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Portion control. June 11, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This morning, the sports section of our local paper featured a story about a former running star who’d decided to compete in a very different sport: competitive eating. His goal? To become the world’s foremost wing-eating champion.

I have to say, I’d been pretty much unaware of the world of professional competitive eating until a wing-eating champion who goes by the wonderful name of “El Wingador” launched a well-publicized local wing-eating competition at a local tavern this past May. Like the guy profiled in today’s paper, El Wingador is a former star athlete (baseball, in his case) who’s turned his training discipline to another sport, in this case, eating as much as possible in the shortest possible time. You can read all about it in our earlier post, “Pigging out for a cause,” by searching for this post in our search bar at upper right.

Meanwhile, most of us are trying to do the opposite—to reduce the amount we eat at every meal to keep our figures or to shrink them. But this is awfully hard, since our lives are all about deprivation already, and food is one of the cheap luxuries almost all of us can still afford to indulge in, no matter how much we’ve had to cut back on other things in order to try, at least, to make it through the Great Recession. We had to give up our gym membership, we’ve stopped buying clothes and going to movies, forget going on vacation, no hope for air conditioning, but at least we can still get a pizza.

Being in the same boat with all of you, I’ve had to take a good, hard look at portion control. The last thing I want is to deprive myself of the final little luxury after having cut out everything else. But I’ve found that portion control is possible without the feelings of deprivation and hunger most of us fear. Here are the tricks I’ve learned to dial back the portions without suffering:

* Keep healthy snacks on hand—and eat them.

I’m always starving around 10 a.m. and again around 4 each afternoon. So I keep string cheese, almonds and pistachios, blueberries and apples, and child-size Greek yogurts on hand. When I realize that I’m getting hungry, I can eat a piece of string cheese (though I have to give the last bite to our black German Shepherd, Shiloh; it’s her favorite snack), a handful of healthy nuts or blueberries, a mini-cup of yogurt, or half an apple (if you choose this option, rub lemon juice on the cut side of the half you don’t eat before wrapping in plastic and putting it back in the fridge to keep it from discoloring). A couple of spoons of cottage cheese are another snack Shiloh and I enjoy.

Our friend Ben tends to become ravenous in the evening while I’m cooking supper, so I try to have an assortment of veggies for dipping with yogurt-based dips and hummus on hand so he doesn’t hit the chips and cheese. The key for both of us—and for you—is to make sure we actually like the snacks we’re allowing ourselves. Then you’re getting a healthy little indulgence instead of punishing yourself. More on that next:

* Don’t eat what you don’t want.

This sounds a little obscure, so let me clarify: Let’s say you’re craving a slice of pizza or some buttered popcorn. But you tell yourself, “No, no, pizza (or popcorn) is high-calorie, I shouldn’t eat that. I’ll have a bowl of soup instead.” So you make yourself a nice, healthy bowl of soup.

But you still want the pizza or popcorn. So you eat half a dozen crackers with cheese on top since, hey, they’re healthier than the pizza or buttered popcorn, right? But you’re still craving popcorn or pizza. So you eat half a can of cashews, since you know nuts are good for you. But you still… etc., until you finally break down and eat the damn popcorn or pizza on top of everything you didn’t really want to eat in the first place. Far better to eat one slice of pizza or a small bowl of popcorn to begin with.

* Start small.

Let’s revisit that pizza and popcorn for a minute. When I was craving pizza—a rather frequent phenomenon, in case you haven’t noticed—I used to eat two (and sometimes three) slices with extra cheese, black olives or mushrooms, and onions. This certainly satisfied my pizza craving, but it also made me feel pretty bad, to say the least (can you say “lead balloon”?!).

So I stopped getting extra cheese. Then I stopped getting any toppings at all, adding oregano, lemon pepper, and a sprinkling of Parmesan at home. Then I stopped getting more than one slice. That’s because I discovered that a single slice of plain cheese pizza—as long as it was good cheese pizza—with a little added pizzazz actually satisfied my pizza craving without making me feel like a stuffed-crust pizza myself. Nobody could have been more surprised by this development than I was, but it was true, so I went with it.

OFB loves popcorn, and could eat a huge bowl with a stick of melted butter poured over it. But I’ve found that he doesn’t seem to notice if I make less popcorn and add less butter. Presenting him with a full bowl of hot, aromatic popcorn seems to do the trick just fine, even if the bowl is a little smaller than it used to be.

I often find that half a hearty sandwich is plenty for me for lunch. I’ll eat half, wrap the other half, and put it in the fridge. When the 4 p.m. hungries hit, I can eat the other half.

I say “start” small here because there’s no need to panic or feel deprived. If you’re still hungry after the first slice, bowl of popcorn, half-sandwich, or whatever, you can always have more. The world isn’t going to end if you eat a whole sandwich or two pieces of pizza, for heaven’s sake. Just give yourself time to enjoy the first half, slice, or bowl, then ask yourself if you really want more. I find that knowing it will be there for you anytime you do want it makes it easier to admit that you’re full and what you ate was enough, at least for now. It may be less than you think most people eat, but don’t worry about that. If you feel full and satisfied, that’s what counts. Trust me, in this society, you’re not likely to die of starvation because you only ate half a sandwich for lunch.

* Eat good food.

Our friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders, can get free pizza at work (assuming any’s left over after staff meetings, and it always is), so he brings it to his pizza-loving girlfriend, Bridget. Sounds great, right? But it’s bad pizza.

As Bridget told me, “You know, Silence, I felt obligated to eat it, since it was so sweet of Richard to bring it over. But it was disgusting—barely any cheese, sauce, or flavor, just doughy, tasteless crust. So I’d eat a few slices trying to convince myself that I was eating pizza, but I always failed. And then I hated myself for eating them. By the time I started getting afraid I’d hate Richard for bringing it home, I called a halt.”

Now Richard gives the extras to his starving students, and when Bridget’s craving pizza, she picks up a slice from her favorite pizza shop, just the way she likes it. Everybody’s happy.

* Eat the food you really want.

If I’m craving a specific Chinese dish from a specific restaurant, picking up Chinese from someplace else doesn’t make that craving go away. If I’m dying for garlic knots, don’t try to give me a piece of garlic bread and pretend like it’s the same thing. If OFB has his heart set on Moose Tracks ice cream, serving up a different kind won’t make him stop wanting Moose Tracks just because he’s had some ice cream.

Far better to eat a modest amount of the food you really want than a plateful of something you don’t. Because, trust me, you’ll still end up hungry for whatever it was you wanted to begin with. The key here is “a modest amount.” The pizza or wings or ice cream or sweet potato fries or burrito or whatever is not going to sprout wings and fly away. You can reheat them and enjoy them again at another meal. And if you’re craving something you can’t reheat, like a salad, lucky you! Chances are you can indulge yourself to your heart’s content in your fresh, perishable, low-cal fave.

So, how do you manage portion control? Please share your tips with us!

                    ‘Til next time,




1. Myra L. - June 20, 2011

Interesting article, especially the last section that you titled “Eat the food you really want”.
It reminds me of a statement made in a book written by Berhard Jensen years ago. He said that when we eat a meal in a quiet peaceful setting, food that we enjoy that we will get more benefit from it that if we forced ourselves to eat something just because it was “good for us” .
I do try to make all those things work together, though.
Visit me here to learn ways to have better health

Hi Myra! That’s a very interesting theory. I agree with you, the happiest (and healthiest) outcome would be to combine the two.

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