Lure of the 16-inch plate

I noticed a few things while vacationing in the Mayan Riviera a few weeks ago.

First, without inked family likenesses, angel parts or apocalyptic landscapes covering my body, I felt somewhat naked. Thigh tattoos referencing Dante’s Inferno were big.

Second, it seems consumption levels straight out of Sodom and Gomorrah (intended to relieve the drudgery of daily temperance), may not be the exception. Nay, based on the weight and scale of plates passing our poolside buffet, I’m guessing epic carb loading may be the norm!

So, what can an endless, all-inclusive buffet teach us about moderation?

The trendy 16-inch dinner plate.

Our swanky a la carte restaurant with menus printed in two languages — Spanish and not-so-Spanish — served a strawberry and a seed on a 16-inch sphere of modern contemporary design. A red dot in a sea of white. Breathtaking … do you have any buns?

In the buffet line (sans menus) this same platter became an effective transport vessel, stretching Laplace’s law of surface tension. Arranging food in a mound that’s as high as it is wide is a skill … perhaps not a marketable skill but a skill all the same.

Oversized plates play tricks on your mind. Like the hoarder looking to plug every possible gap with kitsch, we’ve been taught to fill our plates by a generation who lived through world war. “Eat now because you don’t know when your next meal will come.” (Yes, I do – in about four hours or after the next Costco run.)

So, the choices are simple. Buy smaller plates or define the width and amplitude of your food land mass with a protected, defendable border. Constructing a small island in the middle of your plate but piling it high like Mount Fuji doesn’t count!

As my web designer once said, respect white space, your eyes need the break (and so does your belly).

The taste test.

Overheard at dinner: “How’s the chicken?” “Ah, kinda dry, not the best.”

Then why are you eating it?!

Just because it’s on your plate doesn’t mean it needs to be in your belly.

Yes, I recognize there are highly sensitive, political situations involving relatives that require you to eat the dry chicken being served with a big smiley face. “Yes, I would love a second piece.” But this isn’t one of those times.

Sample a variety of options but choose only the best — in limited quantities so you don’t waste food or overfill your tanks.

Dreaded seconds.

After balancing a scientifically improbable mound of fried food and noodles, you’re going back for seconds?! What, you’re still hungry? Did you just run the Ironman?

Enjoy a reasonable amount of food on a nine-inch plate and then pause. If your food hasn’t hit bottom, your stomach may not have sent the “full” signal to your brain — or you’ve simply turned it off.

If you keep it to one serving, you won’t have to use those auxiliary buffet holes on your belt. Better yet, start with salad to fill the gap and then pause.

Unless you’re a true grazer who can farm the buffet for hours, the euphoria of limitless shrimp lasts less than an hour. Living with discomfort and guilt, much longer.

Don’t drink your dinner … before you eat your dinner.

Watch the liquids! Sugary sodas and ice cream drinks pack as many calories as a meal. Alcohol drops your guard, encouraging you to eat way more than you had planned. On top of three pina coladas, a margarita and some brown stuff with a worm in the bottom (oh well, protein), you’ve actually eaten two meals – not one.

Life is a budget — not a buffet.

Sure, unlimited buffets are fun once or twice a year. It’s regular visits to the trough that gets you in trouble. Your stomach stretches, your calorie expectations elevate and your demand for salt and sugar go off the rails.

For many, simply eating out less can reap surprising health benefits. Start by eating at home every meal with one eat-out or takeout treat per week. Order off the menu, skip the buffet and hang up your favourite stretchy pants.

Know your limit, eat within it.

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