So now that I have been back in the US for a couple days, I already have to re-adjust to American portion sizes again. There’s a joke in Japanese about amerika saizu meaning “American size” and now that I realize how true this phrase is.
We ate Friday night at a Japanese restaurant here in Seattle and I ordered ramen. Halfway through the meal I was already full and it was hard to finish the meal. To be honest, I had eaten some appetizers before, but at the same restaurant, I remember finishing the same meal (plus appetizers) and still being hungry and that was before I went to Japan.
This kind of thing happens every time I go to Japan: at first, I am hungry all the time because the portions are so small (as shown here in a recent visit to the KFC in Shibuya Ward in Tokyo):
…but then my body adjusts to it, and I find the meals more satisfying. My stomach even gets smaller. But then when I get back to the US, the portion sizes are too big, and I have trouble finishing. Then after a few weeks, I adjust to them again and my stomach gets bigger.
A friend I met in Japan told me that when he moved there, he lost about 10 kilograms after the first few months, but adjusted just fine. This friend is from Europe, not in the US, and in my experience living in Ireland, portions sizes are a little smaller than the US, though not quite as small as Japan. So, if he can adjust to smaller portion sizes and lose weight, imagine how much I would lose if I could adjust.
The problem with obesity in the US is simple: culturally, the portion sizes are TOO GODDAMN BIG. But it’s a cultural phenomenon, so it’s hard to notice it until you live somewhere else.
But it wasn’t always this way. In our grandparents’ generation, they ate the same food we did, but just smaller portions of it. What’s considered “small” now was normal then, or even generous. Gradually we’ve become adjusted to bigger and bigger portions. To accommodate this, the food quality suffered as portions increased. That’s why American food tastes like crap, while the portion sizes are so big. And because the portion sizes are so big, your stomach stretches and gets used to it, so when you do eat smaller portions, you feel hungry even though you had enough calories and nutrition.
I don’t want to live like this anymore. Knowing what I know now, I cant believe I ate the amount of food I did before. It was disgusting. It’s not even necessary! If you’re 40 pounds overweight like I am,1 you don’t have to live like this.
While staying in Japan for the past few weeks, I ate the same food (more or less) that I did in the US, but it tasted better and was much more satisfying, even though I ate less. But now that I am back in the US, it’s hard to avoid large portions, because even healthy food is served that way.
Instead, we as Americans have to make a collective effort with our wallets, our spending habits, and our eating habits to demand smaller portions, and better quality food. Business responds to demand (or rather the Law of Supply and Demand), so if you change your habits, they will change theirs’ and the culture changes as a result.
As for me:
- I will never order anything bigger than a “tall” coffee. Grande is called “big” for a reason, it’s really big.
- Better yet, I am gradually trying to phase out coffee altogether for tea. More on that in a later post. Those espresso drinks are full of calories, and I don’t like black coffee very much (nor does it have the health benefits of tea anyway).
- If your restaurant meal is big enough to have leftovers to take home, it’s too big. I will be ordering smaller meals at restaurants. If need be, just eat appetizers.
- I will eat one slice of toast, not two for breakfast.
- One cup of cooked rice at home is enough, not 2 or 3.
As I said, I really don’t want to go back to old eating habits anymore. I am tired of it, and it’s bad for my body anyway, so I really want to maintain the portion sizes I adapted to in Japan as much as possible here.
1 40 pounds overweight is probably the new “normal” in American society. That’s really depressing when you think about it. Just because being fat is “normal” doesn’t mean it’s healthy, or even attractive to look at. Sorry, but it’s true.