Portion Control (Emphasis on Control)

I personally have a predisposition for being a lightening fast eater. Apparently, from all reports, when I was a child I was a very slow eater, chewing deliberately, exploring my food and savoring every single bite. (I've always loved food.) Somewhere through the years, from timed lunch breaks in school to working in the restaurant industry where there's no such thing as a break for a meal to working through lunches in Corporate America, I became a lightspeed eater.

One exercise I share repeatedly with my clients, be it one on one or in workshops (I use it so much so that it's even included in my upcoming book), is a mindful eating exercise. With steps in the instructions named "Let's Get Physical," "All That Jazz," and "Magical Explosion of Taste," just to name a few, it's clear I think that eating can be a show stopping, sensation overloading, and FUN experience.

I often share the exercise with my clients when the time seems right. Usually when we're talking about daily routines and I notice the word "should" coming up around food.

So, yeah. I have to practice mindful eating, too, and this particular exercise has been so useful for me that it must be shared.

p.s. Mindful eating can be an incredibly sensual experience. Last week one of my clients told me she called her boyfriend after she was done with her mindful eating meal to say, "I think I just cheated on you."

Because, yes, food can be that GOOD.

One thing I think a lot of health and wellness gurus out there have WRONG is in the teaching of the idea that some foods are good and some foods are bad. I was a believer of it for myself for a few years, especially when I was at the worst in my disordered eating patterns. I was scared of foods like store bought almond milk, snack crackers (like Goldfish), anything with soy, and different varieties of oils and their "improper" uses.

However, I am here to say:

There is no such thing as a good food or a bad food.

I know I say this over and over. This is because it is a message that MUST be repeated ad nauseam in order to crowd out the voices preaching "clean" eating and "this vs. that" eating.

So if there are no good foods and no bad foods, how do we navigate being healthy? What is healthy even?

This is where I challenge my clients to come up with their own definitions of healthy. When we make choices that are in line with our own personal definitions of healthy, then we can more easily listen to our own higher truths and what we want to eat.

The Soul Food Project definition of healthy is threefold:

  1. Love the food you eat. Live the life you love. Ditch guilt and regret.
  2. Feed your body. Fuel your soul.
  3. Happiness at the heart of healthFULLness.

With these three definitions in mind, I want to talk about portion control and why I think it's a load of crap.

Variations on portion control:

  • making a happy plate
  • boxing up half my food when I go out to eat
  • eating when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm full
  • using various specialized containers to measure my food
  • scales and grams and micros and macros

One caveat here: I completely understand that there are special circumstances in which a medical diagnosis requires stringent care with food. I am not speaking to these cases.

I am speaking to the average Joe or Joanna who simply wants to cut back on what she's eating. Maybe she has a goal weight in mind. Maybe she wants to fit into an old pair of pants. Maybe she wants to shed the last five pounds.

Here's the thing: all of the above measures are attempts at perfectionism, control, and enforcing regimes.

I've had many women tell me that they are afraid they will be unable to control themselves. They have evidence to support, in fact, that if they, for example, sit down with a bag of Oreos, they will not stop until there is not one single crumb left in the package. They fear not portioning out their food, because they've proven to themselves that they won't be able to control themselves.

This is nothing more than a fear based dictatorship we are choosing to enforce over ourselves.

These are small, insidious, and seemingly innocuous forms of restriction.

The reason she can't sit down with a package of Oreos and eat only one is because somewhere in the back of her mind, she believes Oreos are bad and that she should only have one. Hell, she probably has a rule somewhere in the recesses of her brain, based on the fat and sugar free versions of cookies her grandmother kept stored in the laundry room that were "better" choices than OREOS, that she shouldn't have ANY. So she feels like she's being naughty. Rebellious. Like a teenager revolting against her parents, she has one. Then two. Then three. Then she realizes she's gone too far, one past the limit she has set for herself, so she throws caution to the wind and keeps eating them. Better to get rid of them now and never eat them again. The reason she can't stop with one Oreo is because she believes she shouldn't have even one, so she's breaking the rules. She might as well throw it all away and eat the whole package.

We are so very smart. We try to enforce rules over ourselves to get to some particular outcome, but we're also rebellious, and we will inevitably rear up against those rules we've set for ourselves.

What if, rather than setting rules and guidelines and weighing and measuring, we could learn to trust ourselves?

I'm really curious. Is this something that you feel is possible for you?

What if I were to tell you that I know that it is. I know because I used to be a chronic restricter. A binger to end all binges. All or nothing. Feast or famine.

One argument I hear often is "what gets measured gets managed."

But... you don't have to manage your body. It is wise. It craves homeostasis. It's not the enemy. 

Rules, regimes, plans, and schemes? Those are the enemy.

Remember that town in Footloose where dancing was forbidden? All those damn teenagers wanted to do, as a result, was DANCE. The rules had an equal and opposite effect on the youngins who were meant to be controlled and kept in line.

Don't make Oreos forbidden, because then you'll nothing but CRAVE Oreos.

Take a minute and write down any food rules you currently operate under. Whether they are working or not, dig deep. Maybe you have rules you aren't even aware of. Start to notice the thoughts when you go out to eat. When you plan recipes. When you get a hankering for a snack in the afternoon. Where does your mind go?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that we all eat everything in sight and completely abandon sense. Sense is the root for "sensation," afterall, so what I'm suggesting is that we take note of sensation. I'm willing to bet that after more than a couple Oreos, your body is going to begin feeling some sensations that aren't as wonderful. Seek sensation rather than rules and common sense. That's listening to your body. That's the magic.

p.p.s. If this is the kind of food philosophy that you find intriguing, or if you're interested in this kind of approach to eating and living well, you'll really dig the book I'm wrapping up and getting ready for print right this very moment: Glowing Goddess Guru Beast Manifesto.

Brittany KrigerComment