“It’s the Calories, Stupid!” … Avoiding “Portion Distortion” with Olive Oil

We’re hungry. We scarf down a big plate of food … then realize our eyes were too big for our stomachs. It’s called “portion distortion” — you view an over-sized, calorie-laden portion as a normal amount.  To avoid portion distortion and a widening waistline, experts give this advice: pay attention to the amount of food on your plate, and how much you eat.

Avoid Portion Distortion with Olive Oil

“Portion control is king,” said David Eisenberg, director of the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School. Eisenberg, speaking at a health and culinary conference we attended last month, reinforced his point with this declaration:

“It’s the calories, stupid!”

Portion distortion has emerged because portion sizes have bulged over the past two decades, particularly when you eat out. The graphic above shows the same pasta dish served 20 years ago versus today.

“Average portion sizes have grown so much over the past 20 years that sometimes the plate arrives and there’s enough food for two or even three people on it,” says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which compiled the pasta graphic for a slideshow.

“These growing portion sizes are changing what Americans think of as a ‘normal’ portion at home, too,” the federal agency noted. “With this growth has come increases in waistlines and body weight.”

Below are tips we’ve compiled on how to avoid portion distortion:

  • Try using smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses. This way, when you fill up your plate or glass, you will be eating and drinking less. – National Institutes of Health
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities. – NIH
  • Be mindful of what you’re eating, savoring the dish bite by bite. “Most people don’t pay attention to the food after the first bite. … Taste it.” David Eisenberg, Harvard Medical School
  • “Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.” – Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (Penguin, 2009 )
  • “Stop eating before you’re full.” – Michael Pollan
  • “Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.” Michael Pollan

Portion control isn’t a piece of cake, so to speak. Even the doctors, nutritionists, chefs and other health and culinary professionals at the conference we attended found it tough to guess the amount of calories on two similar plates.

Each day, Eisenberg conducted a little test for us. He displayed two plates containing the dishes we’d eaten at a recent meal. Which dish, he asked, had more calories? Below are two plates with items we’d eaten for lunch.

One plate contains 1,000 calories worth of food, including fish, whole wheat couscous, whole-grain pasta, and salad. The other contains 600 calories. In this case, the plate on the left is 600 calories, and the one on the right totals 1,000.

The difference: The 600-calorie plate has much smaller portions, as well as more salad. What’s more, the plate itself is actually smaller in size.  “This is a smaller plate. But it looks very full,” Eisenberg said.

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch