Just recently, the US Coast Guard announced a major downsizing. Not in their staff but in the number of passengers that will be allowed to travel on commercial boats. The reason? The average passenger weight is being bumped up by 25 pounds, which will determine, and now lessen, the number of people a boat can safely hold. It’s yet another nod to the staggering statistic that two-thirds of adults in this country are overweight or obese.
It’s well documented that we’re getting bigger and bigger. And it seems that as we get larger, everything else is getting larger, too—from dinner plates to dashboards. Like the chicken and egg question, though, it’s not always clear which came first.
The amount of food we purchase, prepare and eat has increased dramatically in the last 30 years or so. The number of ‘large size’ packages in supermarkets has gone up ten-fold, and restaurant portions are 250% larger than the recommended government serving size. Today’s dinner plate holds 36% more food than it did 30 years ago. And since small spoons look funny next to 14 inch plates, some of our utensils are nearly the size of small shovels. In other words, our “consumption norms” are shifting. The amount of food that we consider to be a normal portion is getting bigger, and bigger and bigger. And that’s making us bigger, too.
Just as we’ve been adjusting our view of what’s a normal portion of food, we’re also adapting our environment to accommodate our expanding waistlines. Cars are outfitted with larger cupholders and dashboards that could accommodate a Sunday brunch—because customers demand it. We walk into buildings with revolving doors that are a foot wider than they were 10 years ago, and we shield ourselves from the rain with umbrellas that have swollen to 1½ times the standard diameter. And the demand for sturdier toilet seats, double wide recliners and—I’m sorry to report—double wide coffins are all on the rise.
I hope this doesn’t mean that we’re giving up, that we’ll start shifting our norms of what we consider acceptable weight, too. Yes, the statistics are sobering. But if we begin believing that “250 is the new 175,” then we’re well on our way to convincing ourselves that the battle of the bulge can’t be won.
Shifting our consumption norms is an uphill battle, and it’s one that each and every one of us has to fight at some level every day. Even if we know that larger packages, larger plates and larger servings lead us to eat more, knowledge isn’t enough. We all have to deal with the environmental influences that determine how much we eat. We need to teach ourselves to act on that knowledge by buying smaller packages and serving ourselves smaller portions on smaller plates. And we need to learn to be satisfied with less.