Why Supersize Meal Portions Lead to Overeating

How overloaded plates contribute to the obesity epidemic

cheeseburger, onion rings and fries fast food
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Over the past couple of decades, the number of obese North Americans has skyrocketed, in both children and adults. There are two major factors that account for the obesity epidemic: consumption of more calories than we really need and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, resulting in a lack of exercise.

One of the ways that we are consuming more calories than we need is through supersize meal portions, both at home and at restaurants.

Get the facts on the negative impact that supersize meals have had on the American waistline and how to fight back with this review. 

Why Supersizing Is Harmful

As the movie "Supersize Me" demonstrated, North American fast-food establishments are building their marketing on larger and larger food portions, including the notorious "supersize" meal portions. Although some fast-food chains made changes after the popular documentary--no longer focusing on supersize meal packages and adding healthier options to the menu--consumers continue to be tempted by the seemingly good value of larger portions for a lower cost per amount of food bought.

This is especially the case for low-income people who are trying to get the best bang for their buck while feeding, say, a family of five and living in areas known as "food deserts," because grocery stores with a wide range of fruits and vegetables are rare.

One reason obesity is so high among low-income people is that fast-food chains with cheap meals in large portion sizes are readily available. Inner cities typically have more fast-food restaurants per capita than suburban areas do.

Supersizing at Home

As the documentary "Supersize vs. Superskinny" shows, obese people also load up their plates at home with supersize meal portions.

Our perceptions of what is a normal serving has increased, putting us all at risk of overeating without our realizing it. The recommended portion sizes for an adult meal are only 3 or 4 ounces of meat, 1/2 cup of legumes, 2 ounces of cheese, 1/2 to 1 cup of carbohydrates, and 1 to 2 cups of non-starchy vegetables.

Take a look at how this appears on your plate -- if it looks too small, you are have probably fallen victim to the supersize mentality. We are also using high-fat sauces and dressings in larger quantities, and consuming little or no "good" fats.

That said, plenty of people who eat larger amounts of carbohydrates or meat aren't overweight or obese. The supersizing trend doesn't just affect the obese but all Americans, especially children, who are developing type 2 diabetes at greater rates than they ever have previously and even entering puberty earlier because fat kicks the sex hormones into gear. 

Portion Control Tips

So how should we handle the pressure to eat larger meal portions?

You can choose to eat mostly at home, bringing your lunch to work, for example. You can order children's meals at fast-food restaurants. Those portion sizes are more in line with recommended portion sizes. At sit-down restaurants, you can ask for a to-go box right away and put half your meal inside of it at the beginning of the meal to avoid overeating. 


Kessler, M.D., D. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York: Rodale.

Syto, Y. Nutrition Map: Your Guide to Healthy Easting in the Real World. Charlston SC: Yvonne Quinones Syto. 2010.

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