How do you practice portion control in the real world, after dieting?
May 8, 2013 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I've been doing Paleo for five weeks and have been losing weight at an okay rate - about five or six pounds down now. I'm doing about 90/10 which comes out to around two "cheat" meals in my estimation, though the cheats have been mostly pretty tame, some red wine, a few slices of pizza, half a tiny panna cotta. In either five weeks or when I hit my first goal weight, whichever comes first, I'm planning to ease out of Paleo somewhat, and eat more things, but also practice portion control. How do I do this?

I was a normal BMI before this and my goal will put me sort of in the middle of the healthy range. Before this I was more toward the top of the range.

My question is how people practice portion control when eating out and with "bad" foods. For example, right now when I get a steak salad out from a place near work (no dressing), I take out half the steak portion and save it to throw into dinner or for lunch the next day. The rest of the salad is romaine and some other grilled vegetables or beans (I'm including legumes with my Paleo).

When I've "eased off" Paleo, if I want a muffin from a nearby bakery, should I just toss half the muffin right away so I don't eat it? Or a croissant? Or eat the whole thing and skimp later? How do other people do this?

I've never been a huuuuge eater but I'm small. It's mostly that when the food is there (say a plate of nachos) I will just keep nibbling at it, because everyone else is.

When tracking calories before the diet, I could end up at around 2,000 without really thinking about it. Also, I definitely added calories drinking and I'm planning to buckle down on that.

Now, I'm keeping it at a net of 1200 per day and I don't feel hungry on that, so I'd like to keep it that way. I'm also exercising 5-6 days a week, mostly yoga and cardio.

I hope this is enough info. I don't want advice on whether or not to do Paleo, or if I should lose weight at all, or about the exercise. Thanks!
posted by sweetkid to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, Weight Watchers is what taught me portion control. You take the time measure and weigh everything and in time you get pretty darned good at estimating what a portion is. Back at my heaviest (335lbs) I didn't eat particularly unhealthy food. No chips or candy or fast food of note. I ate a fairly balanced diet and fairly healthy foods. The issue was that I ate a fregging ton of food because I had no concept of portions. I also had to learn to pre-portion things that I wasn't always good at portioning by eye. Most things that come in big packages are tough. Pretzels, for example. I could eat a whole bag of them and not really notice*. I have to measure out a set amount and put the rest away or else I just keep eating.

4 years later and about 100lbs light, I'm eating pretty much the same foods but just less of it. Yay weight watchers!

*Well, I'd notice now because I've since developed a god damned gluten sensitivity and I am seriously cranky over it. No more pretzels unless I'm willing to have a mega stomach ache. Boo-urns.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know what a good portion looks like, what I'm wondering is what to do with the rest of the food.
posted by sweetkid at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2013

Response by poster: Especially when eating out with people, or getting a snack when out on the town etc.
posted by sweetkid at 10:05 AM on May 8, 2013

Instead of the muffin, get something that fits in with the portion you want to consume in one sitting. (sbux little vanilla scones are doing the job for me) Otherwise, yeah, just stick it in a ziplock for tomorrow, assuming its very presence will not taunt you with its deliciousness.
posted by elizardbits at 10:05 AM on May 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am a terrible maintainer myself over the long-term, but I have spent a lot of time with my very small mother-in-law lately and notice that she just stops eating before the food is gone. That sounds so simple but, like you, I am a nibbler and if it's there I will eat it. If it's working for you right now to immediately get rid of half the food, I would keep doing that. It's pretty common these days for people to ask restaurants to box up half the entree immediately, so I don't think it will get you many weird looks or objections.
posted by something something at 10:05 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's mostly that when the food is there (say a plate of nachos) I will just keep nibbling at it, because everyone else is.

Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself when you realize you're doing this. It works for smoking, daydreaming, and a whole host of other mindless activities.

Don't let waitstaff give you bread or whatever to start your meal. Just tell them, "No thanks. No, really, I don't want it."

For example, right now when I get a steak salad out from a place near work (no dressing), I take out half the steak portion and save it to throw into dinner or for lunch the next day.
...what I'm wondering is what to do with the rest of the food.

