“The Belly Off Diet!” by Jeff Csatari and the editors of Men's Health takes a look at portion size as one of the leading causes of Americans' gargantuan guts. They also provide tips to help get you on the road to losing that pooch. An excerpt.
How did we get so heavy?
We eat too much food
In 1960 the average American man weighed 166 pounds. The average woman weighed 140. Today, the average man weighs 191 pounds, and the average woman checks in at nearly what that dude wearing the skinny tie and horn-rimmed glasses used to weigh — 164. Amazing, no? But those are just averages. The scariest statistics can be found at the top of the scale: The number of Americans who are considered obese, essentially 30 or more pounds overweight, has almost doubled to around 40 million.
All this corresponds nicely with the increase in the amount of food Americans consumed since the Summer of Love. Back in the 1970s, the average man swallowed about 2,450 calories a day, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Now that figure is over 2,700 — an increase of nearly 10 percent!
Are you part of that national trend? A simple at-home exercise will paint a clear picture of both how much you eat and exactly what you’re putting in your mouth. Keep a food diary for 3 days.
Try it even for just one day. I guarantee it will be just as much of an eye-opener for you as it was for me. Your diary doesn’t have to be a formal chart. Scribble it on a calendar. Write it on a napkin as I did. It’s the process of reflecting on what we eat that helps us become aware of our habits and hopefully change our behavior, says Keith Bachman, M.D., a researcher at the Weight Management Initiative.
Our portions are enormous
Have you gone to an Italian restaurant lately? (Hey, I’m not picking on Italians — someone in my kitchen would throw a cannoli at me.) Just think about what you see on your plate after you’ve noshed on that basket of garlic bread and the antipasti, and your server finally brings the spaghetti. A mound of pasta — easily three or more servings on that plate — with meatballs the size of oranges on top. There could be a Mount Vesuvius of 2,400 calories sitting there — and that’s before you get to the tiramisu. If you’re like me, you’ll eat it all. Thanks to Mom and Dad, who grew up during the Great Depression when food was scarce and taught us to clean our plates. Sop up gravy with another slice of Wonder Bread. There are children starving in Africa, you know.
Mom and Dad shouldn’t feel guilty for laying guilt on us. Blame the savvy marketers who created the enormous portions and the extra-value meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has documented this unhealthy growth in food portion size:
- In 1957, a serving of popcorn at the drive-in was 3 cups. Today a medium-size popcorn at the multiplex is 16 cups.
- In 1957, 1 ounce of cooked ground beef made up your typical hamburger. Today the average hamburger is 6 ounces.
- Muffins were tiny in 1957, about 1 1/2 ounces. Now they typically weigh in at 8 ounces and pack 400 calories.
- A large soda in 1957 measured 8 fluid ounces compared with 32 ounces in 1997, or often 64 ounces today.
Thanks to the big plates we’re getting when we eat out, we’ve become a culture of “more is better” where “super-size me” is our mantra when we order. And this has confused our sense of a proper serving size. Studies show that when people are asked to describe how much they eat, they invariably underestimate. Big time. Then there is the buffet phenomenon. When we are faced with an abundance of food and food choices, we tend to serve ourselves more than we need. One Rutgers University study measured the amount of food people served themselves from a breakfast buffet. Then they compared the results to a similar study conducted 19 years earlier. The recent study participants served themselves 16 percent more toast with jelly, 43 percent more orange juice, 28 percent more milk for their cereal, and 19 percent more cornflakes than the similar group did nearly two decades earlier.
Even diet experts who should know better mess up portion sizes. In a recent Cornell University study, nutritionists who were asked to serve themselves ice cream at a party using large bowls and spoons dished out about 31 percent more than those who were given smaller bowls and spoons. Cookies ’n’ Cream and Moosetracks have a miraculous way of tricking us into seeing our bowls as half empty.
Taking control of your portion sizes is one of the most effective ways to drastically cut out calories. And the best part about it is that on The Belly Off! Diet you don’t have to give up all of your favorite foods to do that.
Excerpted from “The Belly Off! Diet” by Jeff Csatari and the editors of Men's Health. Copyright (c) 2009 by Rodale Inc. Reprinted with permission from Rodale Inc. For more information on “The Belly Off! Diet,” click here.