Weight Management: Portion Control--Less In, Part 1

The weight management and fitness principles of Reasonable Fitness call for a balance between Calories (potential energy that can be used for activity or--if overly taken in--converted to fat) consumed and Calories expended. One of the promises of Reasonable Fitness is that you can go on living as you like, with minimal changes.

With that in mind, we start with what might be the easiest practice of the approach. Or it might be the hardest! I'm just not sure which it is. The first practice we'll explore to reduce the amount of Calories in is portion control.

It is the easiest because it does not ask you to change one thing in your diet. Portion control allows you to go on eating whatever you want, whatever you are accustomed to eating. That's the easy part!

The hard part, though... is very hard. Depending on what you are accustomed to eating, you might have to make DRASTIC changes to the amount you eat.

The truth is, whatever it is you have been eating all these years have lead you to the physical state you are in. If you keep on doing what you have always done, the results will not change. You will either stay at the weight and fitness level you are in currently, or worse, continue to gain weight and decline otherwise.

If you want to keep eating exactly the same foods--which is fine in some cases--you will have to adjust the amount you eat. In the next section, we'll explore changing what you eat, and some of that combined with some portion control can create a very acceptable lifestyle that still includes the fun foods you love to eat. But in this section, we will talk about keeping in the good foods we are in the habit of eating and how we can do that and still be successful at our health and fitness goals.

Once you have determined how many Calories you can take in each day, your aim is to stay under that amount. The further you stay under, the faster you will lose weight.  Remember, it only takes coming up short by 200 Calories a day to lose over a pound a month!

Little changes add up. If you are accustomed to eating four or five tacos and a soda for lunch, then cutting back by one taco will be a reduction of at least 200 Calories.

It is important to note that this logic assumes you were NOT gaining weight, or were gaining very slowly following your existing habits.  Whether you were or not, however, does not matter if you are counting up from zero to your allowed max--which is what you are actually going to do.

The taco illustration was meant to illustrate how small changes can add up. Simply by eating less of the same foods, you are taking in less. Bottom line.

Now, here's the hard part: eating less feels like you are not getting what you want. If you usually get the 20 ounce steak, then getting the 12 ounce seems like you are missing out.

Your stomach (the internal organ) stretches adaptively to accommodate eating habits. Getting it to be happy with less intake is not easy. I know I struggled for at least a month if not longer to get my cravings and my intake in balance.  Fortunately, I found some good substitution foods that worked for me (see next section).

However, portion control is a must, if we want to keep having the foods we want to have! I love burgers and fries. And pizza. And spaghetti. How can I keep eating them (probably way too often) and still manage my weight?

The answer is in portion. Getting the "kid size" fries knocks a couple hundred Calories off the meal. Going for the "kid size" burger knocks off a couple hundred more!  I remember back when I was a kid McDonald's® only had the one size burger. It wasn't a "kid size" then. When I worked at McDonald's in the late 70s and early 80s, we had only 2 sizes of fries--regular and large.

My point is that you can still have a burger and fries. Drop from a 1/2 pound double to a quarter pound single and you drop 250 Calories. Leave off the bacon and you drop another 200.

Controlling the portion size of food taken in
is one vital practice of Reasonable Fitness
Cut the 20 ounce steak in half and take some home for the next day.  Better yet, half the 12 ounce steak! Look at the menu--for about the same price as the 20 ounce whatever, you can get a 6 or 8 ounce filet--a much more choice cut of meat that will taste amazing!

But, you say, how can I be satisfied with the 8 ounce filet or the "kiddie" size fries?

There are some tips and tricks I have learned for stretching your smaller portions into a satisfying meal experience. I apply these practices on a regular basis, and I assure you, they are effective.
  1. Smaller bites. No, really. If you take bites that are 1/2 as big, then your 8 ounce steak will have as many bites as a 16 ounce steak! Make the candy bar last by taking little bites. See how long you can nibble away!  Eat M&Ms ONE AT A TIME! Psychologically, this will help your body realize it is being fed and that it should become satisfied.

  2. Chew more. Chewing is good, to begin with, but it also adds time to your meal. Chew and enjoy the food. This, too, signals to your body that it should be satisfied. By the way, if you chew too much, you will know it--just saying! But definitely chew more!

  3. One bite at a time. Load the fork/spoon, put it in your mouth and enjoy it! Put the utensil down between EVERY bite, and don't pick it back up until you have chewed well (see rule 2) and swallowed.  Hold on for this--eat ONE FRENCH FRY at a time. Don't shove four or five in your mouth all at once.  In fact, bite the fries in half, chew, and swallow! You will be AMAZED at how much more you will be fulfilled by doing this.

  4. Get a smaller plate. Pick the smallest plate that is reasonable and available. A full plate will tell your eyes to tell your stomach you have a lot coming!

  5. Don't eat while you are doing something else. Psychologically, you need to experience the meal. If you are eating while you watch TV or fool with your smart phone, you'll not notice that you are gulping your food (breaking rule 1), swallowing it almost whole (breaking rule 2), and shoveling more in while you are still chewing what is already there (breaking rule 3). Experience the food with your eyes and attend to it fully so that you KNOW, even subconsciously, that you have eaten.

  6. Leave something uneaten. This is a signal to your psyche that you are in control. You are not being controlled by your old habits. This is a symbolic gesture of your determination and will to be healthy. As you might guess, this is HARD to do!

  7. Drink water between meals. Don't confuse being thirsty and under-hydrated with being hungry.
Portion control is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. It allows you to have what you want--just not in the amounts that got you into trouble. Cutting back the amount of your favorite things--and the frequency of when you eat them (as will be discussed in next section)--makes the Reasonable Fitness approach something you can do forever. You don't have to give up pizza--just go from five slices to two or three. You can have dessert in small portions now and then.

Adopting very intentional practices regarding portion control is easy. And hard. But as a means of reducing the amount of Calories taken in, it is an essential part of the Reasonable Fitness approach.

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