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Feeling Full

September 30, 2009

If you are just tuning in, we’ve been having an ongoing conversation about restaurant portion sizes.

Just to catch you up, the beginnings of the conversation had their origin in the tragedy of restaurant leftovers.  Some people like them, but I do not.

When Mrs. Fussy suggested that most people see large portion sizes as a value proposition of eating out, I felt compelled to offer another way of seeing value in restaurant meals.  Kate C. and I were having an interesting dialog on the subject.  But it occurred to me that part of the problem is people’s expectations of feeling full when leaving a restaurant, and what exactly that means.

First, let me say, I am grateful that we can be even having this conversation.  A few weeks ago, I saw a film about coffee farmers in Ethiopia, and for all my complaining, seeing people in hunger really made me realize how lucky I am.

That said, back in America I think we need to come to an agreement on terms describing levels of satiety.

The assumption is that people will eat when they are hungry.  But you and I know that this is not always true.  If I walk by something superdelicious, I will find room for that tasty morsel, regardless of my level of hunger.  For me it may be pastry, for others it may be chocolate.  Or sometimes I am at a cookout and there is a beautiful burger coming off the grill.  Sure, I’ve had one already and I certainly do not need another.  But it smells so good.  And nobody else wants it.  Well, before you know it, I’ve eaten it.

So hunger doesn’t necessarily always precede eating and no longer being hungry doesn’t necessarily cause people to stop eating.

But here we are so lucky that no longer being hungry has a variety of levels.  Your terms for the below conditions may vary, so please let’s try not to get hung up on semantics.  I do feel a need to define my terms so there is no miscommunication.

1) The feeling that your belly is empty and you need to eat = Hungry
2) You have had a few bites of your meal and that empty feeling is gone = No longer hungry
3) You have finished a reasonable meal, but feel like you could possibly eat a little more without feeling a little ill = Sated
4) You have finished a large meal, and feel like you couldn’t eat another bite = Full
5) You have finished an extra large meal, and feel a little ill = Very Full
6) You just had to have one last bite, and that bite didn’t go so well, and you swear that if you have another nibble of anything, surely you will perish = A normal night at the Cheesecake Factory

I have heard stories about dieters and sorority girls who try to live their lives only eating to number two, even going so far as to pour milk or something else unappetizing over their remaining portion lest they be tempted to take one more bite.

But this isn’t about dieting.  And I am not necessarily trying to encourage people to eat less.  I do think most people are not very in tune with their bodies and eat very quickly, which can easily lead to overeating.  Overeating in turn will make you feel full or very full.

My guess is that most people expect to leave a restaurant full or very full.  Honestly I do not know where this expectation comes from.  But when I hear people speaking in these terms, I have a very difficult time blaming the restaurant industry for the “obesity epidemic” I’ve been hearing so much about these days.

My belief is that the diner’s goal should be to leave a restaurant sated, ideally having had the opportunity to try more than just an entrée.

When I had the multi-course multi-hour extravaganza at the French Laundry in Yountville, that is exactly how I left.  The meal was brilliantly paced, and the portion sizes were perfect, so that you could eat nine courses and not be dreading what was to come next.

The best restaurants understand this.  The restaurants that are trying to give their diners the highest-quality best-tasting food understand this.  The other restaurants are just trying to get you full.

[Full disclosure: Just this week I ate myself all the way up to a six – not at The Cheesecake Factory – but eating pizza.  It is always that last slice that gets you.]

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 30, 2009 11:35 am

    The oldest man in America said the other day that he always pushes away from the table BEFORE he’s full. And the longest living people in the world, the ladies of Okinawa, say they never eat to fullness but rather to maybe 80% of “full.”

  2. Greg permalink
    September 30, 2009 2:38 pm

    But you scored that six in the name of science, right?

    • September 30, 2009 11:06 pm

      I do not know if you witnessed me in all my glory and shame, but after we said goodbye I walked down to the corner for a hot slice from the local pie shop.

      That too was in the name of science.
      I had to do it. My brain said no, but my heart said yes.
      And really it was that one last slice that brought me to six.

      Despite the discomfort, I regret nothing.

  3. September 30, 2009 7:05 pm

    Mr. Sunshine – I’ve heard the same thing! Not sure I could do that with Japanese food around at all times, but yum!

    Oh, I would totally argue that pizza was worth a 6 for science. I was only around a 4 or 5. Next time, mebbe?

  4. October 1, 2009 12:04 am

    I’ve been trying to eat between 2 and 3 lately. Usually 3 for lunch and 2 for breakfast and dinner. I’m hoping the European approach to eating and my saying “NO” more often than I say “yes” to wanting that extra slice of whatever that I’ll feel a little healthier. So far it’s working fine. :)

  5. Jennifer permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:49 am

    My family has been thinking and talking about this a lot lately after too many over stuffed restaurant experiences. I’ve never been impressed by restaurants offering humongous portions but I have been surprised to see restaurants that I would think know better giving in to it as well. Including a couple we ate at on a recent vacation to Portland, ME which has recently been touted as the best foodie town (although we know it’s a city) by Bon Appetit magazine.

    Now that I am older, have birthed two children and thus have a much more aged metabolism I aim for levels 2 and 3.

  6. Tonia permalink
    October 5, 2009 1:34 am

    Impressive on the slices! I have to agree with you on the restaurants, more is not better. And, when I’m out I like to try a lot of stuff on the menu, so if the portions are huge you can’t do that.

    I like binge in the privacy of my own home, in comfort…. sweat pants. There is nothing worse than getting a muffin top in your skinny jeans, takes away from the enjoyment of the food. Yes, I said it. HA! :-)

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