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Portions Can Be a Problem

Posted Jul 01 2009 6:38pm
As we go throughout our life, our caloric needs change and evolve. Teenagers have the highest caloric requirement, and as we age, our calorie requirements diminish slightly. In adults, caloric needs differ based on height, weight, age and activity level. When I began losing weight I knew that I didn’t want to rely solely on counting calories as a way to lose weight, because I didn’t think I would be able to sustain that long term. So instead of counting calories, I decided to focus on percentage of fat in foods, regular exercise and portion control.

In my fat world, I was a lover of big portions. The bigger the cinnamon roll the better. A small cereal bowl wasn’t big enough to hold the proper portion of ice cream for me. No, I’d fill up a small serving bowl, and then fill it again! Or sometimes, I’d eat right from the container. At restaurants, I chose my entree’ based on the amount of food, and when at home, I always held back a little more, just for me. Yes, portions were a problem for me. It turns out I wasn’t alone. Many people struggle with portion sizes, and the desire to eat more of a particular food than they know they should.

It is hard to control our portions in our super-sized world. America loves BIG. We like big cars, big movies, big promotions, big money. What we don’t love is big people. I reached the point where I didn’t want to be a big person anymore, and to achieve my objective I had to get my portion sizes under control. It wasn’t easy to go from eating from the container of Breyer’s ice cream to having a small custard cup with a few spoonfuls. I struggled with my desire to eat the whole box of cheese crackers, rather than just a small handful. I still wanted the 1-lb yellow bag of peanut M&M’s, but knew that eating that much chocolate in one day wouldn’t really help me lose weight. 


What would help me was to change from desiring big portions, to feeling satisfaction with smaller amounts of foods. The change in my attitude didn’t come all at one time. I started out by measuring out the proper portions of almost every food I ate, trying to train my eye and my brain on the “right” amount of food. For 10 years I had come to expect that pasta should fill the plate, bread should come in fours, and cracker boxes were all fod me. The first time I measured pasta and saw that the proper portion was only as big as my fist I was shocked. No wonder I weighed 300 pounds. I was easily eating four to five portions at a time, and that was just for pasta! Time after time I experienced amazement and disappointment over how much food I could actually have.

Over time, however, I trained my eye and my stomach to accept proper sized portions, and I lost weight. I estimated that when I was obese I was probably consuming between 3000 to 4000 calories per day. Cutting my portions in a healthy way brought the calorie count down drastically, probably in the 1500 – 1800 range. Was the adjustment period hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Being accustomed to large portions is part of life today. Everywhere we turn we find inappropriately sized portions. Here are some things to help you get started down the right portion path.

  1. Learn what a proper portion looks like. Take the Portion Distortion Quiz  from the National Institute of Health.
  2. Commit to measuring your food for a period of time. It took me about two weeks to “get the hang” of how much of a certain food I should be eating.
  3. Try using a smaller plate at home. This often will help your eye tell your brain, “full plate = full tummy.”
  4. When at a restaurant, turn down the buffet line and order off the menu.
  5. Make sure you are getting enough protein and fiber, both which help you feel full.
  6. Never value size a fast food meal. Ever.
  7. Drink water before meals, to give your brain and your stomach a chance to meet each other halfway.

I think if you will consciously think of your choices and the size of those choices you will begin to see where your portion problems lie. I found I didn’t have problems with vegetable portions, but a big problem with almost everything else. This week, as the holiday approaches, start practicing portion control so that when you are at the big 4th of July party with family and friends you can make wise choices.  Diane

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