For most of my life, I’ve been pretty lucky with my weight. I have a decent metabolism, grew up in a healthy environment where we exercised and ate healthy meals and I’ve been able to carry those good habits into adulthood…
Until about 4 years ago when my body went haywire with what I like to call “Weight Gain Extravaganza!”
This is painful for anyone but, for a trainer (who should know better, right?), it’s excruciating.
When the weight gain started, I did what I’ve always done when my pants get a little too tight:
I exercised more.
I tried more and more exercise, but that only added to my stress and stress actually makes you gain even more weight. Not only because of stress hormones but because stress makes us reach for all those comforting, carby foods to make us feel better.
And the thing is, there was something I wasn’t being honest about.
I was eating too much.
I’d never had this problem before, so I just kept telling myself I was doing great even though I was doing all the wrong things:
- Eating out more – Work and body image stress made me so tired and down, I didn’t have the energy (nor did I even care) to shop or cook. Then we would go out and there would be wine and, of course, just this once I would have the burger and fries…before long, it was more burgers than salads.
- Drinking more – ‘Nuff said
- Eating all kinds of carbs – Carbs, in and of themselves, are not bad. We need them…but we don’t need to eat them all day like I was. Popcorn, crackers, ‘vegetable’ chips…it just went on and on.
With all the exercise I was doing and all the results I wasn’t getting, I finally figured out what I had been telling my own clients all along:
I had to get real about my eating.
Getting Real with Your Diet
The thing about weight loss is that exercise isn’t the best tool in toolbox. Yes, it burns calories, but as weight loss goes, it simply doesn’t burn enough to cause serious weight loss.
Exercise is essential, though, because it’s great at helping us avoid more weight gain and it helps us maintain more muscle mass. If you diet without exercise, you lose muscle and that just shuts down your metabolism even more.
Because of that, all my exercising was not able to overcome all the extra calories I was eating, which led me to two of the most dreaded words in the English language:
We’ve all heard it before, right? That a serving of, say, chicken is about the size of a deck of cards or that a serving of veggies should be about the size of your fist. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really paid attention to that.
Then there’s the confusing world of servings vs. portions. You may have a single portion of something, but it may include more than one serving.
I know, it’s like understanding Calculus but think about it like this: A small bag of chips may come as one portion, but there are probably 2 or 3 servings in that bag…and you don’t just stop at one serving. Who does that?
Which explains why we end up eating too much. We eat too many servings without even realizing it.
And then there’s another problem.
We almost always underestimate the number of calories we’re eating.
In one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (a little light reading) found that people underestimated the calories they were eating by a whopping 38%. That means a 200-calorie estimate could actually be 276 calories.
Thinking about that and what had been going on with me for the past few years, I realized the crazy reality I created for myself:
I had convinced myself that I really was eating healthy.
Liar, liar pants on fire.
And it isn’t just me – We all do it. I can’t count all the clients who claimed a healthy diet, yet they were getting zero results, just like I was.
What I learned from them, and what I had to relearn for myself is that: If you believe you’re doing everything right and you’re not losing weight, there’s a good chance you’re eating more than you think you are.
Yes, it could be a medical issue like thyroid problems, which are common and you should always see your doctor if you’re not losing weight just to make sure everything is in working order.
And if it is? You’re going to have to do what I did. You’re going to have to change how you eat.
How to Change You’re Eating
I’m going to tell you how I started managing my portion sizes because that, along with my workouts and stress management tools (taking walks, deep breathing, getting fired, a little meditation – wine, I’m not going to lie), has finally started working for me.
Another hard truth: Changing how you eat and focusing on portion sizes is a lot of work, especially if you’ve been doing what I did – Eating out a lot and eating a lot of crap.
To really get results:
- You’re going to have to make more of your own meals
- You’re going to have to measure what you eat
- You’re going to have to keep track of what you eat
Each of these things means you’re going to need to:
- Plan your meals
- Spend a lot of time at the grocery store
- Spend time prepping your meals
- Writing everything down
The good news is, there are some great resources out there to help you figure out this portion control thing. Here’s how I did it.
This neat little package is how I got started changing my diet. It’s actually part of the Beachbody Challenge I signed up for, the 80-Day Obsession.
You don’t have to do that program to follow the container kit, but adding exercise will really help you. Holler at me if you want help with that or check out my 8-Week START program which guides you through 8 weeks of fun (well mostly) workouts.
These containers are the easiest way to manage portions that I’ve found. Yes, it involves some measuring, but that’s made very easy by the color-coded containers.
How it works:
- You use the formula they give you to estimate how many calories you need to lose weight (this is always a guesstimate since no formula will be exact).
- You find the plan that fits with the calories you’re allowed to have. For example, I’m on Plan B which is a plan for 1500-1799 calories. That’s reasonable for my weight and exercise regime – It sets me up for weight loss but I’m not going so low on my calories that my metabolism shuts down.
- The plan you’re in determines your daily food intake, which involves the color-coded containers:
- Green for veggies (this equals 1 cup)
- Purple for fruit (1 cup)
- Red for protein (3/4 cup)
- Yellow for healthy carbs (1/2 cup)
- Blue for fats (1/3 cup)
- Orange for dressings and seeds (2 Tbs)
- Teaspoons for things like oils and butter
- Your plan tells you how many of each container you can have each day. For example, I get 4 greens, 3 purples, 4 reds, 3 yellows, 1 blue, 1 orange and 4 teaspoons. And some days I don’t even get all my containers because I’m too full.
Sound complicated? It’s really not once you get going and this particular kit includes a 21-day meal plan guide, which is the only way I figured all of this out.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work but if you try it, even for just a week, you’ll notice a few things:
- You’ve been eating too much
- You can eat less and still feel full
- Eating more often keeps your energy up and helps you avoid that icky I-ate-too-much feeling
- You’ll start losing weight
This is not a diet. I hate diets and have never been able to follow them.
This is more of an eye-opening experience to how you’ve been eating and that in and of itself is worth it.
There are other things I’ve found helpful with this portion control experiment because, to really get it down, prepping for your meals ahead of time is a must. I know, pain in the butt, but that’s what it takes.
Here are my favorite accessories:
If you decide to go for it, you can head over to the FIXATE Nutrition website (it’s part of Beachbody) and they have tons of ideas for meals and prepping.
Having never had to watch what I eat, this has been an eye-opening experience for me and, as hard as it is to change, it’s worth all that hard work. You look better, you feel better and, the best part is, you feel better about yourself.
There’s nothing worse than the guilt and shame of gaining weight, but taking action helps ease that.
That alone is worth it!
What about you? Do you have any portion control ideas or stories? Leave a comment.
Wansink B, Chandon P. Meal Size, Not Body Size, Explains Errors in Estimating the Calorie Content of Meals. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006;145(5):326. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-145-5-200609050-00005