Once upon a morning snack, a muffin was little. Whether homemade, from Betty's boxed mix or a bakery, you could nosh one without suffering...

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Once upon a morning snack, a muffin was little. Whether homemade, from Betty’s boxed mix or a bakery, you could nosh one without suffering hip augmentation. With less than 200 calories in a standard muffin (weighing about 2 ounces), it could slip into what you eat weekly without weighty repercussions. It seemed so harmless.

Today, things are a little different.

Harried, you skip breakfast, instead stopping at Starbucks for your venti vanilla nonfat latte and grabbing a blueberry muffin — hey, it’s trans-fat free! But at 5 ounces, each muffin packs 500 calories that you weren’t thinking about — perhaps a quarter of your day’s calorie allowance.

Or maybe to save money, you instead buy a dozen blueberry muffins from Costco and package them individually to eat midmorning at your desk. You might be saving some dough, but not calories. At nearly 6 ounces, they’re each a sobering 612 calories — equivalent to at least three “standard” muffins from the 1980s. In contrast, the maligned McDonald’s Egg McMuffin — also trans-fat free — has only half that, at 300 calories.

Nowadays, virtually every mass-market morning treat, including the formerly less sugary bagel, is no longer tiny or calorically innocent. Muffins have morphed into sweet cupcakes the size of Beverly Hills implants — packing in two to four times the calories as before. At 500-plus calories (typical of a coffee-shop muffin), three a week could pad you with an extra 22-plus pounds in a year.

Even if you’re making smart choices the rest of the day — say, a reasonable salad with a drizzle of vinaigrette at lunch, broiled fish and veggies for dinner — a regular morning treat can sabotage you before you’ve booted up your computer. For a deskbound middle-age woman who needs less than 1,600 calories a day to not tip the scales higher, even a single blueberry muffin per week could pack her sweatpants with about 7 pounds this year, unless she steps up the exercise.

OK, maybe muffins aren’t your Waterloo. Perhaps you buy bagels, thinking they’re much better for you. But likewise, bagels have ballooned from 1 ½ or 2 ounces, or smaller than your palm, to up to 6 ounces, closer to the size of saucers, rivaling the oversized muffins in calories.

Muffins and bagels are just two examples of how super-size portions can aid and abet two-thirds of our nation in becoming overweight or obese. Statistics rat us out. The federal government says from 1971 to 2000, the latest data available, women went from eating an average of 1,541 calories to 1,877 calories (up 336 calories), and men from 2,450 to 2,618 (up 168). No doubt the calories have climbed even higher in the past seven years.

When dining out, the bigger plates we eat from also seduce us into eating more. In a 2004 study at Penn State University, the size of a cafeteria entree was upped from a standard portion (almost 9 ounces) to a large portion (about 13 ½ ounces, half again as big) without changing the price. Those who purchased the larger portion ate almost half again as much. Yet both dining groups rated the size of their portions as appropriate to what they usually ate. If more is on your plate, you will eat more.

In spite of the expansion of plates and portions, the bottom line in becoming overweight or obese has never changed: too many calories, not enough exercise.

One day, three or more jeans sizes later, we look in the mirror and wonder what happened.

Wasn’t that go-with-my-coffee treat just a muffin?

With some food companies’ hoopla about their products being made trans-fat free, you might think they’re more healthful, even “lighter.”

But trans-fat free doesn’t mean fat-free; the offending trans fats have simply been replaced by another form of fat. And all fats contain the same amount of calories: 9 calories per gram of fat, or about 250 calories per ounce.