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One Small Change

Is Your Car Making You Fat?

Joe Kita

This month began innocently enough with me downsizing my dinnerware from 12- to 10-inch plates. I had so much success with that one small change, I tried shrinking my silverware next, which also worked great. I was eating less without noticing it, and I had lost 3 pounds without any other dietary adjustments.

So last week I bought a Ford F-150 Super Crew pickup and while rolling through a fast-food drive-thru noticed I have enough room in the thing to host Thanksgiving. It has six enormous cup-holders, a large center console that can double as a table, and enough dashboard space to lay out an entire buffet. The truck is actually bigger than my dining room, and it provides more eating space than trendy New York restaurants.

All of which got me thinking about whether our cars might be making us fat. Everyone assumes that vehicle size has increased over the years in response to the increasing size of Americans, but what if big cars are the cause rather than the result of the tires around our guts? What if big cars subconsciously encourage drive-thru dining and super-sizing?

Amanda Carlson-Phillips, MS, RD, CSSD, the director of performance nutrition and research for Athletes’ Performance, thinks I may be on to something. “My mom has an older BMW, and there aren’t even any cup holders in there,” she says. “I suppose if you’re in a smaller car and there isn’t a lot of space, you’d have to think before eating in it. And that gets to the heart of the obesity issue: People forget to think about the food they’re putting in their bodies. Whether it’s a small plate or a small car or the lack of a cup holder, if it causes you to think before you eat that’s a positive thing.”

To test my theory, I called Bill Bessman, a retired New York City firefighter who, despite his 6-foot 5-inch frame, drives the smallest vehicle on America’s roadways: the Smart Car. I promised him a free lunch if he’d agree to ferry me through some fast-food drive-thrus and let me eat in his morsel of a vehicle.

Bill owns a flashbulb yellow, 2008 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet, which takes up just slightly more space in his garage than a refrigerator. He’s also president of the local Smart Alecs Car Club, which convoys to restaurants and events on weekends. “It was between this and a Porsche Boxster,” he says, “but this has turned out to be far more fun.” Indeed, I now know what the Rose Bowl Queen feels like on New Year’s Day. Everyone was pointing and waving at us as we motored by, and we had no choice but to smile and wave back. Never having been in a Smart Car before, I was instantly impressed by how roomy it was. This felt nothing like United coach.

The Smart Car also rides surprisingly high, so when we pulled up to the drive-thru at Wendy’s, we didn’t have to speak up or reach up for our order. Naturally, I got the biggest item on the menu—the Baconator Triple (3 hamburgers, 3 cheese slices, 9 bacon strips). It has more grams of fat (91) than the Smart Car has horsepower (70) and is nearly as large as its headlight.

Next we went to McDonalds and ordered a Big ’N Tasty Extra Value Meal, super-sized to include a large fry and cola. Then Bill and I parked in half a shady space and proceeded to feast. Or at least we tried to.

The Smart Car’s dual cup holders, mounted on the floor between the seats, are awkward to reach and can only really accommodate one large drink. Since the glove-compartment door is too paltry and there’s no center console, we used the dash and our laps as tables. Although we were able to make it work, it certainly wasn’t as conducive to chowing as my F-150, and it would have been even more challenging (and dangerous) if we were driving in traffic.

Although Bill says he hasn’t lost any weight during the 2 years and 5,000 miles he’s owned the car, he drives it only occasionally. If it was my regular commuter, I wonder if the daily experience would not only reduce my drive-thru dining but also gradually downshift my broader thinking. Big is the American way, in cars, in food, and in just about everything. Perhaps downsizing one might be the catalyst we need for downsizing all the others.

Remember, you read about it here first: The Smart Car Diet…

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Health, Eating Out, Weight Loss, Calories, Fat, Food