Shape Up & Drop 10™

Step 6 — Fast (and Slow) Food for Thought

  • Americans are spending HALF their food dollars on food purchased outside the home. [USDA and National Restaurant Association]
  • American restaurant industry sales are conservatively estimated at $408 billion annually. Diet industry sales are estimated at $33 billion — with 80% of those dollars spent on diet drinks and foods — rather than weight loss programs or books. [National Restaurant Association and Weighing the Options, National Academy Press, 1995]
  • Portion sizes for chocolate bars, French fries, hamburgers and sodas are currently 2 to 5 times larger than the original sizes of the same foods offered in restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s. [Young and Nestle, Am. J. Public Health, 2002; 92:246]
  • In one large study of 891 women over a three year period, increases in fast food restaurant use were associated with increased intake of hamburgers, French fries and soft drinks, higher Calories, and higher fat intake and they gained 43% more weight than women who did not consume fast foods. [French, et al., Int. Journal Obesity Rel Metab Res, 2003]


Step 6 is going to discuss the all-important topic of eating outside the home. Because portion sizes of food and drink offered outside the home have become so large, it is important to gain some understanding of how eating out promotes overeating. One obvious example is the "supersizing" strategy — the use of large portions to enhance perceived value and increase sales. The supersizing strategy is paying off handsomely not just in fast food restaurants but also in other retail food outlets like delis, pizza shops and food service operations throughout the United States.

Huge portions and supersized meals are producing increased sales for food retailers and increased waistlines for those of us trying to manage our weight. Since you will routinely confront enormous food portions when you eat out, Step 6 offers guidance on how to navigate these culinary land mines successfully. The topics presented in Step 6 are:

  • Supersized meals — dietary weapons of mass destruction
  • What's a reasonable meal size for me?
  • Navigating culinary land mines when eating out — whether fast or slow
  • Overall Summary of Steps 5 and 6
  • Introducing the Shape Up America! CyberChef — Ms. Lisa Schroeder
  • Taking A Stand — Calorie Information in Restaurants

Super-sized Meals Are Dietary Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Dining out can be delightful, but when it comes to weight management, large portion sizes are indeed "weapons" because they change behavior — yours. They cause you to overeat. You did not start out that way. One study done at Penn State in the laboratory of Dr. Leann Birch shows that 3-year-old children will not eat in the absence of hunger. You can feed 3 year olds until they are no longer hungry. If you try to coax them to eat more food, they won't do it. Everything changes by the time kids reach 5 years old. In 5 year olds, the researchers found that children WILL eat more food if they are encouraged to do so, even if they are no longer hungry. How do you get them to eat more? You simply place more tasty food in front of them. A similar study done in adults showed the same thing. The more food you place in front of adults, the more they will eat, even in the absence of hunger. This is very important research because it is not unusual to go out to eat and find you can eat an entire day's calories in a single meal.

A whole day's Calories in a single meal? You're kidding!

We are not kidding. Supersizing has made it all possible and supersizing is happening everywhere — not just in fast food restaurants. If you eat a supersized burger with cheese, a supersized order of French fries and a supersized (42 oz.) soda, at McDonald's, this particular meal delivers 1600 Calories. It also delivers 82 grams of fat (Note: The amount of fat in a product is reported by weight, in grams). The soda delivers the equivalent of 25 teaspoons of sugar! [See McDonald's website — — for detailed nutrition information on their products]. Indeed many restaurants have been supersizing for years and it is not difficult to consume an entire day's Calories in a single meal from a wide variety of local restaurants and eateries near every home in America.

To put supersizing into perspective we visited the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen to calculate the Calorie needs of our friends from Step 5 — Susan, Edna, Ralph and Bob — average adults at two different ages (age 50 and 30). In Table 1 below, you can see the calories and fat grams appropriate for our four friends for one entire day. You can compare their daily Calorie goals to the Calories, fat (and sugar) delivered in the supersized meal described above.




