Jan. 25, 2023

Wasting Food: Giving up the Clean Plate Club and Understanding Portion Distortion [Ep. 27]

Wasting Food: Giving up the Clean Plate Club and Understanding Portion Distortion [Ep. 27]

How do you feel about wasting food? Does it bother you? Have you been a member of the clean plate club for a while? Maybe even since childhood?

Today I'm going to give you some background on where the clean plate ida comes from and you will be surprised--I know I was. 

Then we will talk about why our portions are so distorted and what it means for you if you've decided not to overeat anymore. Hint: it means you'll be wasting some food. I'll help you deconstruct how you feel about that and give you some questions to ponder and maybe even journal about on this topic.

Want the questions I pose on this episode in a handy dandy printable journal page? I knew you did! Just download that HERE

Key takeaways:

  • Where the clean plate idea came from historically speaking
  • How our current portions are so much larger than before--in restaurants as well as in our own homes
  • How "portion distortion" is making overly large portions now look typical
  • How you can think about wasting food 
  • The Hunger Scale Episode--essential skill if you are going to not overeat, and therefore be in the situation where you will waste some food occasionally.

More from Well with Lisa:

More from Well with Lisa:



Hi, welcome back to the eat. Well, think. Well live well podcast. I'm Lisa Salisbury. And my mission is to help women stop obsessing about everything they eat. And I'm feel confident about their ability to lose weight without a diet app. This is episode 27 wasting food. How do you feel when you waste food? Does it bother you? Have you been a longtime member of the clean plate club? Maybe since childhood. Today, I'm going to give you some background on where the clean plate idea comes from and you will be surprised. I'm sure I know I was, then we're going to talk about why our portions are so distorted and what it means for wasting food. If you decide that you are done with overeating. Let's go. Welcome to Eat Well, Think Well, Live Well; the podcast for women who want to lose weight, but are tired of counting and calculating all the food. I'm your host, Lisa Salsbury. I'm a certified health and weight loss coach and life coach, and most importantly a recovered chronic dieter. I'll teach you to figure out why you are eating when you aren't hungry, instead of worrying so much about what you are eating. If you were in that age range of growing up in the seventies, eighties, nineties, you probably heard finish your plate. There's starving children in Africa, or fill in the blank with a third world country. Which of course, besides being super confusing as a child, like how can finishing my plate make a difference to those suffering children elsewhere? But it also sends the message that wasting food is bad. And wrong. You might also have been a member of the clean plate club where you were expected to finish everything you were given. The thing is that our parents did not just make this up. We don't all use that phrase just randomly. In 1947, the clean plate club was established in elementary schools across the country by president Harry Truman. It was to encourage Americans to consume less poultry specifically. In order to conserve food for starving Europeans so that we had to import less, it was based on a previous campaign by Congress in 1917. Basically that was part of the food and fuel control act that gave president Woodrow Wilson at the time, the power to quote. Uh, regulate the distribution export import purchase and storage of food. So this act gave president Wilson authority then to create the us food administration by executive order. And at that time, the organization was given a task of making sure that the limited amount of food, America hat, as a result of world war one, did go to waste. And avoid the importation of food as much as possible. So they used the strong sense of patriotism during world war one. And advertised the clean plate campaign and promoted it to schoolchildren. So they were taught this pledge. This is what they had to repeat. At table, I'll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I'll not eat between meals, but for supper time, I'll wait. So basically the necessities were in short supply, so they were encouraging families to ration and save. Food. The goal was for people to eat less and use less essential ingredients. And therefore to finish their entire plate. So the idea was that if they only purchased an eight, what was completely necessary, that would save food for the Europeans as well as for our troops. So there was a poster that went with this campaign. Um, and it was a little bit random on the texts, but it said eat more corn oats and rye. Fish and poultry. Fruits vegetables and potatoes baked, boiled, and broiled foods. And then the next lane said, eat less wheat, meat, sugar, and fats to save for the army and our allies. So all this information comes from the Wikipedia page on this topic, which I honestly found. Fascinating. Whenever I find historical reasons or traditions for my behavior, or especially why. My parents were the way they were or raised me in specific ways. I feel so validated, like, Hey. This is actually not my fault and really not their fault either. This is what they were taught, literally in school, as school children. There were real economic reasons that these campaigns were started. There truly was a lack of food and ration. So people were truly asked to eat. Only what they needed. And then. Not to waste it. I would say that these campaigns were probably helpful at the time and enabling us to provide enough rations to those that were