How much should you eat? Woman vs. steak

How much (or how little) should you eat?

Posted Oct 05, 2009

A week after Yom Kippur, I am reminded of my recent near-fast, an inadvertent one. It started at New York City's Broadway Diner on 57th street during an early dinner. Well, if you must know, it was 5pm and I ordered a steak. My dinner partner, being a gentleman, said nothing. Though his gaze seemed to be asking ‘really? Are you up to it?'. I gazed back ‘sure I am'!'
Turns out I wasn't. Famished as I was, when the plate arrived, I did not attack it. Rather, I gawked. The steak was the length of a crocodile, and I, having been to Florida's mangrove parks, have seen a crocodile or two. But the steak was not alone. To say it was accompanied by a vegetable would be a misnomer, even though onion is a vegetable. A football sized portion of onion strings, looking very much like yarn, and enough of it to knit a sweater for any NFL player, rested alongside it. Onion strings, in case you never came across them, are long files of onion, deep fried.
Did I mention I was hungry? Fifteen minutes of sawing away at the steak, and a few onion strings later, I did leave a dent in the 24 buck chuck, but more than half of it remained. Gentlemen have a limited capacity to hold their tongue. "She can't finish it," my early dinner partner told the waitress, "despite plenty advances on how hungry she is." Much as I wanted to prove him wrong, the steak had truly done me in. So much so, that I skipped proper dinner that night, had a yogurt for breakfast the following morning, and a small salad for lunch. It was not until dinner the next night, over 24 hours after the steak and I had our staring match, that I felt another pang of hunger.
So, I've discovered the perfect pre-fast dinner (here goes a Jewess that has had her share of fainting at the temple). But other than that, what are such blatantly oversized entrees good for? One could claim that people would know when enough is enough, except they don't, as Cornell University's Brian Wansink has repeatedly shown. If a soup bowl is secretly connected to a feeding tube, repeatedly filling it up, people will keep on eating. What's even more frightening if that they will not notice they are overeating. Our inter-tummy-satiation-detectors are not, it seems, overly efficient. In yet another experiment, amnesia patients received dinner. Then, an hour later, another one. And then, another. They could not remember eating, but only on the third dinner did they start turning down the food.
One could claim that you are free to eat as much, or as little, of anything you order, portion sizes being but a suggestion. Yet portion sizes mean more than the amount of food that lies before you. The size carries a signal as to how much you should consume. By over-generously portioning, restaurant owners are telling us that a behemoth sized steak and a mega-portion of onion strings are the right amount that should be consumed in one meal by one person. This leaves us feeling like losers when we cannot finish what we got (and paid for), while actually finishing mega-portions is where the real loss lies. Worse still, if food professionals indicate that a 24 pounder is the new 12 pounder, we are more inclined to serve over-sized portions at home too. Indeed, Wansink has found that portions significantly increased in size over the years. Is it a wonder that so have Americans? We can talk obesity epidemic till we're blue in the face, but until such behemoth portions come with a Surgeon General warning, the cows producing the steaks are doomed,

and so are we.

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