I had really fallen off the weight loss wagon for a couple months there. My schedule had shifted a little, so my workout routine changed and my eating habits changed. In two months I gained back 5 of the pounds I had worked so hard to shed. On Thursday the scale finally showed me the same number it displayed two months ago, when I was right on the cusp of a milestone. I’m confident that I’ll break right through the milestone this time, because now I’m focusing on portion sizes.
It started a few weeks ago, when my fiance told me that for his birthday, he wanted me to get Omaha Steaks. We’re on their mailing list, so we constantly have a coupon sitting on our counter that we never seem to use (does anybody actually pay full price for Omaha Steaks?). I picked up the coupon and ordered about two month’s worth of food. When the box arrived and I opened up a package of steaks to defrost, I was dismayed at how tiny the steaks were. My fiance said, “yea, that’s what a portion of meat is supposed to look like.”
I usually buy my meat from the grocery store, where the steaks are often around 12 ounces. And when I put a 12 ounce steak on my plate, I eat it. So you can understand why a steak half the size got me a little disappointed. But I figured I’d been slipping with my weight loss, so I’d try eating a smaller meal and see if I could make it through the rest of the night without tearing open a tub of ice cream.
I looked down at my plate. A tiny little steak, a pile of brussels sprouts, and a small helping of pasta. It looked so pathetic, all that empty space between the three small mounds of food. But I tried telling myself that this is what a normal dinner is supposed to look like. I ate that meal slowly, savoring every bite because I knew there weren’t very many bites to be had. And when I was done, I felt satisfied. Must have been a fluke.
So I did it again the next night. I took two of the tiny chicken breasts, cut them into pieces and mixed them in with some pasta and brussels sprouts (isn’t the variety great?), and topped it with semi-homemade vodka sauce. The portion was about what you’d expect as a kids meal at an Italian restaurant. I ate it slowly again, remembering to savor each bite. Sure enough, again I was satisfied with the meal.
I was on to something. I’d done this before, have a smaller portion for dinner, but I usually end up snacking later on, or giving up my efforts the very next day. It’s not rocket science, and I already knew that we tend to eat more than we should, but somehow I was never able to commit to smaller portion sizes. What’s different this time? I’m beginning to accept the fact that my schedule is crazy. The life of an actor who also has a full time job does not always leave enough time for regular workouts. Going to work at 8am and then having rehearsal until 10pm, not to mention squeezing time in to write, is tiring. It’s becoming clear that vigorously working out when I’m not in rehearsals and then suddenly reducing my workouts to a short run once a week when I’m in rehearsals just isn’t going to cut it. I have to focus more on my diet if this is going to work.
That first week of Omaha Steak dinners I lost three pounds.
This week was interesting. Because rehearsals for my next show just started, I haven’t had time to make home cooked meals. On my night off, which happened to be election day, I had some friends over for pizza and election returns watching. I ordered too much pizza. I’ve had left over pizza for lunch every day since then. On Wednesday something strange happened. I was so full from two small slices of pizza that I didn’t eat dinner. Perhaps not the healthiest choice, but in one short week I had re-programmed my body to get full faster, to the point where I didn’t want any more food.
On Thursday the same thing happened, and I had just a small snack for dinner. On Friday I knew I would have time for a real dinner, so I cut down my breakfast to just a small snack. On Saturday I got on the scale. Two more pounds gone. After four days of eating pizza.
So what’s the lesson? Life is hectic. Things come up, whether planned or unexpected, that derail your exercise regimen. Exercise is extremely important for your health and well-being, but it can’t be the only thing you do. You have to stop indulging in enormous meals every day.
Our country’s waistlines have been growing steadily as portion sizes have grown. The new normal is incredibly unhealthy. See this article for a comparison of portion sizes today versus twenty years ago. Until we re-train our minds and bodies to stop overeating, obesity will continue to be a problem.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that reducing your portion sizes is the single most important thing you can do if you’re trying to lose weight. Exercise is fantastic. You should do that. (I talked last week about the benefits of exercise.) Cutting down on sweets and fried food is also great. Do that too. But you don’t need to completely cut them out. If you deprive yourself of the foods you love, you’ll never make it. You’ll give up as soon as someone tempts you with a piece of cake. The key is reprogramming your mind and body to get full from smaller portions, so when you have pizza for dinner, you don’t devour the entire pie. You stop after one or two slices because you’ve learned to listen to your body and stop eating when you don’t need any more food.
It might take you more than a week to reprogram yourself, and that’s fine. I do recommend removing all of those unhealthy temptations while you’re getting used to smaller portion sizes. Don’t try having them until you feel confident in your new-found ability to eat properly sized portions without feeling deprived. Unhealthy foods can be very addictive as well, so over time your portion sizes may start to creep up again if you eat them too frequently. If you sense this happening, cut them out again and refocus on portion sizes for a week or two.
What about you? Are you able to maintain an overall healthy diet and proper portion sizes without depriving yourself of all unhealthy foods? What strategies have worked for you to keep those unhealthy foods in check?