(50 year old1 female 150 lbs; 65 inches tall)


(30 year old1 female 150 lbs; 65 inches tall)


(50 year old1 male 185 lbs; 70 inches tall)


(30 year old1 male 185 lbs; 70 inches tall)

Daily Calorie Goal2 (for weight maintenance)

1425 Calories

1535 Calories

2208 Calories

2338 Calories

Adjusted Daily Calorie Goal2 (for modest weight loss)

1175 Calories (to lose 1/2 pound per week)

1285 Calories (to lose 1/2 pound per week)

1708 Calories (to lose 1 pound per week)

1838 Calories (to lose 1 pound per week)

Fat gram limit2 (30% of Calories or less)3

39 grams

42 grams

56 grams

61 grams

Supersized meal4 of cheeseburger; fries and soda

1600 Calories

82 grams fat

25 teaspoons of sugar

1600 Calories

82 grams fat

25 teaspoons of sugar

1600 Calories

82 grams fat

25 teaspoons of sugar

1600 Calories

82 grams fat

25 teaspoons of sugar

1We chose to calculate the needs of "sedentary" adults because data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the majority of U.S. adults are sedentary. 2Calorie goals calculated in the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen [] 3Fat gram limits correspond to ADJUSTED Daily Calories to support weight loss and are consistent with the healthy heart goal of keeping fat calories to no more than 30% of total calories. 4Data collected from the McDonalds Corporation website [] in February 2003; teaspoons of sugar were calculated based on standard conversion of 15 calories per teaspoon.

The 1600 calories in the supersized meal far exceed both the Daily Calorie Goal and the Adjusted Daily Calorie Goal for both Edna and Susan. If these two women ate nothing else for the entire day, they would still store extra calories as fat if they ate the supersized meal. For Ralph and Bob, the calories in the supersized meal are almost equal to their Adjusted Calorie Goals, but the fat grams in the supersized meal far exceed the fat gram limits for the men. This amount of fat (which comes from the burger and fries) not only undermines weight management efforts, it also contributes to the risk of heart disease. The 25 teaspoons of sugar in the soda is a staggering amount of sugar — that exceeds that capacity of the sugar bowl sitting in our kitchen. As explained in Step 2, there is nothing of nutritional value in the soda and it undermines weight management.

We could present you with similar data to those in Table 1 for supersized meals available at many, many restaurants throughout America — all of which are becoming infamous for offering huge portions of food. The supersized meals are not always burgers and fries. Sometimes they have healthy-sounding names like "Chicken Teriyaki Wrap" or "Fresh Ensalada Chicken" or "Smoked Ham & Swiss" and they still deliver an excessive number of calories and fat (See Tufts Nutrition Notes and Wall Street Journal Online for January 14, 2003). The point we are making is that for people interested in weight management, eating out in virtually any restaurant in America requires special navigational skills in order to succeed in your weight management efforts.

Meal Size — What's Reasonable for Me?

The first step is to estimate your own total daily Calories to achieve your personal weight management goals. But that information is just a beginning. A reasonable meal size will vary from one person to another because of variations in height, weight, and activity level and weight goals. Your meal will also be influenced by your activities and eating earlier in the day and any special events you may have later in the day. To keep things simple in our discussion below, we will assume you are having a routine day with nothing unusual in your eating or exercise patterns. To get a rough estimate of what is reasonable for you, you need two key pieces of information:

  1. Your total daily Calorie goal
  2. Your typical meal pattern (the number of meals you typically eat each day)

Use Table 2 and follow the steps below to estimate a reasonable meal size that will be appropriate for you:

  1. Determine your personal daily Calorie goal in the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen. [For Edna (see Table 1) it was 1535 Calories, and for Ralph it was 2208 Calories]
  2. Use the Cyberkitchen to adjust your personal daily Calorie goal if you wish to lose weight or gain weight. Adjustment is not necessary if you wish to maintain your current weight. If you make an adjustment to your personal daily Calorie goal, write that adjusted number down also because that is the number you need to work with. For example, you might choose to reduce your goal by 250 Calories per day to achieve modest weight loss of approximately 1/2 pound per week, with minimal hunger. [Edna's adjusted calorie goal for weight loss is 1285 Calories and Ralph's adjusted goal is 1708 Calories per day]
  3. In the first column of Table 2 below find the "Adjusted Daily Calories" Row that is closest to your own personal daily Calorie goal. [1300 Calories is closest to Edna's adjusted goal of 1285 Calories. For Ralph, 1700 Calories is closest to his goal of 1708 Calories]
  4. Use the last column (Column C) in the table below to estimate a reasonable number of Calories to set aside for one daily snack or treat. [Note that Edna sets aside 130 Calories and Ralph sets aside 170 calories] Some people use their snack calories on an afternoon snack. Others use their snack calories for a glass of wine with dinner or some other treat. Others use their snack calories to increase the size of their dinner meal rather than spending them on a snack. How you choose to spend your snack calories is up to you. The idea is to give you a sense of how many calories you have to "play" with.
  5. Now answer the following question about your eating pattern: "Do you ordinarily eat 2 meals per day or 3 meals per day?"
  6. If you normally eat 3 meals per day, use Column A in Table 2 to determine a reasonable number of Calories for you to eat at one meal. If you typically eat only 2 meals per day, use Column B to determine your reasonable meal size (that is a reasonable number of calories for a single meal). Some people eat 2 meals — brunch and dinner — on weekends but they may typically eat 3 meals a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — the rest of the week. In that case, you would use Column A on weekdays and Column B on weekends to estimate reasonable meal size. [For Edna — who eats 3 meals a day — a reasonable meal size is 390 Calories. For Ralph, who typically eats only 2 meals per day, 765 calories is a reasonable number of calories for one meal]
  7. TABLE 2: Determine reasonable meal and snack calories


    Column A

    (for 3 meals per day eating pattern)


    Column B

    (for 2 meals per day eating pattern)


    Column C

    Reserve for Snack or Treat














































































    *A daily multiple vitamin and mineral supplement is recommended at calorie levels of 1800 calories or less.

  8. Now that you know how many Calories are reasonable for you, you still need an idea of how to "translate" your calories into real food for a single meal. To do that, re-visit the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen to look at the sample meals. Note that the Calorie information is posted for each breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Cyberkitchen. All of the meals are organized by Calories from the smallest number to the largest number. You can use the Cyberkitchen meals and calorie information to gain an understanding of the amount of food that "fits" into your meal size as determined in Table 2. You can also use the Cyberkitchen recipes to look at how the meals are prepared since every effort was taken to insure that the Cyberkitchen meals maximized nutritional delivery while minimizing fat and Calories. Use the Cyberkitchen "model meals" to train your eye so you can estimate food portions when eating out that fit into your calorie goals.

You can vary the size of your meals by eating more calories at one meal and fewer calories at another. Table 2 provides guidance on what is reasonable so that you can plan your day. You may know you want to go out for dinner and therefore may want to eat a little less for lunch (or skip your snack) to save calories for dinner.

Navigating Safely When Eating Outside the Home

There are a number of important things you need to know about eating outside the home that will help you put on the brakes and avoid overeating. Some of these topics are covered in the Shape Up America! tutorials on "Eating Out" and "Portion Control" so we won't repeat that information here. But we do recommend you take a close look at those two tutorials when you get a chance. The topics we want to talk about here are the following:

  1. Selecting the Right Restaurant
  2. Eating in the Absence of Hunger
  3. Food Preparation Awareness & Service
  4. Social Eating
  5. Social Drinking

Selecting the Right Restaurant

Some restaurants are willing to indicate a few Calorie controlled (usually lower fat and lower Calorie) menu selections. A restaurant that cares enough to provide this type of guidance for you is usually a better choice than one that does not. Some restaurants are better able to offer menu selections that are consistent with the principles we discussed at length in Step 1. Aim for restaurants that offer several broth-based soups and salads for you to choose from. Look for side dishes that offer more vegetables to help you "fill up" on fewer calories. Choose restaurants that typically prepare the main courses with lots of vegetables. If you tend to eat all food that is placed in front of you, avoid restaurants that offer huge portions that encourage overeating. Avoid restaurants that routinely use rich sauces that add many calories and lots of fat. Restaurants that offer menu selections that are consistent with the principles we discussed in Step 1 are worth noting in your journal. If you travel a great deal, your journal will be a good resource for you as you collect restaurants that help you stay on track.

