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Portion Control and celebrating food -- some tips

Friday, June 14, 2013

The longer I'm on Sparkpeople, the more I realize that the great majority of Sparkers suffer from Portion Distortion. :) That's the "clinical" term for thinking you're eating much more of a healthy item, and much less of a not-so-healthy item.

Take the quiz: Do you suffer from Portion Distortion?

The Spark diet is not really a "diet" -- it's more like a math problem. Calories burned must exceed calories eaten. But the only way to know for sure how many calories are in your food is to measure it, weigh it, or somehow track the amount of it you're putting in your mouth.

Complaints I've heard:

1. "It's too time-consuming or too big of a hassle to weigh my food for every meal."
Fine, stay fat. ;P Seriously though, it's not as big a hassle as you think, and I'll give some tips here in a few paragraphs to make it even less of a hassle.

2. "Weighing and measuring food is weird."
Well, that might be true. But it's even weirder to die of diabetes or wear muumuus and sweatpants all your life. Pick your level of weirdness.

3. "Okay, I weighed it. This isn't enough food. I'll starve."
No you won't. You'll get used to it quickly, and pretty soon you won't enjoy that overly stuffed feeling you associate with Thanksgiving or being "full."

4. "Preweighed and single serving snacks are more expensive. I can't afford them."
Yes, they are more expensive. So you an either make your snacks at home, or allow yourself a little luxury -- a treat for doing the hard work!

Now here are some tips I've gathered for keeping Portion Distortion under control.

1. First, TRACK YOUR FOOD. ALWAYS! Download the tracker app to your phone, and just track every little thing you eat. It gets faster and easier the more you do it. Or keep a written journal, whatever works for you. But you HAVE to list ALL FOOD you eat. Nobody will see this, so don't be ashamed to write it down. The only way to get an accurate calorie count is to see what you're eating and how much of it you're eating. Track drinks too. You get Sparkpoints for water, so track that, and remember that fruit drinks and sodas can often rack up lots of extra calories, so measure those carefully.

2. NEVER EAT STRAIGHT FROM THE CONTAINER! This is such a huge issue with some people. You can't tell how much you've eaten unless you spoon it out into a bowl. Plus I know I tend to WAY overeat Goldfish crackers when I eat them out of the bag, but if I put a premeasured amount in a bowl, I'm just as satisfied.

3. LEARN FROM YOUR TRACKING. In the Spark tracker, I created extra "meal" settings. In addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack, I added Elevenses and midnight snack. This lets me figure out when I'm getting my calories. I noticed for a few weeks that my "midnight snack" numbers were really high, and my food choices were very high-calorie for that meal. So I learned from that, and now my midnight snack is more fresh fruit or veggies with hummus.

4. BUY MEASURING CUPS, SPOONS, AND A FOOD SCALE. You can spend from $10 to $50 on a food scale. I have a very cheap one, and I use a small butter tub as the hopper. I also bought a set of cups and spoons that I dedicate for measuring only, and wash after each measurement. Now you have the ability to measure in tablespoons, cups, and ounces. You're set!

5. KNOW THE CAPACITY OF YOUR DISHES/TUPPERWARE. One of the best things I ever did on a Sunday morning was measure the capacity of all my weird sized Tupperware and Gladware items, and write that down and tape it on the inside of my cabinet door. Now I know that the little red cup with the white lid will hold 10 baby carrots, a cup of cottage cheese, and about 5 strawberries. So if I'm in a hurry, I don't have to get out the measuring cups. I just spoon the cottage cheese into the red cup, track it, and pack it for lunch or take it to the table. I also have a special wine glass I use for red wine, which has a little decoration about an inch from the rim. Four ounces of wine goes right to the bottom of that rim. Yay! Instant measuring cup! Also, the more you measure, the better (and more quickly) you develop an eye for how much you're dishing out. I can eyeball what 2 TBS of Hummus looks like now. But I still measure it out every now and again, just to be sure.

