Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Half Portions, Double Portions

Back before I was trying to lose weight, I still thought about portions a lot. Except the thinking was, "How big of a portion can I snag" or "How many portions of this can I eat before I am too stuffed?" It was all about getting the biggest, the most. Kinda shameful, actually, now that I think of it. I mean, I would definitely NOT say I was ever a "selfish" kid or person in my life, but somehow when it came to food, I always wanted more.

Cut a pie in eighths, put it in front of me, and as long as "other people" weren't watching, I'd eyeball each piece and take the biggest one.
Walking through the grocery store and picking out a slab of bakery cake (or a whole cake, sometimes), I'd hold each one up to eye level and find the one with the most frosting.
Send me to a potluck, and after my first plate of food, I'd look around and see if anyone else was getting seconds. If *anyone* was, I was, too. Big heaping seconds. And when everyone else was off playing games and socializing, I was sneaking off "to the bathroom" or "to check on the kids" so I could snag another cookie or brownie off the food table.
Put a pizza on the table, and I'd eat as much as I could possibly get into my body, which was often at least 6 pieces.

Even when I started trying to lose weight, I played the portion game. "Oh, one banana has 110 calories? Okay, I will take that HUGE one." As if a HUGE banana had the same amount of calories as a SMALL banana (that is how I treated it, and how I counted it in my calories). Same for any other food. A big piece of cake must have the same calories as a small one. A large apple? Same as a small one. Silly. After I realized I was doing this, I started paying more attention to my choices. Why not pick the SMALL banana? If you're going to count any banana as 110 calories, you still save calories choosing the small one, whether you count it differently or not!

An even more advanced concept is that of half portions. This is something I learned over the past 2 years. Here it is:

Just because a serving is ONE cup of pasta or ONE apple or 13 crackers, you do NOT HAVE TO EAT THAT MUCH!

Whoa. What a concept! You know, it never even occurred to me when I was heavier to eat a HALF serving. I would "limit" myself to one serving, often. But I never realized that I could be fine with even *less* than a serving.

Whenever I have crackers now, I give myself a half serving. Usually that is 6-9 crackers. And usually that is plenty!
Whenever I have pasta, I have a HALF cup.
When I have any kind of casserole or fatty side dish, I give myself a HALF helping.
I often make myself a half sandwich for lunch.
When I go to a restaurant, I almost always cut my food in half right away and box half up for another meal.
I order a cup of soup instead of a bowl of soup.
I order a small rather than a medium or large ANYTHING.
And you know what? Half is just as satisfying! Try it! After all, if you have your half serving and find it was not enough, you can always go back for the other half, right?? So you lose nothing!

There is something to be said for learning to be satisfied with less.

Now, there is an exception to this rule. This is something I learned in the past year. This is the rule of DOUBLE Portions:

If it is a vegetable, and not loaded with fat/sauces, take a DOUBLE serving.

When I sit down to dinner, I give myself two large helpings of carrots, salad, green beans, broccoli, and/or whatever other veggie is on the table.
When I order any meal out, I ask for extra veggies, no butter/sauces. I might even ask for more veggies instead of rice or pasta.
I get a large salad instead of small (with dressing on the side).

Both rules in action:
Last night's dinner was pot roast, mashed potatoes (made with skim milk), low fat gravy, steamed green beans, and carrots that cooked with the roast. My plate had HALF portions of meat, potatoes, gravy, and DOUBLE portions of green beans and carrots:
2-3oz pot roast, 1/4 c potatoes, drizzle of gravy, cup of carrots, cup of green beans.

Do you think I was hungry afterwards??

I was full on less calories because of using the Half and Double Portions rules.

I made these up as I went along because it works for me. Maybe it will work for you, too! Give it a try next time you eat, and see if you don't feel more satisfied!


Karen said...

That's a really good idea, I like it! One thing I've noticed is how I constantly have to measure things...you would think by now I *know* what a cup of pasta looks like, but somehow (hmmm? hehe) if I don't measure it one cup creeps up to 1 1/4 or 1 1/2!

Anonymous said...

Lyn, I think a TON of people will identify with the always wanting MORE thing. I don't know where it comes from for me, although in counseling at one point I realized that I grew up never feeling as though I was ENOUGH. Not BEING enough translated into never HAVING enough, therefore the overeating. Funny thing is, my parents loved me unconditionally as I was, so I don't know where the "not being enough" part came from.

Anyways, thanks for sharing something I relate to, and also for sharing your half/double strategies!

Blossom said...

I recently saw a pic somewhere (probably a magazine) showing a plate with half the plate full of veg, one quarter meat and one quarter starch. That is the way our plates should be apparently, and you've got the right idea!

What a Splurge said...

Great post! Our favorite Chinese restaurant does very large portions. My husband and I used to each get an order and eat most of it. Now we get one order and split it. I give him a little more than half and it's still plenty.

Chris said...

This is exactly what I'm practicing in my current eating habit! These days, I often have half a banana, half an apple, half a sandwich, 1 slice of toast (instead of 2 slices back in my overweight days), 1/2 cup of orange juice.... I've become a "half-eater" in restaurants too.