fighting in the war and subsequently trying to recover from the war. So I was actually discussing this with my mother-in-law, and she said. How exactly did that conserve food by promoting this clean plate club. And I think the way that this worked is when people were told to conserve food and limit portions to only what they would eat and then not waste it, it was basically taking only what you need. And so by cleaning your plate, you were showing that you needed all that you purchased. What's crazy is that if you think about how old your parents and their parents were, they all lived through this time. My grandparents were in elementary school during world war one. And then my mother was born in 1946, putting her in elementary school for that second wave of clean plate clubs in schools. So is it any wonder. That my mom then said, you've got to finish your plate and connected it to starving children somewhere else in the world. That is literally what they were taught that Americans needed to consume less to conserve food for starving Europeans that were desperately trying to recover from world war II. This is actually crazy to me learning that we don't all just collectively use that phrase. Randomly. Our parents literally were members of the club. Here's the problem. Of course, today we no longer have need of this club. I tell my clients all the time. I'm revoking your membership. It's not a good club. You don't even get your picture in the yearbook. Although, what I know now is I wonder if our parents did get their pictures in the yearbook. Although I don't deny. There are still many people in need today and hunger is still a real problem in the world. We no longer need to ration food in the same way in order to get food to those that need it. But cleaning your plate now is not always the best course of action. I consider that today's portions are considerably larger than they have been historically. For instance, a typical bagel in the mid 1980s would be about three inches in diameter. Whereas today's standard bagel are twice as wide, about six inches across. This is termed portion distortion. Which comes from an article out of university of North Carolina chapel hill and the early two thousands. So the thing to remember about portions, as I start talking about this is That's the amount that you actually eat, not what the serving size is. So meaning if you order the large fries, that's considered the portion. Even though if you were to look up the nutritional information, you might see that the large fry is considered to be two servings or three servings or whatever. You've all seen this on packages where it's the amount you would eat, but then you flip it over and you see that the nutritional information and discover is actually considered two servings. So servings haven't changed in these times. It's the portions that we are served. Or that we are serving ourselves. And I will say later in the show, some servings have changed, but what I'm talking about in this comparison here is it's actually. The portion. So what they found in that study in the article from, uh, university of North Carolina, Was that the total energy intake has increased over the past 20 years. And this happens because of shifts away from meals to snacks. And the shift from, at home to away from home consumption. Now, also note, this article was written in 2012 and they studied the time period from 1977 to 1996. So we are way past that now, and even further along than what they found in this article. What they said was today the average American consumes less than 65% of his or her energy at home. And Over the past 20 years. So remember that's 1977 to 19 96 period. The decline has been from 76.9% of energy consumed at home. 2 64 0.5%. The vast amount of this increase has been a more than doubling of the energy consumed at restaurants and fast food establishments. Some age groups, such as young adults aged 19 to 39, consume close to 30% of their energy from restaurant and fast food establishments. Okay. So why am I delving into this so much? All this sciency part. And historical part. That's because our portion distortion can be coming. From these restaurant driven portions. When we are served an amount at a restaurant, we have the tendency to think it's the amount of food we should eat. And then we mirror that at home. And we are collectively eating out more and more. So when we are served bigger portions and we are accustomed to finishing our plates and being part of that clean plate club. We end up overriding our internal fullness cues and eating more than your body needs to sustain you. The other problem with portion distortion is that it reinforces external food cues to dictate when you eat or stop eating. So when the portion sizes of virtually all foods and drinks that are prepared for immediate consumption. So meaning not the ingredients part of the store, but the ready to go stuff. The portions of those things have increased. Yet, they now appear typical to us. So basically we end up being more reactive to what we are seeing in package sizes and what we are served on our plates instead of reacting to signals from your body, those hunger and fullness cues. I'm always talking about with the hunger scale. Ultimately when there's more food, we're more prone to eating past fullness. To make matters worse, even for those of us cooking at home. Portions. There are increasing too. Identical recipes for cookies and desserts in old and new editions of classic cookbooks, such as joy of cooking, specify fewer servings, meaning that the portions are expected to be larger. What? Yeah, we are even being told in cookbooks to eat more or to dish up larger portions. So our generation is in this double whammy time. We've been taught