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Why Portion Control Is So &%#! Difficult.

Print Friendly and PDF Why Portion Control Is So &%#! Difficult.

Well, it happened.

I gained 5lbs, in spite of doing everything ‘right’.

At first I thought it had to be a hormonal issue. I’m in my 40’s and things are changing - and I’d heard that inadvertent weight gain could be a ‘thing’.

It couldn’t possibly be that I was eating too much - because I am a super-conscious health coach and I could never, ever, never make such a simple mistake like over-serving myself. No, no. Not me.

I also thought that, perhaps, the extra weight was added muscle. Yeah - that’s it! I’ve been doing kettle bells with my trainer - for 30-minutes, once a week - so, perhaps, with that meager, minimal effort, I was transforming myself into a hard-bodied, jacked-up fitness competitor.

There’s no WAY that it could be that my idea of a ‘cup’ and an actual, measured ‘cup’ are vastly different.

How did I gain this weight?!“I don’t know how I gained this weight!” I moaned to my trainer, “It’s ridiculous! It must be my hormones. Or muscle mass. I do EVERYTHING right - and I am super-conscious of my eating. It’s what I DO for a living! Sigh. I guess I’m just getting older. Or more muscular”.

My trainer - bless her heart - held back her mockery, and suggested that I track my food intake - “Just for a day” - to give myself a reality check.

“You’re probably right,” she said sweetly,”Your eating is probably on-point. But maybe just write everything down for a day or two and just…..double-check”.

Mission accepted.

I was determined to solve this ‘mystery’ and get to the bottom of my creeping weight gain.


By lunchtime on the first day, the mystery was solved.

It was my portions.

It was totally my portions.

&*%$#!!!!!

Ohhhhhhh, Portion Control, you evil, brutal fact of life.

Even I, a dedicated, professional health coach who talks about food and eating all day long - even I am not immune to the slippery slope of portions.

I spent the next week and a half recalibrating my sensors and being far more accurate in my ‘guesstimates’ - and I’m happy to report that 4 of the 5 extra pounds are now gone. And - honestly - it’s been pretty painless. Because, after all, I had been OVER-serving myself. All I did was adjust my portions so that I ate exactly what I needed - and no more. I have not been hungry - because I have not been deprived.

But here are some observations and tips I’d like to share - and, hopefully, they’ll help make sense of this whole ‘portion control’ reality so that you, too, can get back on track!

How To Make Portion Control Less Horrible

The portions we are served are ridonkulous.1. The portions we are served in this country are ridonkulous.

Yeah, yeah, yeah - our portion sizes are huge. We get it.

But DO we??

Seriously, you guys. The portions. We are served. Are ridonkulous.

Absurd amounts of food. WAY more than we need. And we like to clean our plates!

Quite often, a lunch entree in a restaurant will contain almost all your required calories for the day.

For the DAY!!

Even a ‘healthy’ muffin or cookie, or your beloved chai latte, often contain as many calories as a more sensible whole meal.

We are all being over-fed.

3/4 cup of cereal is not that much.2. Our ‘guesstimates’ are usually WAY off.

Go to your kitchen - I’ll wait - and, in separate bowls, pour yourself  YOUR idea of a serving of dry cereal, a serving of pasta, and a serving of beans. Just eyeball it.

Now take out a measuring cup, and check your work.  A serving of cereal is usually 3/4 cup. Pasta is generally a cup, and beans are generally 1/2 cup.

How did you do? How accurate were your guesstimates?

Take out your measuring spoons and look - really LOOK - at a teaspoon of oil, or a tablespoon of peanut butter.

It looks like nothing, right?

Now think about the last time you ordered Pad Thai, or pasta primavera, or a burrito, or poured yourself a bowl of cereal in the morning.

Quite a difference in the serving sizes, right?

But if the Thai place delivered exactly 1 cup of Pad Thai to your apartment - there would be a revolt.

And if an Italian restaurant served you only 1 cup of penne, made with 1tsp of olive oil, you would ask to speak to the manager.

We have grown accustomed to being served utterly ginormous portions - and we like to eat ‘til it’s gone. We feel like we got our money’s worth that way.

Beyond that, however, we have also completely lost sight of how much food is actually contained in a healthy serving - and we have lost touch with how much food we actually NEED.

How many calories do you actually need?3. Find out how much you actually need.

Do you actually know your daily caloric requirements?

I’m not a huge fan of obsessively counting every single calorie you put in your mouth. It’s too easy to take it to an unhealthy extreme and then life is no fun.

But I do think it’s important to have a very firm grasp on how many calories you need in a day - generally speaking - and to have a realistic sense of what that actually looks like in real-food terms.

Check out an app like MyFitnessPal (it’s free) and you can type in your height, weight, age, and general activity level - and it will calculate how many calories you ought to be eating in a day. Is it 100% accurate? Probably not - but it’s certainly better than not having any kind of reality-based idea.

Track and measure your food for a single day.4. Track and measure your food for just ONE (1) day.

Want a real bite in the shorts? A shot in the arm? A pie to the face?

Track and measure your food for just one day.

Just like our experiment above, I challenge you to measure your food and count the calories for just a single day for a truly eye-opening splash of cold water on your eating habits. If I can be surprised by how much I was overdoing it, I guarantee there will be something for you to learn, too!

Portion control is not the same thing as deprivation.5. It’s not deprivation if you are getting what you need.

Whenever folks realize that they’ve been overdoing it with their portions, there is a sense of sadness and loss - as though the party’s over and they’re not going to be able to have what they want anymore.

I challenge that.

You CAN have whatever you want - just not all at the same time or  in unlimited portions.

As I said before, you are not shifting from an abundance of food to a shortage of food. You are shifting from an over-abundance of food to an appropriate amount of food.

You’re going to be eating exactly what your body needs in order to function and thrive. That is the OPPOSITE of deprivation.

Please try not to think of portion control as deprivation. Because it’s not.


Look - nobody wants to feel tied to measuring cups and calorie counts and food scales. That’s not what we’re going for. But when we get a little sloppy with our portion sizes, it really and truly adds up to extra pounds ‘mysteriously’ appearing - or ‘stubborn’ pounds that won’t melt away.

I’m here to tell you that the pounds are not always that mysterious or stubborn - they’re just…..real.

You don’t need to carry around a set of measuring spoons in your purse, but every now and then it can be helpful to check back in with the reality of a ‘serving size’, and keep yourself accountable.

The end.