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Food Overload

Ads blare everywhere. How can you resist eating more?

The Other Side

Those who cater to our hunger deny that there's a plot afoot to make us overeat. ''Our menu is driven by our customers,'' says Lisa Howard, a spokeswoman for McDonald's Corporation. ''We find out what our customers want through focus groups and customer research.''

It's possible, she points out, to have a low-fat, reasonably low-calorie meal at McDonald's if you pick and choose wisely. To help customers do that, McDonald's offers a nutritional chart that lists its menu items with the nutritional information for each item, including the amount of calories, fat grams, salt, cholesterol, and fiber in a serving.

The "Super-Size" Mentality

But what of the super-sized portions? On a recent trip to the grocery store, Quagliani recently spied the biggest bag of potato chips she had ever seen. So, what's the harm in buying the large size, you say? After all, it's the economical approach.

It's also the route to tipping the scales, says Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of food psychology and marketing and the director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Buy the big bag of nearly anything, he has found in his studies, and you will eat more at a sitting. "Once you open it, there's no real need to stop," he says. Wansink has found that larger package size can increase consumption up to 43%.

In restaurants, portion sizes are getting bigger and bigger. Food is a small part of overall operating costs, compared to labor and other expenses, Nestle says. So why not super-size those meals to attract the diners who want to get the most for their money -- which is everyone. At the movie theater, buttered popcorn comes in bigger and bigger tubs. And research shows that it's usually just one person emptying a tub, Nestle says.

Filtering the Messages of Excess

Giant-sized servings and seductive food messages aren't going to stop any time soon. So, how to cope? "Half the battle is awareness," Quagliani says. When eyeing those super-sized packages, she suggests that you ask yourself "Do I really need all that food?"

There's nothing wrong with buying the economy size of a food item, especially if it helps you to live within a budget. But once you get home, repackage the food into smaller containers, to avoid overeating.

You can win half the battle, however, if you don't put the item in your shopping cart in the first place. Fight those signs that suggest buying 12 candy bars and freezing them, and reach only for the items on your list, which should include the needed quantities, Wansink says.

And be wary of grocery-store design that steers you away from the produce section and toward foods that may be less crucial or healthy, says John La Puma, MD, a Chicago-area physician who heads the CHEF Clinic (Cooking, Healthy Eating, and Fitness), a research project and community-based healthful lifestyle program.

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