When I first started to experiment with half portions, I realized that what my body wants and what my brain wants were not always the same thing.
Take the example of toasts. Back when I was overweight, I used to think that life is not worth living if I even can't have freaking 2 slices of bread for PB & Jelly toast till the rest of my life. But when I started to pay more attention to the signals that my body sends to my brain, I discovered that I start to feel full after I've eaten 2/3 of a 2 sliced-toast. My BODY did not need the extra 1/3 of toast all along; it was my BRAIN which was playing tricks on me with this false sense of deprivation. So now I have only 1 slice of toast with some fruit or salad. No deprivation, physically or mentally.

Now I realize that this is something that those lucky "naturally thin" people can do without thinking, like breathing. I just have to learn to mimic them.

Someday SkinnyMinnie said...

I would love if you could take a picture of your double veggie-half everything else plate and post it. Portion sizes really confuse me and if I don't measure it's almost a lost cause. I would love to see what it looks like.

Ms. PJ Geek said...

on target as always. with the meal plan I'm on sandwiches are always halfs. It use to bother me becasue ..who goes out and eats a half sandwich . Well, duh ..I kinda do. I don't eat out often but on the occasions I do , I try to box up half of the servings because they are so large. So I try ot add plenty of veg and fruit if the sandwich isn't filling enough when I'm eating at home. Feel better .

spunkysuzi said...

Great idea i'm going to try that!

Greta from www.bigbottomblogger.blogspot.com said...

Sounds good! But I think you need more than 3 ounces of protein for dinner......!!

Georgia said...

Great post (and blog, by the way!). I started cutting my portions in a similar way a year ago and it's certainly paid off. One tip that's really helped me, is to slow down my eating - I tend to better register when I'm full by doing that. Now when I grab a take away stir-fry for a work lunch, it now lasts for 2 meals, so not only am I saving myself from overeating, but I'm saving money too :)

Margie M. said...

As a person trying now to maintain a weight loss (I have for 4 years now) portion control is key. Even after you lose your weight, Lyn, the need for portion control will continue. It is even more critical as your body may rebel and want to propel you back up the scale. With this post, it seems like you've got a good handle on the issue and I think you'll do OK. Great job.

Lyn said...


I think that's a common viewpoint because we are conditioned to huge meat portions with veggies as a "side"... but:

3oz pot roast: 23g
1 c green beans: 2 g
1 c carrots: 2g
1/4 c potatoes w/skim milk: 3g

About 30g of protein in this meal! The 3 oz of pot roast has half of your RDA for protein (46g/day for a woman age 40). So, 3 oz is actually a very nice portion :)

Val said...

Love it!!! This is a concept I am sloooowly learning. We are not bound by serving sizes. We are free!!!!

Greta from www.bigbottomblogger.blogspot.com said...

Protein should be in proportion to your lean body weight and your activity level..not a static "one size fits all" number. The "RDA" is based on an "average" sized woman with a low activity/exercise level. I don't know what your lean body weight is.....but it sounds like what you are doing is working for you. I just know that when I eat enough protein (for me....120-130 grams a day is MINIMUM...but I am 5'11 and run/do weights 3-4x a week)...my body fat percentage goes down and my weight goes down and my cravings go WAY down. A lot of folks who diet do not get enough protein each day...and then they lose lean body weight (muscle) and their metabolism decreases and it makes it super easy to gain the weight back. (Have personally done this in past weight loss attempts) Protein has been my soapbox lately.... My sis is a recent grad of Bastyr....Nutrition...and she agrees that the research shows that many of us do not get adequate protein.... Our brains do not function well without all the amino acids....and one MAJOR thing it can cause is cravings for food, drugs, alcohol, etc. Good books: "The Diet Cure" and also "Protein Power". It is really fascinating stuff.

Vickie said...

good posting, practical, positive, true

Greta from www.bigbottomblogger.blogspot.com said...


Lyn said...


Thanks for the information :)
I looked back at my protein intake yesterday (including the pot roast meal) and I ate 104g of protein yesterday. So it seems I am eating on the higher end of the protein scale as well. I don't, however, get all of that protein from meat. I often have eggs, beans, hummus, nuts, and dairy as protein sources.

Anyway, my post was not meant to say we should cut back on protein, per se, but that we should pay more attention to portion sizes and not assume we need a larger portion of higher calorie items. I think that for most folks, doubling their vegetable intake while lowering intake of fattier, starchier dishes is a good thing. Maybe half a chicken breast is enough. And for me, 3 oz of pot roast was enough. Just food for thought!

Me said...

Gosh, that's a concept I am so not applying!
I'm still at the stage where I'm trying to eat a 'normal' diet. Three meals and tree 'snacks'a day. That's a challenge in itself at the moment. I'm doing good though.
I do feel that my portions have to do with the amount of exercise I get/take. If I've cycled to work and back (about 20 miles in total) I need that six slices of bread a day and I eat a bigger portion at dinner. Sometimes I might think I am not hungry at all, but when I start to eat, you realise that I actually am!
If I have a day of I manage with four or five slices of bread and less dinner.
I have learned to be full. I can very easily leave my dinner alone when I'm full.
What you are doing with the portions might be my next step.

cmoursler said...

you should see the sheer amount of asparagus I can put away. 15 spears 63 calories...tasty.

