That is not an exaggeration.
I was talking, this weekend, to some family members about how clutch portion size is to successful weight loss — and to breaking the trend of disordered eating that holds so many of us captive.
We live in a culture where food is a reward for the good, seemingly a requirement (in large quantities) for the strong, something to both rail against and then unhealthily over-indulge in (women and the media-body crisis, and then the excuses we make to ourselves as to why a pint of ice cream is ok after a breakup or why we need four gin and tonics on a weekend night) — everything ABOUT our American relationship with food is wrong, and a lot of the wrongness stems from portion size.
“Big strong men” only need an excess of calories, whether meat-based or otherwise, if they’re working out and expending those calories.
We don’t specifically “deserve” calorie laden treats — have you ever wondered why we even think of food as a reward or it’s denial as a punishment?
When we have a “girls’ night” that involves gorging ourselves on brownies and ice cream, we continue to re-associate food with “feeling good.”
These are patterns I’m trying to break.
Admittedly, I used to be TERRIBLE with portions.
“A half-cup of cereal CERTAINLY couldn’t be enough. One packet of oatmeal?! A breakfast for INFANTS, not ME. I need more mashed potatoes, a bigger piece of chicken, and probably more salad too because, you know, I’m eating healthy.”
I was that person.
Then, I got a kitchen scale.
And man, does it EVER feel like a mental slap in the head when you start paying attention and doing the work and you realize just how broken your brain is when it comes to something as simple as reasonable food intake.
I got my little Weight Watchers scale and I started measuring my snacks, like pretzels and popcorn. Needless to say, what I THOUGHT was a reasonable serving and what actually IS a serving didn’t match — and all those times I had “guesstimated” points had really shot me in the foot.
After I got my snacking under control I started measuring the food that previously I had refused to question: my main meals. Some part of my brain had always been saying, “You’re not snacking as much — you NEED this food at dinner” or lunch or whatever. And so I had been afraid to question it — I needed that size of dinner, didn’t I? I needed that much soup, that much chicken. I needed it or I would feel weak or go hungry.
Well, news flash: the truth is, as a middle-class person in a First World country, I’m never going to truly go hungry. And nobody ever died between lunch and dinner, or from not eating til the point of stuffed-ness.
So I started by reading the nutrition labels on our side dishes.
Turns out, we were eating quite a bit of mashed potatoes, damnit. These days we don’t eat them at all – but that was before my “Cooking Enlightenment” during the summer of 2013.
So I tried cutting back my sides portions and adding more vegetables.
It would take another year before I was willing to admit that pan-frying my veggies in Wegman’s basting oil (several tablespoons of it) might need re-evaluation, too.
The last horizon: my protein intake.
I remember my shock, awe and horror the day I realized we were each eating about ten points of chicken per person per dinner. I thought we were eating 4 — WW says a chicken breast is 4 points, right? Well, it’s 4 points for 4 ounces. And there are certainly 4 oz chicken breasts out there. I just hadn’t been eating them.
When I weighed my food, suddenly I saw just how far the buck spread, when it came to eating and feeling satisfied.
Pretzels, at 3 points a serving, NEVER made me truly feel full.
Kale chips, at 0-1 PP a serving, satisfy the crunch craving and make me feel plenty sated.
Fast food, at horrifying PP values, always leaves me wanting more.
Greek yogurt, flax seed and snap peas for lunch: I am content.
Gone are the heaping tablespoons of peanut butter, the ignored quantity of butter on a piece of toast, the “handfuls” here and there of pretzels, jelly beans, chips.
Turns out, I never died from not having a snack. And turns out, I can do a Crossfit WOD or run a few miles without being weak, even without eating that afternoon Clif Bar (7PP) that I was so convinced I needed for “energy.”
The list goes on.
I owe these realizations to my scale and my measuring cups for showing me how unreasonable and how mindless what I was doing really was. I also owe it to myself, for being able to admit that I was wrong.
I mean, I just was, guys. I was wrong.
I had so many flat-out WRONG notions in my head about how much was enough, about how much I needed, about how much I would need on workout days compared to non-workout days, about how much would make me feel full.
And then I learned: Oh, a half-cup of breakfast cereal doesn’t make you feel full? Instead of doubling the portion, FIND ANOTHER BREAKFAST. Here I stand, with my smoothies, almonds and berries, happier than ever.
Here’s the other honest thing, though: It was not easy and it was not fun. It was not a good feeling to stare holes in the pretzel jar, or to have a rumbly tummy a half hour after lunch on the days I stopped eating a fast food sandwich WITH my “healthy lunch.” It was not easy to go out to a restaurant at the end of a long week, and see wings on the menu, and order…. SALAD. It wasn’t easy.
But it got easier. I sat with that hunger and I wondered why it was there. Often, it was boredom. Often, it was habit. Rarely was I ever actually under-fed. Rarely did I get light-headed. When I did, I ate something.
I started taking vitamins, making sure I got my Omega-3’s, making sure I ate my greens.
And you know what? I stopped being so goddamn hungry.
I guess the bottom line here is two-fold:
1. Use a scale. Measure your portions. At first, you might be disappointed, but you’ll find better foods that pack a bigger punch to sub-in. And if in the meantime you are hungry…
2. Don’t be afraid to be a little hungry. Your body needs time to adjust to new portion sizes, new foods, and new hobbies. You wouldn’t change your sleep habits or workout habits or anything else without expecting bodily resistance, right? But you would at the same time eventually expect to acclimate, right? This is no different. The hungry-belly feelings will go away.
And so will those pounds. And so will all the myths you believed that helped you gain those pounds.
You’ll be happier, I promise.
Start weighing-in more than just your body — and see just how insanely gratifying the results will be, once you get on the other side of those initial rumbly-tums.