Keep doing this with the whole meal. Ask for a takeout box at the same time you order. Waitstaff is getting used to doing this for people -- they know as well as anyone that restaurants are over-portioning. Carry Tupperware or (as elizardbits suggests) Ziploc bags in your purse or bag or whatever.
posted by Etrigan at 10:06 AM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Eating out makes portion control super hard. One thing you can try is ordering off the Children's Menu, if there is such a thing, and if it appeals to you. My wife, for example usually gets a Happy Meal if we stop at McD's.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:06 AM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: what I'm wondering is what to do with the rest of the food

Depends on the scenario.
- If I am at home and I am not eating ALL of something I will usually save the rest for later if I can. If it doesn't keep well, I bin it. I don't like wasting food, but I'd rather the excess food go in the bin instead of in my stomach.
- In a muffin/croissant type situation and the item is REALLY GOOD I eat it all and then maybe have a bit of a lighter meal later. Or, you know, just keep going as normal. As long as those delicious indulgences aren't that frequent I have no problem eating them all and enjoying it.
- If there is a group snack (like the nachoes) I either avoid it all together or I decide upon a set number/amount and then eat just that amount. Some foods for me I know I will just keep nibbling at and eating, and if I start eating it I will keep eating it. That is when the avoid tactic works best.
- At a restaurant I will usually take a doggy bag, unless the food won't keep or if it would be really tacky to do so. If it is a situation where taking it home with me would be tacky I just don't eat it or I offer it to my fiance. Again, I don't like wasting food but eating it to not be wasteful is pretty idiotic in terms of health.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:07 AM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

You can ask to have any portion of your meal wrapped at any time during the meal. Ask your server to take half of that huge piece of lasagna and wrap it for later. Or share your portions with someone who isn't looking to portion control.
posted by xingcat at 10:08 AM on May 8, 2013

Another option is just to get appetizer-size portions of everything, or to just have appetizers. Those are usually more sanely-sized.

Or, if the restaurant has a range of "side dishes" sometimes you can go with that instead - a place near me has all sorts of huge things for their brunches, but I do fine with just a "side" of bacon and a "side" of the fruit salad.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find this is mostly willpower and a few hacks and habits.

If you are going out to the bakery to get a muffin, you can bring a knife and a small Ziploc bag with you. Cut the muffin in half and put half of it in the bag right away. You can just stick it in the freezer when you get home.

If you are sharing food, make a rule that you don't eat anything out of the communal container. If there is a plate of nachos in front of you, you can't just reach in and grab a chip; you have to put what you are planning to eat on your plate. Eyeball a reasonable portion and don't let yourself take seconds.

Some people will ruin food to keep themselves from eating it, for example by pouring salt all over it or dousing french fries in water. This starts to look a little strange/disordered to other people, so you may not want to do this when you're among casual friends, especially friends who don't think you need to watch what you eat.
posted by payoto at 10:10 AM on May 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

elizardbits: sbux little vanilla scones are doing the job for me

Oh hells yeah. My wife whipped up a recipe for making them at home. I'll see if she's written it down if you are interested. You just have to have the willpower to not eat 6 or 7 of them at once.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:14 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

One other hack is to make treats always a share. When you're out to dinner see if anyone wants to share dessert with you. If you want a candy bar share it with a friend. I have a friend that pretty much only buys candy bars that divide easily (Caramilk, twix) and as soon as she opens it she snaps off half and offers it to whoever is nearby. Do a "Those big warm pretzels look delicious. Lets go get one and split it!" thing. I also have made a deal with myself for some items that if I get one for myself I have to get enough for everyone in my office. One day I really wanted a doughnut, so I bought a dozen, ate mine, and then gave the rest to my co-workers. I have to reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally want that doughnut to be willing to buy twelve.

Fuck, I want some damned pretzels and doughnuts.... I hate gluten....
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:15 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A trick I learned a few years ago: when you know you shouldn't eat any more of your meal when you're at a restaurant, pour salt over the rest of it until it tastes completely disgusting. That way you can sit there with the food in front of you while others finish without nibbling away when you really shouldn't.

