Restaurant Portions

Kate Harding wrote a post about restaurant portion sizes, and how you don’t get to go “OMG, that’s why ur all so fat hur hur” in the very same breath as you’re noticing that people take leftovers home. That is, they’re generally *not* finishing that ginormous portion. Though, to be fair to the person who posted it, lots of people *here* fail to grasp the same concept and go on and on about the evils of portion sizes–yes, you get a freaking boat ton of food at a lot of restaurants; that doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. Honestly, I’d rather get too much than not enough, because I can almost always take leftovers home–if I’m still hungry, I have to order (and pay for, and wait for) something else.

I know they’ve done studies where people’s sense of how much they’ve eaten varies dramatically based on things like plate size and whether you’re eating out of a big communal bowl (of chips or popcorn, say) or an individual bowl or plate. The thing I have to wonder is how such an experiment would turn out if you controlled for dieting behaviors or an eating competence score. My theory is that the more you focus on external cues, whether that’s a calorie count or the amount of food on your plate, the less attention you pay to your own satiety signals. So, I’m thinking that people who have been doing intuitive eating for a while would be less affected by things like plate size than someone who hasn’t.

Granted, distraction plays a role too. One of the things that I’ve been working on lately is trying to take time at work to just sit and eat, rather than multitasking, especially if I’m eating something particularly filling. Because if I’m just eating and not paying attention, I go past comfortable and straight over to stuffed before I even notice. Though I will say that on the occasions when I do that, it’s a relief to think of it as a learning experience, rather than an “I’ve wrecked my diet and I’m a horrible person” experience. And it doesn’t happen often.

16 thoughts on “Restaurant Portions

  1. bri says:

    Most eateries in Australia don’t allow doggie bags as it is against the food handling regulations.

  2. ako says:

    Though I will say that on the occasions when I do that, it’s a relief to think of it as a learning experience, rather than an “I’ve wrecked my diet and I’m a horrible person” experience. And it doesn’t happen often.

    Yeah, feeling overstuffed is unpleasant enough in its own right. It shouldn’t require added guilt for a person to go “I don’t like feeling this way, and will eat smaller portions in the future to avoid pain.” The fact that wanting to feel good physically instead of bad isn’t enough to stop many people is a sign of how widespread unhealthy relations with food are.

    • KellyK says:

      Very true.

    • G says:

      Yes! This is (I feel) the most important thing I’ve learned since I’ve stopped dieting and tried to heal my eating: I can eat as much as satisfies me and no more. I can have more another time. There is no scarcity of food and I don’t need to overeat, because being overstuffed feels terrible!

      Just being able to keep snacks around the house is such a breakthrough for me.

  3. From someone who has worked years at a restaurant, most of the people who took home leftovers only did so because they filled up on soda and appetizers before they start their meal. I have always thought portion sizes were ridiculously large, but I understand it’s better than if they served too little. That would just be a huge incontinence for everyone. And the fact that you get free refills plays a large role too. Not to mention, restaurant food is high in saturated fat, salt, and lacks proper nutrients compared to home cooked meals. Of course, eating out once in a while is fine and dandy. I quite enjoy it, but not on a weekly basis.

    Still, I believe most people eat way past their point of fulfilling hunger. They push themselves to the point of feeling that belly expand, a desire to unbotton their pants a little, and they start sighing as they eat. Then they finally think “Ok Im done” but by that point they don’t even realize they probably should have stopped many bites ago. and I think this starts from young childhood when our parents force us to eat everything on the plate. We don’t get the signals until it’s already too late, for most of us.

    • KellyK says:

      Although I don’t think anybody gets to judge whether “most people” are eating correctly or not, I think you do make a really good point about “clean your plate” messages as a kid totally screwing up your hunger signals. I know my parents insisted that I clean my plate, then once I got to be a chubby pre-teen, pushed me to eat less. So I got taught to ignore hunger and fullness both, and it took me a while to learn to pay better attention to them.

  4. Meowser says:

    Who’s to say when they “should have” stopped? Maybe they like being really full. Maybe they love the food and want to keep having more. Have you seen what most people (especially women) get to eat during a workday? A yogurt for breakfast, a Lean Cuisine for lunch, some carrot sticks for a snack, if they’re lucky enough to have time for a snack, and by dinnertime, they’re famished — not just wanting something in their stomachs, but something with actual flavor, that hits the spot after you’ve been driven all day like a sled dog and gotten no respect. Again, I submit: If only men ate this way, and all women just settled for picking at salads all day, nobody would say a word about it.

    • KellyK says:

      You’re definitely right that it’s gendered. There’s no evidence that I know of that women need less food, but we’re definitely supposed to eat less, while men are allowed to have a healthy appetite.

  5. Of course if they want to eat to the point of feeling stuffed, that is their prerogative, but I was talking in terms of intuitive eating. I’m not sure where you live but around here, people are skipping breakfast, hitting up McDonald’s on their lunch break and then Taco Bell for dinner.

    • KellyK says:

      I know if I skipped breakfast on a regular basis, I’d probably eat that way too–it’s similar to what Meowser said about yogurt and carrot sticks. If you spend the whole day, or even the whole morning, hungry, it really screws with your signals because your body is trying to make up for the famine it thinks it’s experiencing.

  6. mimisonadiet says:

    Hmm, interesting post! I think taking home food in doggy bags is a case of the customer seeking ‘value for money’. Their diets play no part in their decision. I believe it’s not about the food itself, but about taking what they earned.

    SIDE NOTE: I’m a relative newbie here, come check out my blog! All about dieting and whatnot. Hope you like it xx

    • KellyK says:

      Hi, thanks very much for your comment. I think value does play into it a lot., both in why portions are so big and in why people take food home. Come to think of it, you do see people taking food home (and large portions) more in mid-level restaurants (Applebees and such) than fancier ones.

      Just so you know, you’re more than welcome to comment, but this is a fat acceptance blog, so I don’t link to diet sites–that’s why I removed your link.

  7. Meowser says:

    I live in the U.S. northwest. But I’ve seen the same pattern living in the southwest and the east coast. People are too damn tired and/or broke to shop and cook; it’s a huge structural problem, the fact that jobs are so hard to come by that employers feel perfectly justified working people to death, treating them like crap, burning them out, and then replacing them and starting the cycle all over again. Not to mention the fact that if they’re eating off dollar menus all the time, they’re not being paid well, either. I don’t begrudge anyone an order of fries or a burrito if it gets them through the day (or the next day). It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it’s probably going to take at least a generation or two to change that.

    • KellyK says:

      I think you’re right about the structural issues. People feel hungrier when they’re stressed and tired and miserable, particularly for fat and sugar that’s going to get them through whatever they have to push through. And the more you work, the less you feel like cooking.

  8. bri says:

    From what other people have told me (i.e. Australians who have visited the USA) the portion sizes here are smaller. I don’t know by how much though.

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