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Portion Awareness

One of the biggest challenges for me is assessing how much food to put on my plate.  We never really had the “clean plate club” or the “eat everything because children are starving in Europe” mentality at home when we were growing up.  However, we were eaters; if there was food in front of us, we ate it.

Combine that with the binge eating and compulsive eating disorder and I have a lifetime of not being able to clearly estimate portions.  I’m not good at knowing up front what amount is the right one for me when I’m serving myself and putting together a meal.

Pre-surgery, I could eat and eat and eat massive quantities – enough for two plus people.  It took a lot for me to reach the uncomfortable point.

My restricted stomach prevents me from binge eating, obviously.  I can no longer consume large volumes of food.  However, I’m still not always the best judge of what is enough or, more importantly, when my real hunger is satisfied.  Sometimes I’m one bite more than full and then completely uncomfortable.

I am actively working on improving my portion awareness.  There’s a disconnect between what my eyes and mind agree is an adequate amount and what is the reality for my stomach and nutrition.

It would seem that the obvious solution would be to weigh and measure everything.  I’ve discussed before how much I hate doing those things.  I want to learn to eyeball the portions first, then develop better mindfulness while I’m eating.  Ideally, I will develop my portion awareness to the point where I take just enough.  However, if I put more on my plate at the outset, but then reach satiety and have had enough, I want to stop eating – even if food remains on my plate.  There is no law, written or unwritten, that says every single bite must be consumed.

Some of the challenge remains mental.  I see smaller portions and think they will never be enough.  This is a holdover from the days when I was wildly out of control with my eating and, certainly, from before weight loss surgery.  Make no mistake; my portions these days are already definitely smaller than I used to eat, but I think I still start out with more than I need.

I believe the plan that I’m on helps with this balancing act.  The whole fat versions of dressings, sauces, etc., create a good mouth feel and increase satiety.  I’ve had the physical experience of this, but still fight the mental images and the familiar “It won’t be enough; it’s never enough” refrain that still runs through my brain far too often.

Those are the times when I need to remind myself to just do it; to try a little harder; to go with less and see how I feel.  Again, this effort presents more evidence that this is a process, not an event.  It’s a journey.

What a trip.


Portions and Balance

I can’t find the post from more than a year ago, but I remember talking about how much I loathe weighing and measuring my food. In my recent rejuvenated quest, I became willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to break through the stall and start losing weight again. As it happens, I chose a program that requires me to sort of measure what I’m going to eat.

I say sort of because there isn’t a fully written plan that specifies things like, “Eat 4 oz of lean protein, 1 cup of green beans, a quarter cup of whatever.” Instead, the plan came with brightly colored square containers in various sizes. The green container is for vegetable portions; purple for fruit; red for protein; yellow for starches; blue for some nuts and similar things; orange for certain seeds. The program provides a mathematical formula to figure out a target calorie range, depending on current weight. Then, depending on the range, it specifies how many portions of each classification of food one should eat. If you can cram it into the container and still snap on the lid, you can eat it.

In my case, I went with the lowest calorie range — 1200-1499 a day — since I know that’s sort of where my doctor wants me to hit and it’s akin to what I was eating, knowing that with exercise I’d net less. Since I don’t really have to look at measuring cups or spoons (except for oils) and I don’t have to weigh any foods, I don’t feel like I’m measuring.

I take my food to work with me in plastic containers anyway. That’s what I’m doing with these colored containers, but with the added benefit of automatic portion-size control. I don’t pack the containers full either, since I can’t handle that much food.

Where this colored-container program has really helped is in the area of seeing balance in my daily food intake. I thought I was balanced, but now can tell that I wasn’t to the degree that I should. For example, we hear a lot about a healthy diet including five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Left to my own devices with that broad a description, I would be happy eating three fruits and two veggies — which means I take in more sugar, even natural sugar, then I probably should. This plan breaks it out into three veggies and two fruits, so by following it, I achieve a better balance.

After weight loss surgery, the emphasis was on many grams of protein a day. Protein was supposed to be the leading role in the program. I did that so well for so long. Somewhere along the line, I started to deviate a little. Instead of a quality, more dense protein snack in the mid-morning, I’d eat nuts, for example. Whatever happened, I realized this week that on most days I don’t eat the amount of protein that I should, or that my body needs. So, this week I made sure that my mid-morning snack included protein. I think this has already fostered some small improvement in my metabolism. Plus it must help my body recover and my muscles work and strengthen with the workouts. I still have trouble getting in four servings of protein, but I’m definitely a solid three every day.