TheLosingAmerican said...

Hey, I'm new to this community, but I ran across your blog and I like it! I also really agree with what you're saying about portions and I'm going to try and incorporate that into my own weight loss goals. Thanks for the tip and look forward to reading more in the future! :)

Stella said...

This post really hit home and made me laugh. I've always eyed up the biggest and "best" piece of something when put infront of me. In shops I'd get palpitations when served a cake just incase they accidently gave me the smaller one!

Olivia said...

This was wonderful! I hope you don't mind but I just copied and pasted it to an email and shot it to a coworker. Thanks so much for being really honest. I enjoy reading your posts every day :)

((Oh and you are not alone on the old way you used to treat portions...I used to do that...grill chicken, but pick the BIGGEST piece for myself...my poor husband was always stuck with the smallest piece, haha. No wonder he is thinner than me!))

Greta from www.bigbottomblogger.blogspot.com said...

Hey Lyn. 104 grams sounds good..though at 225 or so you might be fine adding a bit more to ensure you are not losing muscle with the fat. Clearly, though, you DO know what you are doing and are doing a great job.

I guess I had protein on the mind yesterday...then I saw the 3 oz potroast thing...and it rang my bell. LOL And..having lost BIG amounts of weight a couple other times in my life...but not doing it right because I lost too much muscle with the fat....I am hyper aware this time around of the importance of protein and maintaining/building lean muscle. More muscle means I can eat more and not gain weight....I am ALL over that concept!

I get protein from meat..but also from nonmeat sources, too. Eggs, nuts, a wee bit of dairy..and once I hit my goal weight I will add in beans/rice combo (together they are a complete protein..separate they are not)...they are a bit too starchy for me right now, I have found. I like tofu, too....but I guess soy is not my friend. Sigh.

There are all sorts of calculators for protein out there (like the link I posted earlier based on kg of body weight)...but I like the one that is based on lean body weight and activity level the best because it is personalized to body composition and size.

It involves some calculations, and you need to know your body fat percentage...but it seems more accurate and research-based than the other formulas. Clearly someone who is 200 pounds and 10% fat (meaning....180 pounds of muscle) would need more protein than someone who is 200 pounds and 40% fat (120 pounds muscle). The Protein Power book by Michael Eades has a formula that is something like this:

Figure out your lean body weight. Then, you need between 70% and 100% of your lean body weight in grams of protein for the day...depending on activity level. VERY active..as in athlete..100%. Not active at all=70%. Then, someewhere in between for everyone else.

So, if total weight is 225 and body fat was 40%.....lean body weight is 135 pounds...so protein requirement would be between 95 and 135 grams a day, depending on activity. This works for men or women.

Lauren said...

Lyn, I love this! I think the "Half/Double Portion" rule will be my new go-to strategy when exact calorie counting gets tricky. Things like holiday dinners, etc.

I feel you and i are in similar places these days, mentally. I love your positivity and creativity in the recent posts.

Marste said...

This is actually really interesting. I know this wasn't on purpose, but that meal you described sounds a lot like the Zone diet. Not exactly, but pretty close. And I remember that when I did the Zone diet, I was NEVER hungry, because every meal had something like 2 or 3 cups of veggies and/or fruit. It was just so much volume that I was never hungry - in fact, I skipped snacks some days because I felt OVERfull. But the calorie content was pretty stunningly low.

I'd forgotten about that. Thanks for the reminder. :)

Certifiably Fit said...

I grew up in a house where my father would tease about getting the biggest serving and as a little kid i would get really upset about it so that set me up later to always try to get the biggest serving, like it was some kind of contest. Luckily I have been able to reverse this kind of thinking.

I really related to your half serving and double serving stuff. I too practice these concepts and have since I started my journey. It really was key in me loosing about 100lbs.

Love reading your blog, I always seem to find something I can relate to.

screwdestiny said...

That's a really good idea, something that everyone should probably implement, even if they're not trying to lose weight. It just pretty much guarantees that you're getting enough fruits and vegetables and not too much fat and meat. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Megan said...

I also grew up, as a lot of us did, with the guilt of leaving leftover food on my plate. I remember when I was at an Ihop with my grandpa--when I was probably 8 years old--he told me about the starving kids in Africa thing. I felt ashamed then for leaving a pancake on my plate. Still working today to undo the guilt feeling--at 22 years of age!

Joyce Hor-Chung Lau said...

this is smart advice!

Anonymous said...

thanks lyn. i've been kinda following these rules but not really 100% so thanks for reminder. also, can't wait to try ALL of your recipes. they all look da-bomb diggity.

moonduster said...

I couldn't agree more! I usually try and fill my plate up 2/3rds with vegetables for each meal. It fills me up faster and with way less calories (plus a lot more nutrients).