Friday, February 11, 2000

Eat less, weigh more

News flash: In a startling discovery, medical researchers have determined that the large portions people are eating these days are contributing to the rise in obesity. That's right: Too much food can make you fat. Who knew? It's groundbreaking findings like these that remind us time and again that medical researchers have way more money than they know what to do with.

Not resting with merely revealing the amazing connection between overeating and weight gain, researchers have further discovered that if parents serve bigger portions to their children, the children will eat more. Just imagine! Lest you think that this study lacked some sort of scientific rigor, it should be pointed out that, to test their conclusions, the researchers tried serving the children smaller portions. And, sure enough--they ate less!

Normally, I would file information such as this in the "Duh!" file along with recent health headlines like "Study Finds Heavy Drinking and Standing Don't Mix" and "Antisocial Behavior by Boys Often Rewarded by Peers." But then I look at my family, and I wonder if the researchers might have missed a step somewhere. The part about big portions making big eaters is certainly true, but somewhere along the lines of the weight gain we screw up somehow. At our house, regardless of who eats the calories, the weight gets gained by Mama.

Here in our little nutritional Bermuda Triangle, my son, who eats approximately his own weight in food every day (not counting the part he drops on the floor, wipes on his clothes, or gets in his hair), seems constitutionally unable to get fat. He gobbles down his large portions and yells for more, but obesity doesn't look to be in his future. The kid can't hardly keep his pants up--he's built like a pipe cleaner.

My daughter gets a more moderate portion of food at dinnertime, though she'd say it's a large portion and her papa would call it a small one. The researchers reported that kids under 5 were more likely to ignore the amount of food in front of them and just eat what they wanted, while kids over 5 felt pressure to clean the plate--but this 9-year-old would happily make a dinner of three bites of meat, a few spoonfuls of rice, and a vegetable molecule, all washed down by several gallons of juice.

She eats a full meal, all right, but only because Papa won't let her up from the table until she eats what he wants. The researchers "suggest that parents allow children to determine how much they eat and not command them to eat everything on their plate." The researchers are clearly not Italian. In my husband's family, leaving something on the plate does not mean that you are being nutritionally responsible and trying to fend off future obesity; it means that you didn't like the food and are disrespecting the cook.

So my daughter fusses, but she eats. And she stays slender. My husband eats, but he stays slim. My son eats, but he stays skinny. I eat, and I gain 10 pounds.

I take small portions, I stop when I'm full, I leave food on the plate. And yet it seems clear that I am destined to be the Designated Weight-Gainer for this family. Sometimes that involves a deliberate act--say, eating all the kids' Halloween candy so they won't ingest all those big bad calories--and sometimes it just seems to happen in some sort of cosmic fat-transfer. Hey, I can take it. But next time those researchers have some money to burn, perhaps they'd like to stop by.

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