Eating in the Absence of Hunger

We told you about the study of little children that showed that 3 years olds do not eat in the absence of hunger but 5 year olds do. Adults too will eat in the absence of hunger if you put more food in front of them. We call this eating in response to "phantom" hunger — hunger that is no longer there in the physiological sense. Another way to think of it is "eye hunger" because you want to eat what you see. It is purely a response to the presence of food — its sight (and its smell) may be appealing even if you are no longer hungry. It may be phantom hunger, but the Calories are real.

We like doggy bags because they help us turn supersizing on its head. We have learned (after years of hard work) to order a meal and if it is unreasonably large, we take home the leftovers in a doggy bag and see how many meals we can get out of it. These days it is easy to get 3 more meals from the leftovers in many restaurants. We immediately divide up the leftovers into three individual storage containers for use over the next few days.

Food Preparation Awareness & Service

Does the restaurant have servers who support your food preparation specifications? If you ask for a piece of fish, chicken or beef prepared without sauce, do they comply? If you ask for something plainly grilled, do they give you what you want? If you ask for salad dressing on the side, is this a problem? Keep notes on restaurants that serve you well by preparing your food exactly as you require to stay on track.

The "Cafeteria" Effect

A number of studies have shown that buffets and other settings that use a "cafeteria style" presentation of food promote overeating. That means that restaurants (and weddings and celebrations) that offer foods in a cafeteria style need to be carefully managed. The method we recommend is to walk the buffet line backwards to check out all the food that is offered. Then get in line. While waiting in line, make mental decisions about what foods you are going to select. When it is your turn, take care to select a reasonable portion of only those foods and ignore everything else. Make a pact with yourself NOT to return for seconds. If your plan includes dessert, make sure the amount you eat is reasonable. That may mean you should share your dessert with a friend or even two friends, to bring the portion size down to a reasonable amount. But sharing a treat can be fun for everyone.

Social Eating

Studies show that eating in groups stimulates overeating and the effect gets stronger (you overeat even more) as the size of the social group increases. We can only guess why this is. But we suspect that as the crowd gets larger, it feels more and more like a party, so you may decide to throw away restraint and just eat up whatever you want. You may get away with this if you do it only on rare occasions, but your weight management goals will be undermined if it is a regular part of your eating out routine.

Social Drinking

In Step 2 we talked at length about how drinking high calorie soda and alcoholic drinks promotes overeating. If eating out is accompanied by drinking more than you planned, this will defeat you over time if you eat out a great deal. If having a high calorie alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink is important to you, one useful approach is to use your snack calories (see Table 2 above) for this purpose. But remember that alcohol is "disinhibiting" which means one drink may encourage you to both drink more AND eat more than you planned. Set a limit and stick to it. If that does not work, you may have to give up drinking alcoholic drinks entirely.

Overall Summary of Steps 5 and 6

  1. Use the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen to calculate a personal daily calorie goal that supports your personal weight management goal.
  2. Use your personal daily calorie goal and Table 2 in Step 6 to determine a reasonable meal size that is based on your personal eating pattern
  3. Once you know the number of calories that is reasonable for you (for one meal), you face the challenge of translating that number of calories into real foods. To do that:
    1. Consult the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen menu plans, all of which are organized by calories
    2. Take the Shape Up America! Portion Control and Eating Out Tutorials
    3. Consult the calorie information on the nutrition label on the food products you purchase in your local grocery.
    4. Consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture website [] to access Standard Reference 15 to learn more about the calorie content of foods you like to eat
    5. Consult Jean Pennington's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used to learn more about the calorie content of foods you like to eat.
    6. Invest in a food scale and measuring cups to weigh and measure the foods you like to eat and determine the calorie content and quantity that is reasonable for you.
  4. While at home, work on educating your eye so that you can judge portion sizes that are right for you when you eat out.
  5. Learn how to navigate around huge portions and supersized meals when eating out
    1. Select the right restaurant (Keep track of good ones in your journal)
    2. Remove tempting food to avoid eating in the absence of hunger (phantom or "eye" hunger)
    3. Be demanding about how your food is prepared
    4. Be aware that eating in groups promotes overeating
    5. Walk the line backwards at buffets and don't go back for seconds
    6. Carefully manage your intake of high calorie sodas and alcoholic drinks or skip them altogether

Introducing Lisa Schroder…

Food Consultant, Restaurant Owner, Chef and "CyberChef" Extraordinaire for Shape Up America!