not to ever waste food and to clean our plates. While at the same time our portions have been ever increasing. If you want to lose weight, or really, even if you just want to maintain your weight, you have to learn to leave food on your plate. And then we'll need to examine any thinking that may cause us to do otherwise, or that may cause issues with leaving it. When we are armed with this absolute knowledge that our portion sizes are distorted. It makes more sense that we need to rethink them. And this is where some food wasting is going to come in. So when you go to a restaurant, do they ask you how hungry you are or did they just bring out the oversized portion that they serve? Every person. Obviously, they just bring out the plate. They don't care how hungry you are. You have to care about that. I want you to consider the fact that if you eat food that your body does not need for fuel, isn't that wasteful? Aren't you just carrying the waist around with you on your body as stored energy. If you are at a restaurant and they bring your food out and you only eat, let's say 20% of the meal. When you find your at a positive three on the hunger scale, which if you're not familiar with their hunger scale, that's actually episode one of the podcast. It's so fundamental to what I teach. I made it the very first thing and it's still my most downloaded episode. I'll give you a brief overview here, but I would highly recommend you've listened to that one because getting back in touch with your hunger and fullness cues. We'll be instrumental to this skill of allowing yourself to waste food on the plate. So, if you think of your hunger scale, being on a continuum from negative 10 through zero to positive 10, you are the most hungry at negative 10 and the most full at positive 10. They are both equally uncomfortable. Negative 10 is not just a couple hours after breakfast. When you tell a coworker you're starving for lunch. Negative 10 is more like it's been an entire day without food. You aren't like weak with hunger. You're lightheaded. You have a lot of pain from hunger. Positive 10 is so full. You need to lay down in a dark room. Unbutton your pants. It's not fun. And you are also in a lot of pain. Zero is where you feel neutral. You aren't hungry. You don't feel any fullness from your last meal either you normally get to zero an hour or so after eating any want to get to the point where you are maintaining that zero hunger for a few hours before it starts to drop down in the negative sense. And again, listen to that episode one, but basically you want to start eating when you are at a negative three and stop eating when you are at a positive three. You want to feel physical signals of hunger at that negative three, but it's long before you are feeling lightheaded and desperate for food. You want to stop eating at just enough positive three isn't anywhere near what you might consider full. A good measure of positive three would be that you could get up from the table and take a brisk walk with your dog around the neighborhood for 10 to 15 minutes. I'm not saying you have to do that, but if you are too full to have the ability to do that, then that's beyond a positive three. So considering what a meal looks like eating from negative three to a positive three, and you sit down to a restaurant sized portion, you might get there with much less food than you are served. So back to that restaurant question, you sit down, they bring it out. Let's say you eat 20% of the meal. When you find you are a positive three on the hunger scale. Now you're faced with the wasting question. If you can't take it home, how do you feel about leaving it behind and quote wasting it? Really think about it. If it feels terrible, ask yourself why. What will happen? Do you believe wasting food is fundamentally bad. If you do, is that going to keep you from going to that restaurant where they consistently serve you too much food? Probably not if you like it, you'll likely keep going there. If you like the food. So instead your brain is like, well, we'll just eat it. Then we aren't wasting it. Do you see how problematic that is to our health and weight? I asked this before, but let me say this again. If you eat food that your body does not need for fuel. Isn't that wasteful. Are you wasting energy time, resources to then try to get that extra food off of your body. Okay. What about at home? So you're not at a restaurant anymore. I noticed that the trend right now with parents is to not insist that our children clean our plates, which is great, that they aren't growing up with that same expectation that I did, or many of my generation did, but then what happens is moms then come around and finish that last chicken nugget, the few bites of PB and J the drags of the Mac and cheese and the pan. Two problems here. Number one, if that's your whole lunch and you don't take the time to care for your own body, then that's an issue that we aren't even talking about today. But two, if you are doing this so that nothing is wasted. Ask yourself. Why? Why is it okay for your child to leave the food behind? But it's not okay for you too. You don't need to be the family garbage disposal. Your body is worth way more than that. Another scenario for at-home eating is probably the most common. And that's just at mealtime, you dished up too much. You feel like your body is at a positive three, that you've had enough, but you see more food on your plate and you feel bad wasting it. If you decide that you aren't going to overeat, you have two options here. First of course, is to stop eating and throw away the excess food. Second, you could wrap it up. Wait until you're hungry again. There is no problem with either option, but your brain will want to be