme is that they then have a dietitian who turns up to tell them how many calories they’ve REALLY eaten in a day, and how bringing down their fat intake will make a vast difference, as well as not drinking as much alchohol. One young woman’s daily intake consisted almost entirely of carbohydrate junk food – chips, chocolate, instant pasta meals, biscuits and crisps, burgers and sausage rolls. No mention by the dietitian of the highly refined carb intake and sugar intake! My absolute favourite “secret” meal was a chap who was already weighing in at over 19 stones. He went to a bakery and bought a steak pie. He went home and buttered two “doorstep” slices of white bread, and put the pie inside it to make a sandwich!! That was after he’d drizzled a lot of tomato ketchup on the pie. He was one of the participants who said he had salad every day for his lunch…. I’m sure you chaps in the US will be able to see these programmes on the web – very entertaining! Just try and ignore the infuriating dietitian.

    “Infuriating dietitian” is usually redundant.

  36. Morokiane says:

    When the soda ban was going on in New York and interview with Bloomberg came on the radio and he said, “We’re not banning the drinks, if you want 32oz’s just buy two 16′s. It’s about portion control.”

    My goodness.

  37. Brenda says:

    Apparently portion size has been going up form hundreds of years! So that alone can’t account for the growing obesity epidemic, or our ancestors would have started getting fat a long time ago.
    http://www.rodale.com/portion-sizes

  38. I think portion size might have something to do with calories consumed.

    I make myself a high fat low carb drink every morning for breakfast (when I met him, I gave Jimmy Moore a taste, he can confirm. I wanted to see what the low-carb man himself would think of my low-carb creation). Basically, it’s got lots of cream, full fat yogurt, coconut oil, etc.

    I was serving it up in regular sized glasses. I was overeating and gaining back some weight. I switched to 7 oz. demitasse glasses to serve my breakfast. Now I consume significantly fewer calories and am just as satisfied as I was with the bigger serving.

    So, maybe serving size, plate size, etc. isn’t very important, but I would think it has something to do with per meal calorie consumption.

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