I absolutely know that for a while I was eating too many empty carbs like breads or crackers. I really dropped those this week. I can have two servings, but it’s hard for me to incorporate them if I’m eating the veggies, fruits and proteins. At best I had some for taste but didn’t pack in a full size portion.

Lest you think I’m starving myself, trust me. I’m not. I make up most of the shortfall by spreading out my food intake over six meals. I know that while I’m in losing phase, my doctor’s okay with me eating 1000 calories a day. I find because I’m eating everything in balance, I physically feel really good. Better than I have in a while, and my system isn’t sluggish.

I’m also making a concentrated effort to up my hydration. I’m drinking plenty of water, but a few cups of green tea or a tasty detox tea.

So, this week, the attention I’ve paid to portions and balance, coupled with the 30 minutes of strong exercise every day (plus my daily Tai Chi and dog walks), paid off. As I edited to add in the post this morning, I lost 9 pounds in the week since I started this program. Some of it was flushing out “water weight”, but the rest sure wasn’t. I credit adhering to the program, eating clean, and working out.

It feels terrific and I’m looking forward to continuing next week.

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Portion Perspective

Pretty much every day, I throw a small apple into my lunch bag to eat as an afternoon snack. Apples are good for me and they’re easy to eat. Not much preparation needed to pick up an apple and bite into it.

Today I was so busy at work that I ended up eating lunch later than usual. I did a protein shake for lunch and the ones I’m drinking now are particularly filling. So, when the afternoon snack time came around, I wasn’t hungry. I skipped and ate again at dinner. I was hungrier a couple of hours after the meal and reached for the apple I hadn’t eaten earlier.

Apple slices with a dollop of natural peanut butter make for a favorite treat. For this, I opted to cut the apple into slices. I put everything on a small plate and brought it to the table. Before I started to eat, I looked at the snack and thought, “Wow. That’s a lot of food.” It puzzled me that an apple that was definitely small when intact and round seemed so much bigger when sliced. I wondered if it was all because I’d put it on a smaller than normal plate — one about the size of a saucer. Maybe a group of slices should look like more than a whole apple with all of its parts united. Anyway, it got me thinking.

It’s hard for me to judge. I have horrible portion perspective. Each day I still work on retraining my eyes and stomach. The portions of food I eat are, by physical limitation and mental choice, far smaller than they used to be. I know this, but it still takes practice to teach myself how much of a serving is enough. Usually, I end up dishing out more than I want, need or can eat. It’s out of habit and I haven’t completely reshaped my eyeballing system of measurement. Yes, yes, I could solve it all if I weighed and measured but I’ve never been one who developed using those tools into a sustainable new habit. I keep trying. I’m just not there yet. I do my best to remain mindful about my eating so that even if I start out with too much, I don’t eat more than I need. I don’t want to cram so much food into my stomach that I’m uncomfortable or feel sick. Most importantly, I want to accustom myself to normalizing smaller portions.

I read a magazine article today with actress Allison Sweeney. She’s the host for Biggest Loser and has battled weight issues in the past. She said something eminently sensible in the article — that she always feeds her kids small portions, knowing that if they are still hungry they will ask for more. I need to be that sensible. Perhaps I should start taking a lot less than I think I need. Really drastically reduce the portion I initially serve myself on my plate.

Then, if eating mindfully, I will be able to feel whether I’ve had too little or had enough to satisfy my needs. Portion perspective is a learn-able skill, isn’t it?

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Cruise Days Six and Seven – At Sea

On the Friday and Saturday of the cruise, we were at sea making our way from St. Maarten back to Fort Lauderdale. I was never bored! The entertainment company that put together this cruise loaded it with activities. I walked and exercised every morning, ate mindful breakfasts, and then after showering and dressing went non-stop through the day. Game shows to watch, more interviews and panels with performers, line dancing classes . . . you name it. If it was available to attend and enjoy, I did it. The few times when there were gaps, I usually ran into someone I’d previously met or done an excursion with and could sit down and chat for awhile.

Friday I went to a songwriters’ panel featuring The Warren Brothers. Even if you don’t know any other of the vast number of hit songs they’ve written or co-written, you might be familiar with Red Solo Cup. According to them, it’s the dumbest song they’ve ever created. Maybe so, but it was a big hit for Toby Keith and they’ve made great money on their royalties. As a writer, I loved hearing them talk about their process. It’s fascinating. It was also quite amazing to find out just how many wonderful songs that I love came from these brothers. Mega-talent in the two of them, that’s for sure. I also enjoyed hearing them perform their own music. They played another show late on Saturday, too. That included a big sing along with all of us in the audience on Red Solo Cup. Lots of fun.

