Column: We can remain in control of our own portion sizes

Fear of overeating dominates this season, notes News Bulletin columnist

BY MARJORIE STEWART

Fear of overeating dominates this season. Many aspects of our culture override personal goals and our failures make us miserable. We are faced with the unpalatable fact that eating habits in rich nations like Canada have become a ‘wicked problem,’ one with no simple, obvious answer, just a lot of issues out of control.

For example, our standards of beauty have become perverse and exclusive. Recently I watched a 1950s TV clip with an audience of men and women who looked downright ugly to me. Even the performers seemed homely. A sort of homogenization of appearance has evolved and people are all expected to look super slim and even-featured. Broadening our standards to accept natural differences of appearance mediated by sensible dental and medical interventions would remove a lot of misery.

When I arrived in Canada more than 50 years ago, food portion sizes in restaurants were double what I expected and waste was the only alternative to eating the excess. Industrial systems were over-producing and portion sizes were growing. Fast food chains now serve meals four times larger than the 1950s; U.S. small drinks, where they exist, are the equivalent of medium or large in Europe; and a regular Coke of six ounces in 1916 became 21 ounces in 1996. If an average-sized, non-exercising woman downs a 64-ounce ‘double gulp’ with an 1,100-calorie burrito, that’s three-quarters of her recommended daily calorie intake. World average minimum daily energy requirement is about 1,800 calories, U.S. citizens consume an average 3,750 calories daily and Canadians average 3,530.

We don’t know much about how the information from the stomach reaches the brain indicating that sufficient food has been eaten, except that hormonal and neurological signals occur along with sensory qualities of the food. One indicator of fullness is standing comfort after eating. While the stomach wall stretches to accommodate a meal, stomachs do not change size, extra bulk comes from layers of fat. Only your stomach can help you to know when it is full.

Strategies to control excessive eating:

Eat at home and do not use huge plates.

Avoid eating while doing something else, such as driving, watching TV or texting.

Eat fewer desserts, chips, sauces and packaged snacks.

Freeze excess food for future use.

Eat meals at regular times.

Buy lower calorie snacks like fruit.

Drink water. Our tap water is guaranteed for potability and is more refreshing than sweetened drinks.

Eat slowly to let your brain learn that your stomach is full, which takes about 15 minutes.

Savour the taste of your food, which improves digestion.

Set aside excess food at a restaurant and take it home

To achieve healthy eating habits with children, model good habits; don’t be afraid to forbid foolish choices; give children small portions and let them know they can ask for more. Never over-fill their plates and insist that they finish everything. Watch for signs of fullness, like restlessness or playing with food. Allowing a child to stop eating when she has had enough helps avoid food aversions and overeating.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.

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