Eating as an art of living instead of XL portions

Experts advise enjoyment in company, reflection and slow eating - enormous need for research on portion sizes

23-May-2023 - Vienna, AT

According to the WHO, the OECD and the McKinsey Global Institute, adjusting portion sizes is the measure with the highest impact and best cost-effectiveness in the fight against overweight and obesity. "Reducing portion sizes has positive sustainability and health effects - namely less food waste and lower risk of overweight and obesity - contributing to food system transformation. However, portion sizes are not yet an issue in public health strategies. Here, fiscal measures, bans, recipe changes, and expanded labeling models dominate the discourse. For societal change, we also need comprehensive nutrition and consumer education that teaches the necessary skills and ensures that we pay more attention to the cultural setting and food," said Marlies Gruber, executive director of forum. ernährung heute (, at the " im Dialog" on the topic of "Portion Size Matters: Let's talk about portion sizes" on May 16, 2023. At the event, experts highlighted the development of portion sizes, the advantages and disadvantages of the "portion size effect," sensory factors influencing the feeling of satiety, and a sustainable approach to food. The discussants saw a need for further research in the area of gastronomy as well as portion sizes in kindergarten and school.

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If there is less on the plate, less is eaten and also thrown away. But over the years, portion sizes of packaged foods and out-of-home consumption have increased continuously. This has a significant impact on calorie intake and the high prevalence of overweight and obesity. This phenomenon is described by the portion size effect. It is one of several factors in the development of overweight and obesity, which have negative consequences for the economic and health care systems, as Manuel Schätzer of SIPCAN makes clear. This is because overweight individuals use health services more often, receive twice as many prescriptions for medications, and above a BMI of 40 - severe obesity - they have three times as many sick days as workers of normal weight. The consequences of obesity are reflected in Austria's GDP with a minus of 2.5%. This could worsen further, as the global prevalence of obesity has tripled since 1975 and the OECD estimates that an average of 8.4% of national health budgets will have to be spent on the consequences of obesity over the next 30 years. Currently, 51.1% of people in Austria are overweight or obese.

Giving food more importance

Christoph Klotter of Fulda University of Applied Sciences sees a major problem in delegating responsibility, for example when advertising or portion sizes are held responsible for one's own eating behavior. He appeals not to blame the catering industry or industry, but to understand why people want large portions. This is due to the unconsciously omnipresent fear of starvation and the evolutionary programming to eat more when enough is available. In an affluent society, however, adequate portions are to be created on the basis of nutritional literacy and pleasurable self-regulation. Klotter's credo is therefore: understand food again as an elementary part of life and adapt time management, prepare and consume food together, and celebrate pleasure again as an art of living.

Klaus Dürrschmid from BOKU Vienna also emphasizes that "eating slowly makes you happy more quickly", because it takes about 15 minutes for the subjective feeling of fullness to develop. If you eat quickly during this time, you are more likely to overeat. Eating slowly, on the other hand, creates a more pleasant feeling of being full. Dürrschmid recommends placing cutlery on the plate between bites, eating without distraction, paying attention to the feeling of fullness, eating more foods that have different textures and greater sensory complexity, and chewing at least 15 times. Satedness is contributed not only by the speed of eating, but also by hedonic satisfaction and the expected amount of calories. Accordingly, foods that have a lot of volume and look energy dense (but are not) still make you feel full.

What is a portion?

Elisabeth Sperr, a research associate at, outlines the question of how large the portions mentioned in dietary recommendations should be, especially when considering different energy needs in terms of gender, age, body weight and activity level. While grams are suitable in theory and with scales, one's own hand can always serve as a guide: For example, a handful equals one serving of large-sized fruit, the size of the palm equals one serving of bread or meat, the index finger equals one serving of cheese, and half a fist equals one serving of ice cream.

Education avoids food waste

Portion and package sizes have an impact not only on health, but also on food waste generation, emphasizes Gudrun Obersteiner of BOKU Vienna. She distinguishes avoidable food waste, which is generated by storing edible food for too long or throwing it away, from the unavoidable, such as melon peels. According to EU estimates, more than half of the avoidable food waste is generated in the household, the rest is divided between production, out-of-home consumption, primary production and trade. Across the EU, this generates 88 million tons per year, worth around 143 billion euros. This corresponds to 186 million tons of CO2 equivalents. In mass catering, Obersteiner recommends adjusting delivery units, reducing portion sizes and menu lines, and providing appropriate nutrition and consumer education in schools. She also points to the benefits of complex and small-unit packaging that extend the life of food, contributing to greater sustainability.

In the discussion that followed, Johanna Brix (Austrian Obesity Society), Elisabeth Buchinger (Sensorikum), Petra Burger (Coca-Cola Austria) and Petra Lehner (AK Vienna) spoke in favor of a cultural change. Instead of asking children to empty their plates completely, they should increasingly be taught to listen to themselves when they are full, because children can usually intuitively choose the right portion themselves. There was also criticism of consumer expectations, because this tends to lead to larger, lavish meals and buffets, which fuels food waste and overeating. When it comes to packaged meals, we again tend to choose the middle and go for the L-pack instead of the M-pack when an XL-pack is also offered. However, the EU Commission has yet to issue guidelines for the correct classification of portion sizes on food packaging as part of the LMIV (Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011). Until then, manufacturers will base the voluntary nutritional information per portion on recommended or usual consumption quantities, such as 250 ml for beverages.

Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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