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Portion Control for Control Freaks

Posted Feb 23 2010 7:06pm

Eating with me can be a surreal experience, for so many reasons. My friends, in a testament to their generous ability to overlook my flaws, put up with a great deal from me with nary a comment. But a few days ago I was reminded of my, er, quirks when I had a friend over for lunch. "It's like we're having a tea party with our dolls! Fun!" she exclaimed cheerily. "But do you think I could at least have a real spoon?"

See, we were Ladies Who Lunch... on 6" salad plates, 1/2-cup bowls and, yes, chunky neon plastic baby spoons. The only thing of adult size were our water glasses, the last two of a set of cut-crystal glasses I got for my wedding ten years ago. While I can totally blame the latter on my kidlets - I will echo a hundred generations of parents in exclaiming, "We can't have anything nice with you kids!!!" - the former was all my fault.

Portion control is my downfall. There are some, like Skinnygirl Bethenny Frankel, who swear by the "take 3 delicious bites of whatever you want and then leave the rest" mentality. In her book Naturally Thin, she describes meals where she ate something like "3 bites of a Charleston Chew in the car, 6 mini pretzels, 1 triangle of watermelon and 2 bites of lasagna off a friend's plate." That, to me, is not a meal. I simply cannot take just three bites of something - especially if it is delicious! One decadent truffle is an appetizer course for the whole box. So several years ago in an effort to rein in this impulse, I came across a diet tip that said to shrink your waistline by shrinking your dinnerware. I'm pretty sure they just meant downgrading your dinner plates from the 12" restaurant standard to a more reasonable size but I took that to heart. Plus it was easy to do as we already had tot-sized dishes to go with the tot-sized humans quickly overtaking our house.

Which is how I came to be entertaining my adult guest tea-party style. All we needed was our Cabbage Patch dolls and it would have been 2nd grade heaven all over again. In my defense, I do own exactly four normal sized plates and a drawer of perfectly normal silverware, I just forgot to put them out. Because I never use them. I'll admit it: it makes me feel safe to eat my quinoa on a teeny tiny plastic plate. It's awfully hard to OD on non-dairy sorbet* when you are eating it out of a doll bowl with a spoon designed for people who often miss their mouth. Sadly what's quirky now - "Oh look, Charlotte forgot to put out real dishes! Poor sleep-deprived girl!" - is going to look mental patient in a few years when my kids are all eating off of adult dishes and I'm airplaning the peas into my own mouth.

These days, as I have reverted to food journalling (note: I switched from the cumbersome FitDay to the much more user-friendly SparkPeople), portion control has become even more important to me. So I took notice when Personal Trainer Lindsey (she of the most-hated barf weight circuits) posted about the difference between weighing your food and merely measuring it. Using her food scale, she points out that a 270-calorie breakfast she measured out actually rang it at 363 calories when she weighed the portions. As she points out, 100 calories might not be a huge deal at one meal but make that same mistake for 3 meals and 2 snacks every day and you're looking a big reason why you aren't losing the weight you think you should be. One of the tips she always suggests to her clients that have plateaued is to start weighing their food instead of measuring it.

Now I will be the first to admit that eating with baby spoons and weighing every bite that goes into your mouth may be bordering on obsessive unhealthy territory. I walk that line (may be straddling it these days) but in a culture that is as supersized as ours it can be hard to remember that a serving of most cereals is 3/4 cup - just barely enough to dust the bottom of most "cereal bowls." The FDA is even considering requiring companies to alter their food labels to reflect a true portion size of what people eat rather than the strange manufactured serving sizes on many packages today (i.e. one serving of a candybar is half the bar - as if anyone except Bethenny Frankel eats just half of a candy bar.) So measuring out your food for a set period of time - say for one week every couple of months - can be a good reality check.

Any of you have good tips for portion control? Can you eat just 3 bites of a decadent food and then walk away? Anyone want to come over for lunch now?

*Non-dairy sorbet was the best I could find. Upon all of your recommendations I have been scouring the Twin Cities for Coconut Bliss or the So Delicious Coconut ice cream but to no avail. I even drove the 30 minutes to Trader Joe's tonight and still no luck. My kids all had an ice-cream sandwich for dessert tonight. Me? I ate five dried figs. Sigh.
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