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Which orange circle is bigger?  The one on the left, or the one on the right?  If you answered the one on the
right, you’re wrong.  BUT if you answered the one on the left, you’re wrong again! Both orange circles are exactly the same size.  This is just one example of the “Ebbinghaus–Titchener sizecontrast illusion”; otherwise known as an “optical illusion”.

Now consider the next picture.  Which plate looks to have more food on it? If you hadn’t seen the “Ebbinghaus-Titchener” diagram already, you’d likely answer that the meal on the right was bigger.  But, since all you readers are so savvy, you’re onto the trick and would answer that both meals are the same.  Pretty amazing what a little thing like changing plates can do, right?

Since the 1970’s, food portion sizes have grown steadily larger in both food establishments and our own homes, tricking us into thinking that we need to eat more food than necessary.   A typical cheeseburger from 20 years ago had 333 calories per serving.  Now it’s jumped to 590 calories, and that doesn’t even include the fries, ketchup and soda!  Your entire meal’s calories have added up to over half of what you should eat on a typical day (2000 calories/day for the “average” person).  Most restaurant meals are so portion-distorted that you could easily make two meals out of one.

Consider multi-grain bagels or muffins you might purchase as a “healthier” alternative for breakfast.  Back in the 1970’s, a typical sized bagel (3 inch diameter) had 140 calories.  Today’s typical bagel (6 inch diameter) weighs in at 350 calories - before butter, cream cheese, or whatever else you add on.  Twenty years ago muffins were 210 calories but have now ballooned to 500 calories per muffin.  An increase in 210 (bagel) to 290 (muffin) calories each day for 1 year translates to an extra 76,650 to 105,850 calories or between 20 to 30 POUNDS per YEAR!

So, what’s a conscientious consumer to do?
Glad you asked!  We’ve compiled a short list of tricks to help you cut down on portion distortion and get back to the “good ol’ days”:

1.  Serve your meals at home on smaller plates.  Just as you can see from the optical illusions we pointed out, you can trick yourself into thinking you’re eating more all the while cutting out extra calories.  This goes for bowls, too!

2.  NEVER eat directly out of the box or bag.  You can’t tell how much you’ve really eaten.  Read the label and figure out the serving size and serve yourself only 1-2 “servings”.   Then put the box/bag AWAY!

3.  Be “mindful” when you eat.  Put down the newspaper.  Turn the TV off.  Think of what you are eating and how it tastes.  Chew slowly and savor your food.  You’ll give your brain plenty of time to catch up with your belly and really tell you if you’re full or not.  

4.  Fill up with high fiber foods first.  You’ll feel more full on less calories and won’t want to eat more of the calorie-laden stuff.

5.  Cut out late night snacking, but if you can’t, substitute something small and healthy instead.  A crisp, juicy apple at night will satisfy the craving for a snack, knocks out the sweet tooth and is great for you.

6.  Share meals at restaurants, and when possible look at the nutritional information.  Those dishes very high in calories might actually deter you from indulging!  Or, ask for a doggie bag when your meal is served.  Cut everything in half and put it away for lunch the next day.  Good for you AND your wallet!