Or on non-preview what payoto said.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:17 AM on May 8, 2013

I don't want to be an asshole, but don't eat muffins from bakeries except as an occasional treat. American culture treats dessert as a regular snack - a muffin or a croissant is basically an ice cream sundae sold at Starbucks. Save it for a weekend treat, and don't worry about the calories because it's your one crazy food thing and it's Sunday and whatever.

I like to pack the little individually packed bags of almonds from Trader Joe's as an emergency snack if I know I'm going be out of the house for most of the day. Portion control with nuts and such is really hard for me, hence the individually packaged bags.

I also find the easiest way not to overeat something is to not start eating it. If I'm at a party and there's a bowl of chips, I won't have any because if I start on the chips I will eat a fuckton of chips.

This is a really good book about the psychology of eating, and it has some tips on portion control.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:25 AM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't want to be an asshole, but don't eat muffins from bakeries except as an occasional treat

Yeah, this is my intention. I still want to practice portion control with it though.

Sorry, last comment.
posted by sweetkid at 10:26 AM on May 8, 2013

At restaurants I pay attention to when I am done and push my plate away and ask for a box. That way, in my mind, if I'm eating any more of it, that's coming out of a future meal so I don't do it.

Strangely enough, when I am at home I find making a plate so full of food that I couldn't possibly eat it all at once (say, 3 meals worth) helps me eat less, because I don't feel any obligation to try to finish it all and it's easy to stop when hungry. It also makes me feel less hungry, I think just seeing so much food that's all mine silences that animal part of my brain that is worried about getting fed enough.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:33 AM on May 8, 2013

I'll often split an entree with my husband or just get an appetizer and a salad because restaurant portions are so huge. I've worked really hard at slowing down so I notice when I'm full and then stopping - push the plate away to remind yourself that you're done for now. And I've learned to ask - lots of places will let you get a half portion or a lunch size portion at dinner. They rarely put it on the menu though.
posted by leslies at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2013

I still want to practice portion control with it though.

Maybe just eat the top? As well all know, the best part of the muffin is the top.

There are starving in children in Africa, but no one will suffer significantly more if you throw away the bottom part of a muffin.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:07 AM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: So - and with NO disrespect intended - I just want to ask, why does your way of eating need to change when you hit goal? Do you see something unnatural or unsustainable about Paleo as a mainstay way of eating? You've said here that you don't plan to have a muffin except as a rare treat, and you're already allowing yourself two minor cheats a week. Why not just tweak those cheats into full-on meals -- or a couple of Starbucks muffins?

I ask this as someone who has never done Paleo, but who did lose a significant amount of weight (from overweight to the low end of normal BMI) seven years ago by eating low carb, which is similar insofar as both diets are less about calorie counting than changing the kinds of foods we eat entirely. I've maintained into my mid-thirties by continuing to eat low carb (but note, I do think it's healthier and tasty, so it's not like I'm denying myself) and occasionally allowing myself some sushi here, a slice of pizza there. You know, treat meals once or twice a week -- exactly what it seems you've been doing to LOSE weight, you lucky dog!
posted by artemisia at 11:21 AM on May 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

My method is to eat tons and tons of really really healthy food throughout the day so that when I see the plate of chips or the muffin, I am not desperately craving them, and I either (a) don't eat any, or (b) take/buy a small amount, and eat all of it, guilt-free, because I don't like wasting food. I do not do "portion control" on things like almonds, meat, veggies, salads. I find that if I keep my blood sugar stable and my stomach satisfied on real nutrients, I am much less likely to play the weird taboo-craving-game when there's junk around; for the muffin thing, for example, I would either stop buying muffins as a general rule (pick something smaller, or bring a granola bar with you when you go out) or to buy the muffin on rare occasions and eat it guilt-free. This works, because the other 90% of the time I eat great, and life is too fucking short to obsess.

On that note, I don't believe in "portion control" in general. I believe if you want to lose weight/get healthy/etc., you probably need to focus on eating different, not eating less. I have so many friends and relatives whose diets consist of trying to discipline themselves to eat the same things they've always eaten - only in smaller portions - and the result is a ridiculous tendency to cut donuts in half, obsess over fruit cups, and skip 50% of their meals in order to eat junk food at the next one. I seriously would see women at work (all the time!) punching their two pieces of pizza into their little weight-watchers app on their cellphone at lunch and sighing because they wouldn't be allowed to eat for the rest of the day. Dude, don't be that.