Friday night was the Gatlin Brothers time to shine on the main stage. Unfortunately, Larry had come down with a cold and wasn’t able to sing at his peak level. He has a wonderful tenor voice and the three brothers sing in beautiful harmony with each other. I sure hope it isn’t 15 years before I hear them sing again. Speaking of colds, I could feel myself coming down with one too. Larry had joked about getting his cold from Vince Gill. He apologized to anyone he might have hugged and passed on the cold too. I was one of the people he hugged, so I’m claiming that at least my germs are star quality.

After the Gatlin Brothers, I went to the late show by Anita Cochran. She is truly outstanding. I gave my contact info to her friends in case they get down to Key West. Performers Ty Herndon, Andy Griggs and Jamie O’Neal were also at her show, supporting their friend. That’s very cool! After her performance was over, they all ran up to the Lido Deck for the All Star outdoor jam session. I’m sure it did me no good health-wise to sit outside in damp air (sporadic rain drizzle), but the show was awesome! Different musicians flowed on and off stage, joining together to perform classic rock and country. Warren Brothers, Wade Hayes, Bryan White, Ty Herndon, Andy Griggs, Jamie O’Neal, Anita Cochran, guys from Restless Heart – all jamming on songs by the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Journey, Loretta Lynn and others. It was an amazing experience!

I’ve sort of jumbled the days together in this post. Sorry for that, but I was so involved in all that the cruise offered that I ran the recollections together in my journal too! One thing that I did keep thinking during the whirlwind two days is that I can remember vacations in the past when I’d get busy and involved and sort of blow off whatever food plan or diet I was trying to follow. It’s like I gave myself permission to go crazy. This time around, I was really pleased that I didn’t go “hog wild”.

I continued to practice mindful eating, even cutting portions in half and pushing the half that would be too much away to the edge of my plate. I noticed that I am still always tempted by bread and rolls. These honestly are useless carbs. They fill my stomach without providing a bit of nutritional benefit. Honestly, if I’m going to eat something that doesn’t rack up great nutritional benefit, I’d rather pick something better tasting and more satisfying like really good chocolate. By the way, every night at dinner, I ordered dessert. (They don’t come in large portions on ships.) Even then I didn’t finish the entire thing, but had enough bites to make me happy.

This must be how “normal” people eat, I say with a joking smile on my face. I don’t mean to make myself sound abnormal. Perhaps I should say that it’s how people who don’t have eating disorders and food issues usually eat. It appears to be a learnable skill, even after decades of compulsive overeating. That, my friends, is even more reason to celebrate.


Feeling Pretty Good

I managed to keep my inefficient worrying under control the last couple of days. I prepared as much as I could and let go of the rest. The meeting I anticipated might contain some uncomfortable conflict went smoothly. I facilitated well and received feedback that supported my self-assessment. It’s behind me now and so is any of the slight stress that I had retained.

Best of all, I did not lose sleep and I didn’t dive into food to manage the worry. That rates a double booyah as far as I’m concerned. I feel good, strong and positive. I actually said a strong, firm “no” to a sweet, sugary treat a couple of hours ago and reminded myself that I could enjoy a frozen fruit treat at home instead.

Did I tell you all about one of my Christmas gifts? One of my nephews gave me a Yonana machine. It takes frozen fruit and blends it into the consistency of frozen yogurt or frozen custard. No added sugar, other than what occurs naturally in the fruit. No fat, no junk, no nothing. After my evening commitment, I came home and thoroughly enjoyed the fruit snack with a small scattering of chopped walnuts on top. Yum.

Find that I still need to educate myself on portions. Even though it’s been almost two years since my surgery, I’m still retraining my brain. The instinct is often to prepare the same size portion as before. That would be fine if I could always trust myself to eat only a half or less of what I prepare. Even if I can only physically eat the smaller amount, if I have the rest in front of me, I’m sometimes tempted to keep going. Forcing the issue is not a good thing for many reasons. For one, eat too much and I not only feel wicked uncomfortable, but I’ll also need to throw up. Forcing larger portions too often over time could eventually stretch out the stomach pouch. If I increase my stomach capacity, I will lose the terrific tool that the smaller sleeve provides. Don’t want to go there, not one bit! Forcing the issue also doesn’t help me learn anything useful to encourage long term success.

