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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