Fresh Thoughts: Portion Distortion

By Sara Scheler

February 11, 2014

While obesity rates have increased steadily in the past 40 years, physical activity has decreased, calorie consumption has increased and restaurant portions have risen to belt-busting sizes.

Twenty years ago, a bagel was only three inches and 140 calories. Today, your average Panera bagel is twice as big and packs 350 calories before you add the cream cheese.

A single serving of meat is typically suggested at around 4 ounces. However, steaks today come in massive 12 or 14-ounce portions.

A fast food burger used to be around 330 calories, but now, if you order the Triple Whopper from Burger King, you can expect to pack away 1,230 calories, and that’s without the fries.

And, don’t think for a second that Subway is a healthier option when you’re looking for food on the go. Surprisingly, researchers from the University of California said that the average calorie amount per sandwich at Subway falls around 784, a number significantly higher than that the 572 eaten at McDonald’s.

While sit-down restaurants may seem like a wiser option, they are often the worst offenders. If you order Olive Garden’s chicken alfredo and consume a modest two breadsticks and a bowl of salad, you are talking about a crazy intake of 1,870 calories.

Or, perhaps you go to the Cheesecake Factory with a friend, where you split spinach dip and then order a BBQ chicken pizza and a slice of Chocolate Raspberry Truffle cheesecake. A nice day out on the town will leave you with 2,080 calories and leftovers for tomorrow. Wow!

A typical, healthy diet for the average person requires a daily caloric intake in the range of 2,000 calories per day. While the 2,000-calorie recommendation may vary based on gender, weight and physical activity, it is undeniable that most of us consume far more calories every day than we need.

But, all is not lost. Fortunately, new laws require calorie information to be listed on many restaurant menus. This helps consumers compare items and make informed decisions when ordering.

For healthier eating outside of home, try these tips:

  • Skip the appetizer or order one as an entrée.
  • Order water instead of a beverage. Sodas, tea and lemonade contain a lot of hidden calories, especially with refills. Plus, you save some money as well!
  • If you get a salad, order your salad dressing on the side so you can control the total calorie count.
  • Split an entrée with a friend or take half home as a leftover.
  • Choose an item off the light menu offered at most chains.
  • Share dessert with others at the table instead of ordering your own.