Weight Loss Sabotage: Supersize Meals Cause Supersize Damage To Your Waistline

Monday, February 5, 2007 - 4:35pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

Until recently, the word “supersize” was not listed in any dictionary. The concept was made famous several years ago by the McDonald’s marketing department, and followed by the infamous 2004 film Supersize Me. Even though McDonald’s has dropped the supersize menu option, the word and the practice lives on. Portions at many fast food and casual restaurants are still obviously supersized. Unfortunately, supersized meals can seriously undermine to your weight control efforts.

Why supersize?
Restaurants want your business. One proven way to get it is to appeal to your sense of value. It’s very easy to do that with visual cues: “Wow! Big portions, not much money, what a deal.” How can you resist that message? If the extra large size of fast food only costs 10% more than the regular size, you go for the deal. Sit-down restaurants create the same illusion of a great deal with, for example, a breakfast that includes eggs, several strips of bacon and a giant stack of pancakes all on one plate. Truthfully, few people in our sedentary society have any need to eat all that food. But the power of the great deal causes us to buy anyway.

I ate all that?
The ultimate problem with supersized meals is that we tend to eat everything we’re served. And when restaurants supersize your meal, they use the cheapest items available: fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, pancakes, toast, Texas toast, chips and the like. When has your meal ever been supersized with extra broccoli or fresh fruit? Or extra chicken? Never. Those are expensive ingredients. It costs almost nothing for the restaurant to dish up extra French fries. They cover the plate and create the illusion of a deal.

Strategies for avoiding the supersize trap
Most people aren’t going to stop eating out just because restaurants serve too much food. If you’re watching your weight, you must create a plan for dealing with the temptation to eat everything on your plate. Ask for a substitution. If the menu says your fish or chicken is accompanied by fries, ask your server for a tossed salad or steamed veggies. Many restaurants will substitute, even though they don’t announce it on the menu. Others do list these options on the menu. Outback Steakhouse offers vegetables instead of potatoes, which makes the steak dinner more attractive for weight-conscious customers. Wendy’s, McDonalds and other fast food restaurants offer salads. Many chain restaurants have nifty web tools that enable you to build a meal online and get a calorie count. It’s informative to see that supersizing small fries to large adds almost 300 calories, most of it fat.

When you’re dining at restaurants that don’t offer alternatives, avoid combo meals and order separate items. At restaurants that offer the same item in different sizes, such as Subway’s 6-inch or 12-inch sandwiches, use restraint and choose the smaller size. You only need a 12-inch sub if you are an athletic teenaged boy or you just ran a marathon.

Just Say “No.” That is probably your biggest defense against supersized portions. You can say No by not choosing oversized items just for the bargain, or by asking for an alternative. The more asking you do, the easier it gets. As more restaurants get requests for alternatives, the smart managers will come up with ways to please the customers by meeting those requests. And if you still find yourself face-to-face with a giant box of French fries or a stack of pancakes, just say No to yourself. You definitely don’t need to eat the whole thing unless you just climbed Denali.