Volume Discount. Or, Stop Playing With Your Food!

We’ve been mislead about how to have a healthy relationship with food. For some reason, we’ve been taught to think that “good” or “healthy” eating and nutrition is about getting the largest volume of food into our stomachs with the least amount of calories. I am not sure where this trend started, but it’s definitely perpetuated in our food marketing, media, and a lot of nutrition advice.  Our society’s idea of nutrition has become about how much sheer volume we can pack into ourselves without “exceeding calories.”

This is not a healthy way to eat. It’s not a healthy relationship for our nation to have with food. If it were, we wouldn’t have the skyrocketing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related disease rates we do today. The answer is simple, but it goes against the unfortunate American value that “bigger is better,” and the more you have the more you’re worth. Ergo, the more you can eat and stay “skinny,” the better you are, the healthier you must be.

There are many reasons that most people who lose weight put it back on, but one of the biggest is this: they have not changed their relationship with food and food culture. We’ve gotten used to feeling “full” all the time, and believing that it is necessary and good to feel this way. That we should be able to eat large amounts of food without gaining weight. That we all “deserve” to be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and that it’s nutritionally reasonable to poke, pull, and tweak foods to fit into what we want them to be instead of what they are.  That we should be able to eat the way we want to eat, instead of the way we need to eat, without consequences. All of this despite demonstrable evidence that it’s a failing formula.

The fix for this is simple, and the more research that is done, the more it’s holding up: eat quality, whole, nutrient-dense foods, and eat them in an appropriate quantity.

A skin-on, bone-in chicken breast has only 50 or so more calories than it does skin off, and only about 2.5g saturated fats.* If you’re watching your weight, the answer isn’t to skin your chicken to save 50 calories, it’s to eat less chicken or do more exercise. In my last series about nutrition rules, you’ll note I said eat more veggies, and stop eating whole cuts of meat as frequently. Why? Because it makes far more sense to eat more vegetables and get the fiber and nutrients, while eating less meat and dairy but still getting the complete and natural fats, than it does to find “work-arounds.”

But what about those FDA “portion” sizes? It’s important to remember those are generalizations (and, frankly, bad ones). For a smaller/shorter person, a reasonable portion is much less. For a taller/larger person, much more.   Yes, as a small person I’ll be able to eat less skin-on chicken or whole milk than my partner, who is extremely tall, will be able to eat. And, that’s okay. It’s okay to eat less food, or less than than an “FDA” portion of a certain food. It’s okay to stock up on green veggies and take a smaller portion of the whole higher-calorie whole food, of which more and more studies are showing that removing nutrients (including fat) has detrimental effects (or, at the very least, removes potential beneficial effects and essential nutrients). Saturated fats are now being shown to help balance HDL and LDL cholesterol, for example. Which doesn’t mean an overabundance of saturated fats are good for you, either. Again, the answer is simply to eat it, just eat less of it.

This isn’t a new or even radical viewpoint on my part. Pretty much this same thing has been said in countless works on the subject, including the best-selling “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”  French cuisine isn’t exactly known for it’s use of skim milk, margarine, or skinned chicken. Yet, despite it being a best-seller and making the talk-show rounds, eating habits in the US have not changed. We still demand larger and larger portions, and try to find ways to make those portions contain less and less calories.

And yet, as a nation we continue to wonder why we’re getting fatter and sicker.

(Author’s note: Any inflammatoy/name-calling/trolling posts or off-topic vegan/paleo/locavore/whatever proselytizing comments will be deleted.)

* Info from Julie Upton, dietician writing in “Eating Light” magazine. I don’t have this online, so you’ll need to find the issue for yourself.


7 responses to “Volume Discount. Or, Stop Playing With Your Food!

  • Is Skim Milk Making You Fat? « 4 Mainstreet

    […] Volume Discount. Or, Stop Playing With Your Food! (eclecticedibles.wordpress.com) […]

  • Tina

    I almost never eat until I’m full, I eat until I’m sated, but that 50 calories I save by pulling the skin off my chicken could go toward a square of good, dark chocolate. Then again, I don’t really like chicken skin, I think it tastes kind of gross, actually. (Unless it’s been battered and fried, but that’s not healthy either.) I also don’t like whole milk, or 2%, and only find half-percent tolerable. I’d rather get my saturated fats from cheese, whole eggs, or chocolate than meat, yogurt, or the milk I drink, but that’s just me. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily *cook* chicken skinless, as the skin can do a great job of holding in the moisture. I pull it off after it’s cooked.

  • shwankie

    Tina, if you don’t like something, that is a personal preference, of course. However, I think that the point may have been missed.

  • Tina

    Sorry, crabby today. Shouldn’t post when crabby.

  • Tina

    I should mention, I did get your point. I guess my thought is, for those of us who already eat fairly small (~3 oz.) servings of chicken, leaving the skin on means they have to be even smaller for the same amount of calories, which may be an undesirable trade-off. Particularly if we don’t care for the skin or are fairly apathetic about it. Though you probably weren’t talking to us anyway, so, yeah. Don’t post comments when crabby, lesson for the day.

  • mississippibodywalk

    I think you make a good point about portion size being relevant to the person. However, I think the recommended portion sizes can be a good starting point for someone who has never thought about portions before. If a person is used to just ‘filling their plate’ to start with the FDA recommended sizes can be a way for them to start thinking about how much they are eating. It can be a step on the process of finding the specific right amount for their needs.

    • Shawn

      I agree, it can be a starting point to help people visualize(and I use it myself to standardize my pricing), but a lot of people then get married to the idea. That said, it’s not so much the USDA portion sizing that is the problem, it’s that instead of varying our portions to accommodate the actual calories in food, our culture spends an awful lot of resources on tweaking calories to expand the sheer volume we can eat.

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