So now that you're measuring and tracking, why not start CELEBRATING your meals instead of mourning what you think you can't have. My tips:

6. TREAT EACH MEAL LIKE IT'S A LUXURY FEAST. Sometimes dieters tend to view meals as a necessary evil, or they look at their skinless chicken breast and green beans and get depressed because they wish it was fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Don't develop a confrontational attitude with your meals. Instead, celebrate them! Do you have fancy dishes and linens? Why not use them? Even if it's just for one meal. Even if it's just cereal with blueberries. Celebrate your meal. Food is not the enemy. Use garnishes. Add edible flowers to your plate. Don't tell me you don't have time to stick a flower on your soup. Sit down, eat, and enjoy. Even if it's just one meal.

7. DRINK WATER FROM WINE GLASSES. This goes with the above. If you're trying to cut back on alcohol or you're trying to learn to love water, why not treat that water as if it was the $99 a bottle champagne? Drink it out of nice wine glasses. If the water in your area tastes bad, buy lemons and keep a few lemon slices in the fridge. Drop one over the edge of your glass, or in the water itself. Why not get a nice glass water pitcher to keep in the fridge? When you drink out of nice stemware, it seems to make the water taste better. Or alternately, buy Perrier or soda water. (My go-to alcohol substitute is Perrier with lime.)

8. ALLOW YOURSELF THE LUXURY OF SINGLE-SERVING FOODS AND BOTTLED WATER. You are working hard, so don't you deserve a little luxury? Pre-measured single-serving snack foods can be a nice treat to yourself. Yes they're more expensive. But aren't you worth it? If you really love Perrier with lime, don't you think you can find it in your budget to get a bottle every now and then?

9. LEARN TO COOK... SOMETHING! Listen: to call me a novice cook would make novice cooks look bad. But I'm learning. And there is something infinitely satisfying about sitting down to eat a meal you cooked yourself. It tastes better, somehow. If you're a busy Mommy, you may only be able to cook one meal a day or less -- but don't you want your kids knowing that food comes from the kitchen and not the drive-thru?

I blogged earlier about how my 19-month-old son knew what we having for dinner based on the size and shape of the carry-out containers. REALLY?????!!!! What kind of a message was I sending him? I used to think I didn't have time to cook because I had to chase him through the house, but it turns out he's fascinated by what goes on in the kitchen. He likes to watch me cut veggies (and I let him "steal" a few pieces here and there.) He loves it when I give him the greens or the peels and tell him to put them in the compost bucket. He loves to help, and he's now seeing what tomatoes actually look like when they aren't cooked and made into spaghetti sauce (and he's developed a taste for raw tomato pieces!) He's been hanging around in the kitchen a lot -- not getting in the way, just watching and helping. I think he likes the smells too :) We're working on color skills and now he understands that orange is both a color and a food :)

Tuesday I told my husband he was going to make Chicken Piccata on Thursday (I found the Spark recipe and it sounded delicious.) He was surprised and refused at first, but I guilt-tripped him into doing it. ("I do everything else around here, the least you can do is cook ONE meal...") Well it was fabulous, and even he was surprised by how great a job he did :) And our son got to see and smell mushrooms cooking and releasing their water, which is one of my all-time favorite events that occur on this planet. :)

Score one for "quality family time" in the kitchen :)

If you read this far and found some of these tips helpful, drop me a line or comment! I'd love to hear about how you're making your meals a luxury experience, or how you've developed your own solutions to the portion distortion problem! :)


For reference, here is a Spark article on portion control and measuring:

And here's a slideshow of common portion sizes:

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Great blog! Lots of good ideas and great attitude.
    1347 days ago
    I love this blog! emoticon

    Thanks for all the great info and also some great tips. I continuously fail to measure correctly, but I guess if I can do it when I bake bread or a cake, I should also be able to do it when cooking since I clearly have all the tools in my kitchen. emoticon

    1712 days ago
    Oh are so smart!!!
    1714 days ago
    Great blog. I do so badly when I don't use the tracker cause I just eat to much and don't count all the little things that go in my mouth. Yesterday was the first day I was under 1300 calories. I plan to stay under 1300 as long as I can. I'm at a stand still with my weight, and of course too many calories..exercise is not an issue with me, I love it and it makes me feel good..
    1714 days ago
    emoticon Very nice blog and great info!!
    1714 days ago
    I have a basket on the counter next to my food scale that holds several sets of cup measures, spoons, and tiny mini-spatulas. This sits permanently at my food prep/serve area. Everything that goes in my mouth gets weighed or measured.

    It really does make a huge difference! emoticon emoticon
    1714 days ago
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    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

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