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When Size Matters

April 12, 2012 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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When Size Matters

Over the summer, when my partner was pregnant, we got into the habit of making a Friday night trip to our local ice cream shop. One night I was amused to notice the words “child’s size” appear on the cash register display when the cashier was ringing through my request for a small cup of the soft serve ice cream.

The cup was about 8 fluid ounces (250 ml) and provided what I thought would be enough to satisfy my sweet tooth but, not enough to wallop me with a lot of extra calories. Apparently, what I consider to be a reasonable sized treat for myself is the same size that is marketed to kids.  That’s saying something about portion distortion.

It can be hard to resist the temptation to super-size an order. When a food or drink comes in multiple serving sizes, it’s often priced using the “pay a little more, get a lot more” strategy. What tends to happen is that we buy more than we need or even want, in order to get the best value for our money. However, what seems like a little extra money well spent can really add a lot of extra calories if you scale up your order from the smallest to the largest (and best monetary value) serving size. 

The time spent standing in line waiting to make a food or beverage order presents a good opportunity to use mindful eating strategies. Here are a few strategies that have helped me to resist the lure of supersizing:

  • I temporarily ignore the price and ask myself “what size would satisfy me”? I then choose the smallest size I find satisfying.
  • I split a larger size with a family member or friend. This way I can save some money and enjoy the act of sharing food.
  • Because the terms “small, medium, large and extra-large” are not standardized across restaurants, I may ask “how big is that serving?” to get a better sense of how much I’d really be getting.

How do you handle the super-sizing trap?

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Comments (3)

Steven Rowe

Posted on Thursday April 12, 2012 a 1:00pm

People have described me as having an appetite of a pigeon, so if I see anything above small I usually avoid it. I am also used to European sizes which are smaller than those in North America and sugar content is much higher here therefore I am very concious that I have gained weight since living here.

When I visit a take away cafe or restaurant I will ask to see the size of the receptical they intend to put small in, their thinking of small is usually different than mine - if its too large I won't buy it or if my husband is with me will share it with him.

Some outlets are crafty as they have even smaller cups/containers that aren't generally advertised because they want you to buy the larger items...even if it means its best to ask if they have anything smaller than what is advertised.


Posted on Thursday April 19, 2012 a 9:56am

Thanks for posting that, Steven! I lived in Texas for a little while, and it was RIDICULOUS how large their portions were compared to BC's -- even (especially?) at fast food restaurants. A Whopper down there put ours to shame the time. Now, I think it's comparable.

And Steven's absolutely right about some outlets being crafty. I ordered an Orange Julius drink and forgot to mention the size, but instead of being prompted for one, I just received a large automatically! (And of course I drank the whole thing.... :( ) Be cautious, people!

hurrell's picture

Healthy Families BC

Posted on Thursday April 19, 2012 a 2:25pm

Thanks for sharing your experiences Steven and Clara. I love to hear about the cultural differences between different regions around the world. I wonder how much smaller beverage sizes tend to be in Europe as compared to the US or Canada? Do we have a sweet tooth here in North America? Would a segment of our population actually prefer smaller and less sweet beverages than are available? Thanks for the tip about asking for smaller than advertized sizes. I’ll remember that the next time I’m looking at the small size and thinking that it’s bigger than I want. Cheerio, Dean


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