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Bigger portions breed bigger appetites which can lead to obesity continued...

The biggest change in eating habits, Rolls believes, is portion size, which started growing in the 1970s in restaurants and recipe books. Then supersizing really took off in the 1980s. It might seem logical to assume that when a person eats a really big meal that person will back off on subsequent meals or days. But Rolls’ research has shown this not to be the case.

At her laboratory, she feeds human test subjects large portion sizes without telling them and observes how they respond. They respond by pigging out. Over a period of 11 days, in a recent experiment, the overfed group sucked up 5,000 more calories than the “control” group, which was given healthy, complete meals but with half the portion size.

Obviously, there are vested interests in favor of selling more food and drink, even if that does help fuel the obesity epidemic. “From the popcorn stand in movie theaters to fast food, we’ve been had by the most skilled advertising people in the world,” says Blackburn. “They keep telling us that it’s our right to be instantly gratified. Well, there’s a sucker born every minute, and you’re a sucker to let yourself gain more than 20 pounds in 20 years.”

Fighting back: How bigger portions can be used to stem the rise in obesity

When it comes to finding solutions to the fat epidemic, Rolls has done some pragmatic thinking. Her research told her that it would be difficult to convince people to eat smaller meals. So what she has done is focused on encouraging them to eat less energy-dense meals.

A bowl of Cheerios, for example, provides the same calories as a couple tablespoons of granola. But, as she points out in The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories (Morrow Cookbooks, 2005),eating the larger portion of Cheerios is more satisfying than eating the smaller portion of granola. “Bigger is better if it’s low-cal,” Rolls says. “Big portions of salad and soup can fill you up and displace other, more energy dense foods.”

Blackburn applauds Rolls’ book. But he also thinks the government should intervene to encourage healthier eating by charging a tax on junk food and offering incentives for buying healthy food. “But the people who own the junk food are not going to let you do that,” he says. “They’ll say people like me are crazy and it’s your right to have a miserable life and be able to pig out.”

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