Stopping before I serve myself helps me think it through, rather than just plopping too big a portion on my plate. “Stop before I serve” makes for a good mantra, I think. Like tonight. I had a change of plans today when a dinner date was rescheduled for Thursday. I thought about what starches I’d eaten during the day and realized that I had two plain saltine crackers with my soup at lunch. That was all. I didn’t have a lot of food in the house but thought that I could make a simple grilled cheese sandwich. I’ve learned to keep bread in the freezer so that I am not tempted to eat it frequently just because I think I’m hungry and it’s available. It takes more effort to pull a slice from the freezer, defrost it and then do something with it before eating.

While I was opening the bag to take out two slices, which would be the automatic portion in the past, I stopped and thought, “No. You don’t need that big a sandwich. Half is plenty.” That’s what I did. One slice of bread, split into two smaller pieces with some good quality cheddar, toasted in a non-stick pan coated with cooking spray.

It was delicious and satisfying. I reduced the fat, carbs and overall calories by stopping and thinking. It’s important to transfer this kind of behavior to as many food and eating situations as possible. Even when I go out to dinner, it’s good to separate the portions on my plate so that I don’t keep picking at the food in front of me and end up eating more than I want or need. I haven’t quite gotten to the point of getting a To-Go box right at the meal’s outset, although I’m sure if I try that a few times I won’t feel conspicuous — or at least won’t care if I am. In the interim, it’s easy enough to physically push some, often most, of the food to the side of the plate and focus solely on the appropriate size portion that remains. If I’m at a buffet, I need to remember that I can still sample a wide variety of dishes as long as I limit myself to dabs and not load up the spoon or stab a huge forkful.

In other things, I’ve noticed that if I do indulge in carbs a little, my body reacts. I might have mentioned this before but, honestly, after 500 plus posts I don’t always remember everything I’ve ever discussed. Back over Christmas week, I know that I ate more carbs on more days than I do in probably a month. My body reacted my putting on some water weight and bloated pounds. I almost want to call them fauxpounds. I know the math of calories. In order for me to gain five real pounds, I’d have to eat 18,000 more calories than I burn. Over a week, that would be more than 2500 calories more a day! Folks, I’d have to drink multiple milkshakes to consume that many more calories. Plus, I was also walking every day and keeping up with my 10K plus steps for calorie burn.

Even fauxpounds can be a little stubborn about giving up their grip on my body. It got to the point where getting on the scale in the morning started messing with my head. Even though I knew it was water weight, the number can upset me. I decided not to weight myself for a few days while I carefully stayed on track. This worked. I finally vanquished the fauxpounds. My body’s back to an authentic weight. I’m starting to see some additional definition (underneath the sagging skin that will only disappear with surgery) from the strength training routine with hand weights.

All in all, I feel pretty good!


Portion Out-of-Control

Recently, I stayed overnight at a nice hotel and the stay included a voucher for breakfast. When I went in, the hostess informed me that they weren’t doing the buffet that day but I could order anything from the menu except steak and eggs. No worries. For me, steak is lunch or dinner anyway.

I looked at the menu. Three egg omelet? Not unless I’m sharing with someone else. I wanted an egg, maybe a couple of sausage links and some fruit. To order that a la carte totaled more than three bucks more than if I ordered the two egg plate. Yes, I know I was there on a voucher but I figured that if I ordered sausage links and fruit a la carte, due to the price I could expect more than I could eat, right?

The “complete” meal offered two eggs, bacon or sausage, and then a choice of either breakfast potato or cut fruit and toast. I asked for scrambled eggs, sausage, and the cut fruit/toast option. Here’s what was served to me:


Just look at that pile of food! So much for the either/or, and the smaller portions, they served me everything and then some.

If those equated two scrambled eggs, the chickens must have laid ostrich-sized varieties. I think the potato portion easily equaled an entire spud. There were four sausage links, a sizeable bowl of fruit and two slices of toast. I could only surmise that if the restaurant feels this was a one-person portion size, they must be accustomed to feeding pro football players.

I picked at what I wanted, skipping the potatoes entirely. When I was done, I’d still eaten less than half of the eggs, a single sausage link, less than a slice of toast and a couple of cubes of fruit. This caused concern in the hostess and waitress. “Is everything okay with your meal, ma’am,” each of them asked, separately of one another. I assured them that it was but just that there had been a lot of food.

