Friday, November 30, 2007


Such large portions!

The other evening, before a movie, a friend and I went out for burgers. Sure, we’d have better gone for the Caesar salad, but sometimes one just has to say, “What the heck?”, you know? Yes, you know.

And there they were, on the menu, a selection of burgers done this way and that. With gorgonzola. With ham and Swiss. With Cajun spices. With sautéed mushrooms and “a drizzle of cognac sauce” — I opted for this one, and it was well more than a “drizzle”.

And there it was, in the description of each: “a ten-ounce hamburger”.

Whoa, there!

Yes, it said “ten”. For those of you on other shores, that’s almost 300 grams of meat. Pre-cooked weight.

As if planned to coincide with my restaurant scene, the New York Times posted this item about a survey by Clemson University researchers:

Nutrition experts have long urged Americans to pay more attention to portion sizes. But someone forgot to tell the chef.

Researchers at Clemson University recently surveyed 300 chefs about what goes into their decisions about portion sizes and the food they serve diners. The study, published in the August issue of Obesity, found big differences between what chefs consider a regular portion compared to the standard serving sizes dictated by the United States Department of Agriculture. When chefs were asked to estimate a typical portion size of penne pasta served in their restaurant, for instance, half of the chefs suggested portions that are six to eight times larger than the U.S.D.A.’s standard 1-ounce serving. Nearly half the chefs said they normally serve 12-ounce steaks in their restaurants, although the U.S.D.A. says daily meat intake shouldn’t exceed 5.5 ounces.

As it is, it seems that restaurants are — and have been for some years — competing with each other to serve the largest portions (not, though, the high-end restaurants, at which “small” portions have some not-so-small cachet). This is the upscale version of “super-sizing”, only it’s more insidious in a real sense: when one goes to a “nice” restaurant, as opposed to a fast-food salt and fat outlet, one has an illusion, at least, that one isn’t being set up to provide basic ingredient for foie gras.

And, yet, we are. A large burger used to be six ounces, I recall, slightly more than a day’s worth of meat, but not too bad. Then some places served seven ounces, and then eight, each time, of course, scaling the prices up along with the patties. And now ten; served with fried potatoes, of course, and they encourage appetizers (which often translates to “more fried stuff”) and dessert (no, we didn’t, not either).

The other interesting thing in the Clemson survey is this:

Surprisingly, only 41 percent said calories consumed were the biggest influence on a person’s weight. The majority of chefs believed fat content and carbohydrates matter more.
Fad diets have a huge effect, not just on our collective inability to keep weight off, but on our approach to trying. Let’s be clear: a ten-ounce burger without the bun is not better than a six-ounce burger with the bun, just because you've eschewed the carbs. Eat less, and exercise more.

Considering the ten-ounce burgers and a “standard” serving size of 5.5 ounces, what we should have done is ordered one burger and a side salad, and shared them. Next time. For this time, leftovers left with us, and no pretense to their being for a “doggy”.


Maggie said...

I have noticed the gigantic portions as well, particularly with pasta. Some restaurants serve this in a huge bowl that is heaped. And even when I eat half (or less) of the food served to me, I usually feel very full, which leads me to believe I have eaten far too much.

We don't eat out that often, but we went to Chili's back at the beginning of our diet (in fact it was the first day of our diet), so I chose one of their diet meals. Even the diet meals have a lot more calories than I would normally eat at a sitting. I can only imagine the calorie content of the regular meals! Yikes! (The diet meal I got was a black bean burger and it was really good.)

I know people who eat out once a week and complain they can't lose weight. There's no way I could lose weight if I ate out once a week. I'd gain a pound or two after that meal, and spend the rest of the week losing that pound. It's no wonder everybody's bursting at the seams... people eat out more now than they ever did. We're all just slowly packing it on.

The Ridger, FCD said...

I can't remember when I last didn't get at least one more meal out of my restaurant serving. Sometimes there's enough to piece out a third meal. In Texas I saw 22 oz steaks on the menu. It's absurd. Who could possibly eat 22 ounces of meat plus potatoes?

Miss Profe said...

I visited a nutritionist following my diagnosis/bout with gallstones. She has a display of popular foods - they're clay models - and the actual portion sizes. The amount of food served in restaurants would dwarf the actual portions ten fold.

Again, consumerism out of control. We Americans like it big. And, as Maura Dowd said, Americans like CO2 in the air and arsenic in the water.