Earlier this year, the Center for Disease Control issued a study that indicated Americans have pretty much reached a plateau in obesity. That may be an indication that Americans can’t really get much fatter, despite the efforts of highly-processed foods rich in saturated fats, sugars, and filled with hormones. The result – “Nearly 34 percent of adults are obese, more than double the percentage 30 years ago. The share of obese children tripled during that time, to 17 percent.”(1) When we discuss nutrition, we always say that people need the right ingredients, in the right combination, in the right amounts.
And that’s part of the problem. Whether we’re discussing good ingredients or bad, the sheer amount of what Americans eat is unhealthy.
Morgan Spurlock made a huge splash in the industry with his 2004 documentary, Super Size Me. In that film, Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days, and was required to accept a Super Size meal if the McDonald’s employee offered it. The health results were terrible. (Spurlock gained 24 lbs and his cholesterol level spiked to 230.) The industry results were incredible. McDonald’s gave up on the Super Size menu. Side salads were suddenly available on fast food store menu. Some restaurants even began to list calorie counts on their menus (along with providing specific allergy warnings).
Part of the problem with the Super Size menu is the sheer amount of calories included, but that problem isn’t specific to McDonald’s, by far. The growing portion sizes on American menus nearly almost directly match up to the growing waistlines of Americans in the past few decades.
For example, 20 years ago, the average size of a bagel was 3″ in diameter, and 140 calories. In 2010, a Noah’s plain bagel is between 5-6″ and measures 350 calories. (2) A cup of coffee was served in an 8 oz. cup, and with cream and sugar, measured about 45 calories. With the concept of the coffee house, and the expansion of the menu, a Grande caffe’ moccha whip, with 2% milk, in a 16 oz. serving, comes in at 330 calories.(3)
“So what’s the big deal, you might ask. What’s the harm of eating a few extra calories here and there? The answer is simple: An extra 10 calories per day could add up to a pound of weight gain per year.” (4) If that 10 calories is 100 calories., then the weight increase over a year is 10 lbs. The bottom line is that exercise must be accompanied by proper nutrition to maintain a healthy life style. If your exercise regimen hasn’t changed in 10 years, and your diet hasn’t changed, your time in the gym might be wasted. One way to understand the right amount of calories is to have visual cues so you know how many calories make up a proper portion.
Lisa Moretti recently wrote an article in Max Muscle magazine called “Portion Distortion.” She provides the following guidance: a 3 oz. serving of meat is equal in surface area to a playing card, a 3-4 oz. serving of fish is equal in size to a check book, a 1/2 cup serving of fruit is equal to a tennis ball, and a medium baked potato is the size of your computer mouse. (5)
The morale of the story is two-fold. First, looking at changes in portion sizes is a good indication that exercise alone isn’t enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle for most Americans. Diet and nutrition is every bit as big a factor as an exercise regimen. One tracks how many calories you burn. The other tracks how many calories you take in. The combination is much more accurate than either of the factors by themselves.
Second, we eat differently than our parents did. We must also adapt our exercise regimen. If we did the exact routine in the gym that we did 10 years ago, it would probably not get us the results we want. Be aware of what you’re taking in, and what you’re burning. There are many factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic and overall poor health of Americans. Be aware of your routine, and your efforts to lose weight, or keep it off. The battlefield is different than it was 10 or even 20 years ago.
The bottom line is that people need the right nutrition, in the right combination, in the right amounts.
All the best,
1. New York Times, “Obesity Rates Hit Plateau in U.S., Data Suggests”. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/health/14obese.html
2. FitSugar, “Portion Sizes: My, How They’ve Grown”. http://www.fitsugar.com/Portion-Sizes-Now-7265826
3. Divine Caroline, “Portion Size: Then vs. Now”. http://www.divinecaroline.com/22178/49492-portion-size–now
4. Meals Matter, “Portion Distortion: Serving Sizes are Growing”. http://www.mealsmatter.org/EatingForHealth/Topics/article.aspx?articleId=53
5. Moretti, Lisa. “Portion Distortion.” Max Sports Nutrition. Max Muscle, Inc. http://www.mealsmatter.org/EatingForHealth/Topics/article.aspx?articleId=53