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Super-Size Me! Portions DO Matter

By Dr. Janet Starr Hull

In America, muffins are the size of small cakes. A single twenty-ounce bottle of soda is actually 2 1/2 servings. “Care for a large order of French fries? It’s just a few cents more to super-size that order.”  That's a third of the total calories you should eat in one day! But do people resist the fries? Not usually. They simply order a large diet cola to justify the difference.

According to a new study by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are eating 300 more calories a day, and men, 168 more calories than twenty years ago. As any nutritionist will tell you, all it takes is one hundred extra calories a day to gain ten pounds a year. To work off those one hundred calories, you must walk twenty-five minutes every day.

In Sting’s first book, “Broken Music,” he writes about the first time he came to New York City. On a limited budget, he ordered a salad thinking this would be mere rabbit food, yet it was all he could afford for a healthy meal. When the salad arrived at his table he was amazed at how large the portion was, and commented in his book that one of the first impressions he had about America was how much food we ate and how much larger the portions were compared to Europeans’.

Many experts feel Americans overeat because much of the food that makes up our modern diet is inexpensive, dense with the taste of “fat” calories, and highly processed, which translates into: the food isn't satisfying, so we eat more to try to feel full. So, super-size me!

And portions? Portions DO Matter!

The size of your meals DOES make a difference whether sugar-free or not. Modern consumers, especially children, have no idea how to eat normally. The average consumer eats almost twice the portions of food as twenty years ago. The marketing of artificial sweeteners has been a huge contributing factor to a change in the way people look at their meals. Jean Weininger from the San Francisco Chronicle, USA, writes, "Studies have shown that people who use artificial sweeteners don't necessarily reduce their consumption of sugar—or their total calorie intake. Having a diet soda makes it okay to eat a double cheeseburger and a chocolate mousse pie.” 

Instead of loading up on diet products, try cutting your portions of real food in half. Dr. Kristine Clark, RD, director of sports nutrition, Pennsylvania State University suggests: “Eat what you want, but eat half. Leave food on your plate—there is no such thing as a ‘Clean Plate Club!’” She emphasizes more physical activity on a daily basis along with modifying the portions of your foods and beverages. “This should break the cycle of weight gain,” she says.

How To Control Your Portions

Accurately estimating food portions can be difficult if you are dieting or hungry. This chart makes measuring simple, and helps you estimate your portions correctly.

Food Portions:

Now, think about this:

If you were on a budget and taking the kids out for a quick bite after a long day at work, which fast-food restaurant would you choose? 

Restaurant A represents the common take-out meal in 1954. Total caloric intake was 491 calories (including the cola), and no neurotoxins or carcinogens were in the drink. Restaurant B is the typical carryout in 2004. Super-size it for a total of 1,000 calories (cola included), and people seem to justify the larger portions by drinking “diet” chemicals.

"Super-sizing is a public health issue of the highest priority," said Harvard University's Dr. George Blackburn, a professor of nutrition and surgery. Super-sizing has become so controversial these days, McDonald's, the corporation that popularized the ‘super-size’ concept, announced it was discontinuing its 42-ounce ‘super-size’ soda as well as its seven-ounce ‘super-size’ order of fries at all 13,000 U.S. stores as part of a ‘healthy lifestyle initiative’.”

Try these suggestions:


Rockett HR, Colditz GA., Assessing diets of children and adolescents., Am J Clin Nutr 1997;65(4 suppl): 1116s-1122s.

Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002, Results from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES),

International Food Standard Organization Faces Challenges,

Rolls BJ. Effects of intense sweeteners on hunger, food intake, and body weight: a review. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Apr; 53 (4):872-8.

SWEET CHOICES: Questions & Answers about Sweeteners in Low-Calorie Foods and Beverages,

THE OBESITY CRISIS: Perils of portion distortion. Why Americans don't know when enough is enough. Kim Severson, San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 2004.

“Portions Matter Nutrition Tips for Optimal Health”, Dr. Kristine Clark, RD Director of Sports Nutrition, Pennsylvania State University.

Posted on March 30, 2005 in Nutrition | Link To This Entry | Comments (1)


Posted by: Steve on May 18, 2005 2:03 PM

Thank you so much.... i have been eating and drinking diet foods for awhile to lose weight but i never knew the side effects and this webpage helped me.


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