Just eat healthy, real, natural food on a regular basis, train yourself to ignore the sweets and muffins and nachos entirely, and keep your occasional treat days as occasional treat days.
posted by celtalitha at 11:32 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to answer these latest questions:

Maybe I wasn't clear enough, but I don't plan on eating nachos and muffins every day. There's a muffin at a local bakery I want to eat once a week maybe. Even before the diet, I was only eating this muffin once a week. I eat it after yoga.

I might stick with the 90/10 Paleo long term or 80/20, I just might want to add some cheese to meals I prepare or something like that, so it's still healthy, just not Paleo. I'm just asking so I get a sense of how to manage things if I want to come off Paleo to some degree and not gain weight.

But to be clear, I don't want to train myself to ignore sweets or nachosentirely forever and ever, nor am I planning to eat them every single day, which is why this question is about portion control.
posted by sweetkid at 11:38 AM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: If we're only talking a once-a-week treat, then I question whether portion control really needs to be as much of a concern. I mean, if you have one muffin on Sunday, and then no muffin Monday through Saturday, that averages out to one/seventh of a muffin per day, right?

(That is only slightly tongue-in-cheek.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: I question whether portion control really needs to be as much of a concern.

Seconding this. I don't know what the current state of Dieting Science is, but I'm of the opinion that the "cheat day" is both psychologically and physiologically important for maintaining healthy habits in the long term. If you're exercising and eating sensibly six days out of seven, just finish the whole muffin (or whatever) and don't worry about it.
posted by pullayup at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2013

Eat when you feel hungry, stop when you're full. It can be surprisingly hard to do, but it works. The phrase to search for more info is "intuitive eating".
posted by momus_window at 4:34 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it's in front of you, you're going to eat it. What you're doing with large meals will work for everything. Keep a few ziploc bags handy, for things like muffins. Ask them to cut it in half and save it for later. For something like nachos, decide how much you want to eat, and set that amount on a smaller plate. Eat only off the small plate, and when it's empty you know you are done.

Keeping a food journal even after you reach you're goal will help you be mindful of what you eat. Of course you can eat a muffin if you want, but it is a conscious choice, and at the end of the week you won't be saying "I ate WHAT?!"

Side note, for some people it is super easy to over eat if they wait for the full feeling. It takes time for the message to reach their brain, more time for some people than others.
posted by rakaidan at 5:20 PM on May 8, 2013

Response by poster: yea I'm wondering if I'm overthinking the cheat day/meal thing since asking the question and probably the whole muffin is okay.

What I was mostly trying to ask is what other people do, rather than "google intuitive eating." I'm curious about what other people do when they practice portion control.
posted by sweetkid at 5:38 PM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: Teach yourself to stop worrying about wasting food when the only options are to eat it or toss it. (Obviously, if you can order the right amount or take it home, those are better options.) But if the only choices are (1) eat (so it doesn't go to waste) and it turns into a combination of unnecessary calories that you have to deal with later and/or comes out as poop or (2) toss in the trash can at no cost to your body, #1 is actually the more sensible choice.
posted by metahawk at 6:13 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the things that I do is bake at home -- that is, I often make paleo banana muffins (they involve almond flour and maple syrup as the sweetener), that I can throw into any meal when my sweet tooth is coming up or something salty needs balance. Then there's no "cheating" to worry about, just focusing on getting lots of healthy protein and veggies into my day. (For that matter, I just made a great paleo strawberry panna cotta, involving coconut milk. Awesome and no problem!)
posted by acm at 7:24 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to cooking and baking much more at home, and limiting carbs, I find it helps to keep asking myself, as I am eating, "am I satisfied?" This stands in sharp contrast to my pre-weight-loss question of "Am I full?" and recognizing that state of satisfaction has made a major difference in my life.

I also find it helps to chew slowly, and make sure that the food has touched both sides of my mouth, my whole tongue, etc., before swallowing. Tasting fully definitely contributes to that feeling of satisfaction.
posted by rpfields at 9:10 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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