Posted by: molander | October 19, 2009

Portion Distortion

OK. Time for a game. This week: control your portions. Simple, huh? Sure… if you know what you’re doing!

There are many differing theories on food consumption but one thing everyone seems to agree on is Americans don’t have a clue how much food they should be eating. Remember that “servings sizes” are guidelines. My 5’2″ self is not going to have the same caloric needs as a linebacker for the Saints therefore, his serving sizes can be bigger than mine.

Step 1: Figure out how much to eat (more professionally known as Daily Caloric Needs). The 2 things you take into consideration are:

xxxxxxxa) how many calories (aka “energy”) do you need just to stay alive if you… were… say, in a coma?

xxxxxxxb)  how many extra you need based on your activity level? (A construction worker will need more than a data entry clerk. Get it?)

Now you can do this yourself with a calculator and complicated formulas OR you can let this web site do it for you. I vote for the second choice. (The resulting numbers you get are not perfect but are pretty darn close.) Please note that you’ll get 3 resulting calorie amounts: 1) maintenance 2) weight loss 3) extreme weight loss. Ignore #3. Anything with “extreme” next to it is probably not a good idea. If you need to gain weight, add the difference between “maintenance” and “weight loss” to the “maintenance” number and eat that many calories a day.

Screen shot of Lose It! iPhone App

Screen shot of Lose It! iPhone App

Step 2: Figure out how much you’re eating. This is not as easy. But I will tell you this… study after study after study proves that we THINK we eat less than we do. Until you’ve got years of practice under your belt, you’ll overshoot your estimates every time. Then you’ll say [in a sing-song whiny voice], “I’m so frustrated! I watch what I eat but I just can’t lose weight!” Fact is, if the numbers are right, you will lose weight EVEN if you eat your total number of calories in Twinkies*… but I won’t go there right now. The only way to know for sure is to keep a food journal. (Do a search on “calorie tracking” and there are a number of free, online sites that pop up. I use Daily Burn but there are lots of good ones to choose from. Look for apps for smartphones so you’ll always have it with you.)

Now in order to enter the proper amounts of food, you’ll have to know about how much you consumed. If it’s chain restaurant food, no problem… most of these electronic aids have your menu item already entered and are ready to go. But if it’s a grilled chicken breast you had at home with steamed green beans and a sweet potato, then you need to be prepared to tell the computer how much of each item you had. Do you even know how to dish up your plate to begin with?? Did you grow up in a house with a clean-your-plate rule? Uh, huh… me, too. “Think of the starving Armenians,” she used to say. I remember sitting forever by myself looking a plate of cold whatever just hoping to be sent to bed with no dessert. <sigh>

I’ve grown up now and I realize I don’t have to clean my plate. However, I’m a penny pincher and don’t like to waste. (Think of the starving Armenians.) So the key is to put the right amount on the plate in the first place so you can clean your plate without overeating!

To be most accurate, you should use a food scale. But if you’re out and about, you’ll need to be able to eyeball the amounts. Practice makes perfect. The DiabetesAmerica Health Centers provide this picture guide to their patients:

Everyday object associations.

Everyday object associations.

You can almost guarantee the restaurant portions you get will be too big. Plan on taking the leftovers home for lunch the next day. (I LOVE this!) Or split an entree with a friend. My daughter and I share all the time especially on vacation where it’s not always possible (or desirable) to save the leftovers. Some restaurants allow you to order a smaller version or “half order.” And if you STILL need motivation to cut back… think of dessert. If you eat like a pig, you don’t get it. If you show restraint, a few bites of dessert wouldn’t be out of the question!

So the game for the week is a personal competition: How many days can you stay within your calorie allowance? How many of those pictures can you memorize so you can have better control over the amount of food you’re putting in your body? If you run into difficulty, ask yourself “why” and write it down. Be ready with a back up distraction. (More on this later.) The object of the game is to not only to control portions but to recognize your trouble spots.

What discoveries will this week bring?

*Listen to Sean Croxton (my fave!) tell you about why you can’t do a Twinkie diet. Or in this case: the current “cookie diet” you may have heard about:



  1. […] say you’re absolutely sure you’re caloric content is on target. Let’s say you’re working out as you should but simply can’t find any possible […]

  2. […] what to do? To begin with, click on these words & follow the steps outlined in the post. Then, know that there’s one thing you simply can’t avoid doing if you’re serious […]

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