Extremely indulgent eating over the Fourth of July weekend was enjoyable, I’ll admit. But it could not have been good for my body to ingest the quantity of brats, burgers, homemade ice cream, brownies, potato salad, corn on the cob, cheesy potatoes, and so on, that I did.

Taco Bell advertises the “fourth meal,” but that daily threshold was passed easily over the holiday weekend. Of course, there were some fruits and vegetables consumed from the vegetable tray and the bowl of fruit salad. But the overall fresh produce effect was minimal compared to the heavy, calorie dense food heaped on my plate.

It is just too darn easy to overeat, and way too many Americans have their hand in the cookie jar. We don’t even put back the lid because we are headed right back to that cookie jar until all that is left is a few crumbs.

One study, published online at www.plosmedicine.org, describes what has happened to us.

From the editor’s summary:

These findings indicate that, although the energy density of food and drink, portion size, and the number of meals and snacks per day have all contributed to changes in the average daily total energy intake of US adults over the past 30 years, increases in the number of eating occasions and in portion size have accounted for most of the change. The accuracy of these findings may be affected by the use of self-reporting in the food surveys (people tend to underestimate the calorie content of ‘‘junk’’ food) and by the mathematical formula used to assess the relative contribution of each component of daily energy intake. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that efforts to prevent obesity among US adults (and among adults in other developed countries) should focus on reducing the number of meals and snacks people consume during the day as a way to reduce the energy imbalance caused by recent increases in energy intake.

 

This and a dozen other of studies tell us why we are going astray and how we might just stop careening toward premature disease and death.

I’ve heard of bloggers who take a picture of everything they eat. Surely that documentation technique would at least slow a person down; I’m tempted to try it. (Be ready, twitter followers!)

Happily for the industry, an oft-mentioned solution for we consumers involves fruits and vegetables.

One story, published last August, sounds a prophetic note about the “half the plate” theme.

"Go with plants," the researchers advise. "Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest. Choose plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, like olive and canola oil."

Change may not come overnight, as some habits die hard. But Gavin offers a tip for both controlling portions and eating healthier, something she calls the divided plate.

"Think of your plate divided in four equal sections," Gavin said. "Half the plate is for fruits and/or vegetables, one quarter is for protein foods, the remaining quarter of the plate is for starchy foods."

Now that MyPlate is here, it is time for the industry to help consumers say no to the “fourth meal” and the all-you-can-eat-buffet. Say yes to a half a plate of fruits and vegetables, with just enough room for a brat and a dish of homemade ice cream, if you don't mind.