Portion Control

Image courtesy of Treehugger.com
The idea of what constitutes a “serving” has been an ever-shifting idea to Americans for quite a while now. All across the Internet, usually on health-related sites, you can find lovely pictures like the one above showing what portion sizes were in years past compared to today. The difference? Today’s are uniformly huge compared to what was normal for generations past.
Now, that might not be a bad thing if we as a country had any concept of “later”. You know, eat half now, eat half at some point in the future. But along with our expanding menu items is this cultural concept that food waste is bad (which it is), so we should address food waste by clearing our plates any time we eat (which we shouldn’t).
This one-two combo of Rules At  The Dinner Table may have single-handedly created our current obesity epidemic. We are given more food than any reasonable person needs in a single meal, then forced by parental or societal pressure to eat all of it. To do otherwise would be “wasteful”. And, before too long, this practice becomes “waistful” instead.
I am not unfamiliar with the problem, heaven knows. I used to act as our living garbage disposal. Lor would regularly eat until she was full, then I would finish her plate. At family gatherings, I was the one who was urged to have “just another serving” so food would not go to waste. I finally developed the ability to eat so much that I was perpetually hungry – my digestive system grew habituated to the idea of processing food essentially 100% of the time. Eventually, this led to 300+ pounds, knee surgery, exhaustion, etc. The only way out was bariatric surgery, to correct my out-of-control digestive mechanisms.
On the way to visit the family yesterday, we decided to stop for lunch. Finding places to eat has become challenging, thanks to the “no bread” restriction, but we happened to be driving by a Chipotle, home of gigantic and customizable burritos and bowls. We quickly designed a “steak bowl”, which is basically burrito innards in a bowl. Here’s what came in our bowl:
  • 4 ounces of steak
  • 4 ounces of pinto beans
  • 4 ounces of shredded cheese
  • 2 ounces of guacamole
  • 1 ounce each of salsa, sour cream, and lettuce.
Yeah, just the innards, with no tortilla or rice, was over a pound of burrito materials.
Pre-surgery, I used to be able to finish an entire burrito, then eat whatever remained of Lor’s. Yesterday, we each grabbed a fork and started at opposite ends of the bowl. Within 15 minutes, we were done.
We had each managed just about a quarter of the bowl, leaving more than half to be put in a box and taken home. I had another fraction of it last night, and will probably add an egg to it this morning and finish it off for breakfast. This is literally all I can manage anymore without making myself ill.
So, my surgery works – no big surprise there, right? But the real question is, why didn’t I do this before obesity set in? Why did Lor and I not just order single entrees and split them? Why did I refuse to box up leftovers and take them home, committing to cleaning off both our plates at restaurants instead? Why did I never learn to say “No, thanks” when told to eat more at family gatherings?
Somewhere in the back of my mind is still a version of me that cringes at throwing away food. That feels compelled to eat just one more bite, that is experiencing a compulsion to clean off his plate. Every day, I am having to argue with myself, to remind myself that a diet of 800 calories a day gives me very little room to screw around with – I need to get in what I need, and no more, lest dire consequences result.
While Lor and I get a handle on serving ourselves things like 5 cucumber slices, or 24 almonds, I would urge you that are not currently post-surgical to experiment with smaller portions. Cut recipe ingredient lists in half. Order a la carte, instead of full entrees. Split meals with a loved one. Experiment with separating half of your meal into a to-go box at the beginning of your meal, then “finish” the remaining half, taking the rest home for later consumption. Do what you can to limit that intake now, so that you don’t need to have 80% of your stomach (or more!) removed to get a handle on your weight.
Most of all, eat what you love, just less of it. Focus on taste, texture and sensation. Don’t eat mindlessly. Life is too short to waste on indifferent dining.
Wishing I Had Known All This 15 Years Ago,
– Hawkwind

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