Sort of got the feeling that not too many guests thought they were served too much. Make that pro football players, super heavyweight weight lifters and, perhaps, Sumo wrestlers. The waitress came over a second time, and actually said, “But you ate nothing!” Honestly, friends, the amount of food that remained on my plate would have easily satisfied a full grown man. A really hungry, full grown man.

I’m a little horrified that before my bariatric surgery I might have chowed down, plowed through, and eaten almost everything, regardless of the gargantuan amounts.

It was just more evidence that the eating habits in this country are out of control, including our “normal” portion sizes. If we grow up thinking that this much food is okay, not to mention necessary, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing an increase of obesity in all ages of our population, including kids. Clearly for most of my life my eyes were always bigger than my stomach and I forced my stomach to keep up. Now that I’ve had the vertical sleeve gastrectomy, my stomach’s in charge and leading the way to retraining my eyes. For example, the other night when my friend and I had dinner, instead of going out to a restaurant, we went to Whole Foods and selected what we wanted from their hot food and salad bars. Instead of loading up my containers, I took a slice of turkey, a dab of mashed sweet potatoes, and a half spoonful of the shredded Brussels sprouts. I had all that I needed nutritionally and stayed well within my food plan guidelines.

I controlled my portions instead of letting them get out-of-control.

Yesterday, a friend and I went to a lovely tea house for a traditional “tea” meal. I have to say that this was a superior treat since both of us love drinking tea and also love the whole ceremony of a high tea. This place also had the perfect approach, probably without realizing it, for someone like me who has a surgically altered stomach. It was a multiple course meal, beginning with a plate of tea sandwiches, followed by a scone. A plate of dessert bites came next and the final item was either a sorbet or a gelato. They also had about 100 different teas from which to choose and I had my own pot of a lovely blend.

No lie, that was still a lot of food, but here was the beauty of it. Every individual item was a very small bite. I got to taste everything that I liked without overeating. Perfect! I also handed off things I know I don’t like — such as the cucumber sandwich, stuffed mushroom, and apricot tart — to my friend. All of the tea that I drank also filled my stomach, so I thankfully couldn’t finish the dessert plate. No worries. Whatever we didn’t want to eat then, the waitress offered to box up for us to take home. This meant that late last night, I had a small cookie and a tiny lemon bar as a treat.

The tea house itself was beautiful and decorated for the holidays, including this cool upside down tree.


I wish more and more places would offer “small bite”, or even tapas sections on their menus. If I ever had a restaurant, that’s what I would do. I bet it would be popular with not only the weight loss surgery crowd but also with other people striving to practice better portion control.


The Times When It’s Easier

By “It” I mean the whole practice of taking smaller portions, eating slower, and feeling the satisfaction. It still surprises me when doing everything right, and by right I mean according to plan, isn’t fraught with anxiety, overthinking and the intermittent metaphorical “white knuckling” to remain abstinent and on track.

Today I attended a chamber of commerce luncheon. Friends saved me a seat at the table and we all went through the buffet line. It’s not like the restaurant presented an overwhelming variety of choices They had spinach salad or make your own Caesar, fresh baked rolls, roasted red potatoes, garlic string beans and roast chicken. Okay, there was a choice with the chicken — leg/thigh or breast/wing. 🙂 The challenge at any buffet or in any meal, is portion control. Even though I know my stomach capacity can’t handle large portions and my weight loss plan bans them anyway, there are plenty of times when my eyes literally are bigger than my stomach. I still often put too big a serving of too many different things on my plate.

At this lunch, I did the opposite and it wasn’t a big, agonizing, stressful thing to do. I also didn’t resent doing it. I took the equivalent of a couple of bites of lettuce and dressed it sparingly. I skipped the roll. The roasted red potatoes were cut in small chunks, so I spooned a few on my plate. One not-too-big tongs-full portion of green beans came next and then a chicken leg/thigh combo.

Really small portions and huge amount of white space left on the plate. I chatted with my friends before the program started, but paid attention to the way that I was consuming my food. When I’m not with others, I often forget to eat as slowly as recommended but this time I was being social so I didn’t chew and swallow too quickly.

Even with smaller amounts to begin with, I didn’t finish everything on my plate. Yet, I had plenty and felt satisfied! On the way out I even thought, “Wow, that was easy.” Then I wondered, “Why can’t I do that all of the time?”

The truth is that I can do it all of the time. I just need to remind myself and be aware at every meal. I think it will help if I also remember that it doesn’t have to be hard or a challenge. Like today, choosing the correct foods in the appropriate amounts can, indeed, be easy.