An award-winning chef and food consultant to Shape Up America!, Lisa Schroeder has combined personal passion and professional know-how to help Americans achieve balance in their diet and get on the track to healthy eating. Lisa has used her culinary talents to create delicious, lower-fat recipes for the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen. Lisa's recipes are easy to prepare and include a variety of ingredients. Her daily menu plans emphasize portion control, the key to weight management, without sacrificing flavor.

"I know from personal experience that to achieve a healthy weight and lifestyle, you don't have to eliminate all of your favorite foods; but it does mean you learn how to balance those choices with increased physical activity and other strategies that allow you to come in on target at the end of the day."

Prior to graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Lisa has spent many years perfecting her culinary skills at some of the world's most distinguished restaurants including Le Cirque and Lespinasse in New York City and Moulin de Mougins and L'Auberge de L'Eridan in France.

She has received numerous awards and honors, including the "Top 10 Best Student Chefs" by Food & Wine magazine in 1994. She is now chef and owner of a highly acclaimed restaurant in Portland, Oregon called "Mother's Bistro"

Lisa worked closely with Dr. Idamarie Laquatra, PhD, RD in the development of the menu plans and recipes for the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen, all of which were developed to meet the highest nutritional and culinary standards.

Homework Assignments

  1. Take some time to visit a website that offers useful information about portion control plus some appealing recipes. The program is called the "New American Plate" and you can find it at this link:
  2. Working with a friend to make it more fun, log on to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website []. Using the search function for Standard Reference 15, look up some foods and beverages that you both enjoy. Notice all of the nutrition information that is available for the foods you like to eat. If possible, print out calorie information that you would like to refer to in the future. If you cannot print out for some reason, take notes on the calorie information and the quantity (usually in cups or by weight) of food. Now move from the computer to the kitchen and use your food scale (or your measuring cups) to measure out that quantity of foods that you researched on the website. Note that most of the information on the website will be for foods as you would eat them. So the calorie information for a cup of rice will not be for dry rice, it will be for cooked rice.
  3. If you have not already done so, use the information in Step 6 to calculate a reasonable snack size for yourself based on your own personal weight management goals. Think about how you prefer to "spend" those calories. In your journal, write down the ways you might enjoy spending them. On a bigger meal? On a dessert? A snack? A soda? A glass of wine or beer? Those calories help make your weight management program easier for you to live with.
  4. If you are someone who tends to eat all food placed in front of you, then the richer foods and bigger portions offered in restaurants may be particularly challenging. To meet this challenge, when you eat a meal, deliberately leave a piece of uneaten food on your plate. If you leave only one uneaten bite on your plate, that is a good start. With time, you will discover that it gets easier to do this. As you learn how to judge the amount of food that is right for you, you will start to trim back your meal to a size that is right for you. You will master the "skill" of leaving uneaten food on your plate. Be sure to note your progress in your journal and GIVE YOURSELF A REWARD each time you succeed.


Shape Up America! Policy Position on the Provision of Calorie and other Nutrition Information by Restaurants, Food Service and All Other Retail Food Outlets.

Adults, teenagers and children old enough to make their own food choices need Calorie and other nutrition information in order to make wise food selections. Shape Up America! recommends that all restaurants, food service operations and other retail food outlets in America provide accurate and complete nutrition information to their customers. Accurate Calorie information should appear (in a type size at least as large as the price) on the printed menu or menu board that consumers customarily rely on to make their purchase decisions. Additional nutrition information should be made available to consumers upon request. This information should contain at least the following data per serving for each food item on the menu, including beverages:

  • Calories
  • Total Fats (grams)
  • Saturated Fats (grams)
  • Cholesterol (mg)
  • Carbohydrates (grams)
  • Total Sugars (grams)
  • Protein (grams)
  • Dietary Fiber (grams)
  • Sodium (mg)
  • Calcium (mg)

To obtain this information, restaurants and other retail food outlets should identify a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) or other qualified professional to provide the above information. Any qualified professional with access to the appropriate software can determine the above information based on accurate recipe and serving size information. Organizations seeking a qualified R.D. can consult the American Dietetic Association website or call 1-800-877-1600.

Proceed to Step 7 of Shape Up & Drop 10™

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