Let’s imagine you’re tracking your calories. The “why” isn’t important. Just play along, mmkay? How do you measure the calories in your birthday cake that your significant other spent all day baking – or ordering, more realistically. Or how do you know exactly how much that steak weighs on your Friday date night? Do you dare break out your digital food scale? I mean, you did bring it with you, right? Of course you did, because if your trainer found out that you’re just guess-timating that meatloaf, you’re sure to be in trouble. Last time you missed your protein count he made you punch a rack of ribs for an hour!
What if I told you there’s a better way? What if you could understand what “proper portion size” meant for you, specifically? What if you could learn how to not offend family members, friends or coworkers because you can finally partake in eating food with them, while maintaining a healthy and happy lifestyle? – Cue the inspirational theme music – You too can have all this and moooore!
First, let’s talk morality
It’s easy to attend an event and begin mindful. Maybe a mini hot dog here. A few nibbles of pie there. Oh, no, I shouldn’t, really…ok, I’ll take a filet mignon, baked potato – make that a loaded baked potato – and a glass of wine. Keep the wine coming, might as well, I already ate that mini hot dog an hour ago, screw it. Sound familiar?
Often, we let our judgment become clouded when we let morality enter into our eating habits. When we attach “good” and “bad” to what we eat, bad times are sure to follow. This is most evident when we feel pressured to eat something outside of our comfort zone. We give in to the social pressure. Then we beat ourselves up because we didn’t “stay strong.” Next, the flood gates are bowled over in a tsunami of caloric retribution and moral corruption, leaving in its wake a defeated, depressed individual crying for more calories to numb the frustration.
The first thing to focus on is realizing that food is just that, food. Some of it is healthier than others. Some of it will fit into your specific dietary regimen better than others. But the things you eat have no bearing on what kind of a person you are or how you’ve behaved. The shame that we feel when we’ve broken our sacred dietary code of honor is what eventually leads us to caloric catastrophe. I personally have few frustrations greater than when a client tells me “I ate really bad this weekend.” My reply is always the same, “What does ‘bad’ mean?”
People, please, for the love of your sanity and mine, stop attaching morality and terms like “good” or “bad” to what you eat.
- If you know you have a big shindig coming up, plan for it.
- Allow yourself to be a little tighter on the calories during the day or two prior so you can loosen up responsibly during said shindig.
- Or, if you know yourself and there is no “loosening up responsibly” then go in with a battle plan.
- Go to areas of the gathering that don’t involve food.
- Engage in, gasp, conversation with people.
- Eat right before leaving so food is not on your mind.
- The possibilities are endless, they only require a little forethought.
Now, how about some control
I’ve learned a few powerful, and powerfully simple, tips from my Precision Nutrition certifications. Many of these tips are outside of the typical nutritional box. Things that mere mortals never consider in the realm of calorie counting, nutrition labels, ingredient lists and food industry marketing. I’ve used them personally with much success and have since applied them to my coaching of clients with an equal amount of hoorays and hoo-rahs. Two of the most effective come in the form of “slow” and “80%.”
Eating slow is the simplest form of self control I know. It involves taking your time. Really connecting with your food. See it. Smell it. Actually taste it. Some people have lost good amounts of weight simply by chewing their food more, as opposed to inhaling it at light speed. You allow yourself time to truly connect with the sensation of satiety and allow your stomach and brain to be on the same page. The payoff comes in the form of less eaten, more satisfaction, and more weight lost.
Eating to 80% goes hand-in-hand with eating slowly. It means simply eating until you are about 80% full, instead of the “oh my god, I’m gonna bust” sensation we so often seem to be chasing. Life is not a Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, everybody calm down. (I was going to link to a YouTube video of eating competition fails, but thought better of it. I value my readership, you’re welcome.)
By combining the practices of eating slowly and eating to 80% fullness you will
- improve your ability to sense when you’re full
- eat considerably less food
- have more energy
- feel less bogged down due to huge meals
- have a healthier relationship with food
- no longer shock those around you
- no longer get “where the hell do you put it all?” statements to awkwardly answer
- successfully lose more weight!
Sounds like a win/win/win/win/win/win/win/win to me.
Finally, proper portion sizes
Let’s be honest here. I’m fully aware that it’s hard to eat completely by feel, at least initially. It’s like anything else, the more you practice it, the better you’ll become. But in the meantime, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have some way to track your food amounts without having to lug around a scale? To know the chicken breast you’re eating is right for you? To actually understand what a proper serving size of almonds looks like? Unfortunately, I can’t offer any help in avoiding those little %##% from stabbing the roof of your mouth – I’m still scarred from that one.
Well guess what? You’ve had the proper tools with you since birth! All you need is a hand with all 5 digits attached. Let me explain. For many of us, our hands are built to scale for the rest of our body. If you’re a large man born with baby hands or a small woman born with giant man hands, I’m sorry. But for the rest of us, there’s hope.
You can use your open palm, closed fist, cupped hand and thumb to easily identify proper portion sizes as follows:
- a closed fist represents 1 serving of fruits or vegetables for women (2 fists for men)
- an open palm is equal to 1 serving for lean proteins (2 palms for men)
- 1/2 a closed fist is appropriate for beans, legumes and grains (if you’re into those) (again, double that for men)
- and your thumb is a good indicator for healthy fats like nuts and seeds (you guessed it, 2 thumbs for us bros)
- you can find more, and even screenshot and share this handout from Precision Nutrition
You see, you can leave the scale at home and stop stressing out about sticking out like a sore thumb – or was that a serving of walnuts? (I love me some dad jokes.)
Take these tools
I’ve shared plenty of awesome tips today and lots of actionable items to help you stop stressing so much about what, how, and how much you’re eating. You can use any of the above and, with a little effort, present a much improved and much relaxed way to eat. One that will also allow you to lose weight while learning how to enjoy your life again.
Now take these tools, go forth and be awesome. Make the most of the day and stop stressing out so much over all the information overload, what your trainer is yelling at you to eat and not eat, and what you’re going to do at that party in two weeks. Rest easy knowing you’ve got it handled.