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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

“If food is moderately palatable, people tend to consume what is put in front of them, and generally consume more when offered more food.”  Paul Rozin, psychologist, University of Pennsylvania

  French Prove Calorie Saver Rule

I’m no Francophile (far from it), but the French seem to know something Americans don’t. Scientists call it the “French paradox.” Tim Radford, science editor for the British Guardian, spells out the irony: “The French smoke Gitanes, breakfast on buttery brioche, lunch and dine off confit of duck, sausage, fat goose livers and camembert. They drink wine, round off their meals with cognac, and while away the afternoon with strong coffee and mouthwatering pastries.” Yet, “only 7% of the French are obese, compared with a whopping 22% of all Americans.”

The French would probably say they are more civilized than the boorish Americans. Others might counter that they are too civilized for their own good. Whatever the case may be, researchers finally have the answer. It’s simple. The French are slimmer because they are served smaller portions.

Scientists from Philadelphia and the French research agency CRNS in Paris compared servings in equivalent places in the two cities. Their findings are reported in the September issue of Psychological Science.

The result is an eye-opener. Mean portion size across all Paris establishments was 9.8 ounces, compared with an average in Philadelphia of 12.2 ounces, about 25% more. Some glaring examples: Philadelphia Chinese restaurants served 72% more than those in Paris. A supermarket soft drink in the US was 52% larger, a hotdog 63% larger, a carton of yogurt 82% larger.

While the French diet is rich in fat, we apparently end up consuming more calories. Over time, the generous portion sizes lead to more obese Americans.

Calorie Saver Rule One

I’ve been saying for years that willpower and self-discipline are not the answer to permanent weight control. Eating in a way that leaves you full and satisfying without overshooting your calorie needs is far more successful. One way to do that is to plan your meals and pay attention to portion size.

The only food I put on the table is the food I plan to eat. I put everything else away—before I sit down to eat. That’s my number one calorie saver rule. As I wrote in Challenge Yourself, “It has saved me from eating literally thousands of calories I didn’t really want.”

Leaving food on the table, boarding-house style, is an invitation to overeat. Like the comic strip character Hagar, I only eat the food I can reach. Most people are the same way. If they can see or smell food they want it, even if they’re already full. If the extra food is sitting there in front of them, they’re inclined to eat it.

That’s the problem with overly generous portion sizes. If extra food is offered, we will probably eat it. If, however, we have to think about it and actually get up for or order more, we usually won’t. I almost never do.

If you really want more, however, it’s best to have it. That keeps you from feeling deprived. If you feel dissatisfied at the end of a meal, you’re likely to pick between meals or overeat at the next meal. The key is to have more, but only if you’re truly hungry.

The French seem to know that, at least, instinctively.

  Portion Size Matters

We’re apparently eating more at home as well as out. Researchers from the University of North Carolina analyzed what people ate in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. The trend is definitely up. Between the ‘70s and the ‘90s, according to the study, Americans increased their consumption of salty snacks like chips, pretzels and popcorn by an average of 80 calories a sitting. Dessert intake went up by an average of 22 calories a sitting, while calories from hamburgers and cheeseburgers eaten at home went up by about 150 to 200.

Over time, the extra calories make a big difference. “It can be very insidious,” says the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. “[Just] 80 extra calories a day adds up to 8 extra pounds over the course of a year.” It’s easy to do the math. A pound of fat contains 3500 calories.

“The solution to all this at-home supersizing is entirely in your hands,” says the Tufts Letter. As noted about, putting the extras away before I sit down to eat has saved me from eating literally thousands of unwanted calories.

Tufts Letter suggests that you start by investing in a set of measuring cups and spoons, and a food scale. That’s a good idea. It helps you get a better handle on how much you’re actually eating. “You might be amazed to find that the serving of pasta you put on your plate is not 1 cup at 210 calories but 2 cups at 420,” says Tufts.

As demonstrated in our video, I use a measuring cup and spoon in preparing our “Old Reliable” breakfast recipe. I eyeball most servings, however. Years of uniform eating and monitoring my body weight and fat have taught me how much food it takes to keep me satisfied without overshooting my calorie needs. A little practice will allow you to do the same.

Watch those portion sizes!  

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