a dramatic. All the thoughts that lead to overeating, like it tastes so good or I hardly ever get this. Then those start to come up. But when you answer those with no, have had enough, or if you've been practicing, battling some of these scarcity thoughts, you might just dismiss them as untrue. Like I hardly ever get. This is probably untrue. So then your lower brain will jump in with the wasting food thoughts to continue to try to get you to eat more. It's going to offer you thoughts. Like it's only a few more bites, just finish up. Or you might hear it. Won't be good. Left over. I should just eat it now. That's a really big one for my clients. It won't save good. The thing is when you are first practicing, eating, according to the hunger scale. You will waste food at home because you don't know exactly what your new portion sizes are going to be. You have to test them out. But wasting some food now. And for several days, when you are first working this out will lead to learning what works for you. You have to literally practice eating less. And sometimes that means you will accidentally dish up too much. It's fine though. When your brain offers you that thought it won't be good. Leftover, just agree and move on. That's correct. It won't be good leftover, and I don't want to store it on my body either. So next time I'll make less dish up less, whatever it needs to be. Use the wasting of food as a learning experience for next time. But also know that you will waste food, even when you think you have your portions dialed in because your hunger level. Isn't the same every day. And because sometimes you go to restaurants or dinner parties or events where you aren't in control of the portion sizes. Wasting food will always be a thing you will do. If you eat according to your hunger scale. Not every meal, maybe not even very often, but it will happen. And so it's something to learn that it is not a problem. People often cite the wastefulness as not about the food or about the starving children elsewhere, but about the money they spent their money on the food. And so they are wasting money to leave it behind. If this one is an issue for you. I'd like you to seriously spend the time to calculate some per serving costs. Keep your groceries receipt one week and do some calculations. There are plenty of free recipe costing calculators online. But I'll just tell you, I looked up some average costs and according to Forbes, The average cost over the 86 meals that they examined. was $4 and 31 cents per person. So just to give you a quick background, they examined 86 meals and they were actually costing these on what it would cost to go to a restaurant, what it would cost to use a meal kit at home and what it would cost to make it from scratch. So I'm just using that from scratch column. So meaning it costs $4 and 31 cents per person to cook your average meal at home. Obviously some meals were much cheaper. I think they're the cheapest meal on. There was like a dollar 69 for chicken tacos. And the most expensive thing was like steak. But we're just going to use this average. Okay. So let's say you wait three quarters of the year survey and decided you were full. So you would be throwing away a dollar and 7 cents. Is it worth a dollar to you to start practicing the skill of not overeating? I'm not saying a dollar doesn't add up. But would you give me a dollar to start some habits that will help you lose weight? Would you throw away a dollar. If it meant you slept better tonight because you weren't overly full. Would you give up a dollar to feel like you were in charge of the food rather than letting the amount on the plate. Being in charge of how much you are eating. It's really not that much. And it's not like you're going to do this every meal. The more you practice your new portions. The less, you will naturally dish up for yourself. And the more likely it is that you will not be throwing any away. The truth is in our large portion and portion distorted society, you will waste some food in order to stay at your natural weight. Really think about how this makes you feel. Is it worth it to you? Do you want to develop the skill of eating just to enough, regardless of how much food is left on the plate. Would you rather waste food in the garbage or on your body? I've asked a lot of questions in this episode, you may want to go back and write some of those down and really dig in to see how they make you feel. If you'd rather I've put together the biggest questions that I've asked you here as a PDF for you to download as a sort of guided journaling sheet, I've put that link in the show notes. If you'd like to do it that way. But as you practice this skill of letting it be okay to waste some food. You will mostly be learning that you are in charge of making your food decisions. You aren't letting a government campaign from the early 1900 war areas dictate the state of your plate. When you decide you are done eating, I'm telling you give up your membership to the clean plate club. Your body will. Thank you. hey, thanks for listening today. If you're ready to get some personalized coaching from me, I'd encourage you to schedule a free strategy session. Visit www.wellwithlisa.as.me or it's easier just to find that link in the show notes. We'll talk about where you currently are with your weight loss goals. And I'll give you some actionable tools. You can start implementing right away. Before you go, make sure you subscribe to the podcast so you can receive new episodes, right when they're released. And if you're learning something new and enjoying the podcast, I'd love for you to leave me a five star rating and a review. Thanks again for joining me, Lisa Salisbury in this episode of Eat Well, Think Well, Live Well.