In the 1970s and early '80s, fast-food chains started competing for consumer dollars by giving more food for the money. For example, today, customers can inflate the sides - fries and soft drinks - that go with a combination meal from small to large for about 40 cents. The cost to the company is only pennies. It may sound like a good deal but it is really not, if you figure in the extra calories.
Even table-service restaurants started using larger plates laden with more food. And portion sizes also began expanding in the American home. So, while we were being sold larger portions at "bargain" prices, our perception of healthy portion sizes became warped out of perspective.
Studies show that the larger the container people buy, the more they consume - whether it be chips, candy bars, soft drinks, or whatever. When more food is put in front of us, we help ourselves to more of it.
Remember when a candy bar was only 2 ounces, soft drinks were found only in small, 6 1/2 ounce bottles compared to the 20-ounce bottles in vending machines today, fries were only 2 ounces, muffins and bagels were smaller, etc.?
After years of seeing bigger portions, we've come to expect them - a conclusion from various studies.
It is not just what we eat that matters, but also how much we eat of each food.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average number of calories Americans eat each day has risen from 1,854 to 2,002 over the last 20 years. That increase of 148 calories per day means about 15 extra pounds on your body every year.
Every small amount adds up. For example, one cookie - 50 calories - each day, could add 5 pounds of weight each year. Or if you eat three cookies each day, that could add 15 pounds per year. The reverse is also true.
Find a way to reduce food intake
If you want to lose 15 pounds in one year, find a way to reduce your food intake.
Just eating smaller portions can help you lose or maintain a healthy weight. When it comes to weight management, it is total caloric intake that counts, not any kind of magic fad diet or "protein vs. carbohydrate" formula.
We need to realize that culture plays into and dictates the meal. The super size marketing tactics that entice American consumers don't work very well in other countries. Our sense of pleasure often is connected to value and quantity. Other countries think of food as one of life's pleasures and something to be lingered over and enjoyed in moderation.
Where can we start to cut back and stop this trend? It is not by blaming food companies because we all have choices. It is, after all, ultimately our decision about what we put onto our plates and into our bodies.
First, we have to readjust our concept of what constitutes a small, medium and large serving. The standardized serving sizes listed in the government's (USDA) "Food Guide Pyramid" offers a starting point. Foods are broken into groups. Their serving sizes are smaller than most people think.
And the range of servings varies per person. For example, a sedentary, petite, older woman may need only 1,600 calories a day. That includes 2 servings of lean meat/fish/poultry group, 6 of grains, a small amount of fat and sugar, and plenty (5 to 9 servings) of fruits and vegetables.
An active teenager would require about 2,800 calories a day, and therefore, more food from all the food groups.
Visual references can guide you
Find real visual references to guide you with portion sizes. For example, the palm of your hand or a deck of cards is about a 3-ounce serving of meat. One-half cup or half the size of a baseball is a serving of chopped vegetables, fruit, rice, pasta, cooked cereal and dried beans.
* A cupped hand - handful - equals 1 cup serving of foods such as many dried cereals or raw leafy vegetables.
* The tip of your thumb is about equal to the size of 1 serving of fat - butter, margarine, oil.
* Learn to "eyeball" what you eat. At your next meal, check the recommended serving size and fill a measuring cup of 1/2 cup of that food.
* Take a good look. Make a mental picture of how much is on your plate. Do the same thing with some of your other favorite foods.