Portion sizes and brown bagging it

I have no idea how to eyeball my portion sizes.

When I first began cooking for myself, and only myself, I ended up throwing out a lot of food or even overeating from the idea of “waste not, want not.” I am one of those people who can eat well past the discomfort of a full stomach just because it’s on my plate. Before this last year, I had always had at least 2 other folks to prepare for if and when I cooked. Settling down to cooking for one person has been a challenge – both on the stovetop and when filling my plate!

What is a proper portion size? It definitely isn’t “as much as you can put on your plate.” I’ve been reading a lot of pages on what, exactly, is a healthy portion size. The best examples I’ve found are visual, like in this slideshow by the Food Network: 10 Ways to Measure Perfect Portion Sizes.

Now that I was aware of how much I was supposed to be eating to stay healthy, how was I going to implement it? Part of my problem has been that recipes out there aren’t made for single servings, and scaling it down isn’t generally feasible if I want to cook something that is tasty! So what do I do at the end of a meal with all that extra food?

Refrigerate and reheat, of course!

I love making a “colorful” bunch of vegetables as my sides to dinner – so now when I begin to fill my plate & realize that 4 half-servings of vegetables still makes twice as much as I need, I shrug, grab my gladware, and fill THAT first for lunch at work tomorrow. It’s much easier to divide the meal immediately after cooking rather than spending the time in the morning to find the bits and pieces of last night’s dinner to throw into my lunch box. Because I am a zombie when I wake, I much prefer this “grab and go” method.

The simple act of dividing my meals into two before I eat helps keep my portion sizes in the more “normal” range. It saves me from having to make a separate effort to arrange my lunch AND ensures that I don’t have “extras” in the kitchen I can go back to if I don’t feel “full” after dinner. I think this last is side effect of quitting smoking – not having my cigarette at the end of my meal is confusing to my body, I think; a meal isn’t “complete” without the nicotine!

colorful vegetables for dinner!

say whhaattt look at all the delicious vegetables I managed to bring together with a sprinkling of hormone-free organic mozzarella cheese

Another way that brown bagging my lunch is helpful in keeping my stomach sized to a normal meal is that I’m avoiding fast food. Before I began eating out as a young adult (going to restaurants was a special occasion in my family, unlike many families in Dallas!), I naturally kept a smaller portion size. I ate more slowly and less – it wasn’t uncommon for me to have more than half of my restaurant meal left over at the end.

What changed in my eating habits? Peer pressure. It made me uncomfortable to be seen as a dainty eater, someone who eats like a bird. Many acquaintances implied that I had an eating disorder because I didn’t wolf down my meals or carry much meat on my bones (“Did you eat lunch?” asked one well-meaning woman every day. “What did you eat?” as if she were going to catch me lying). As my socializing became less McDonald’s & more Sambuca, I started consciously eating more quickly, which helped me eat larger portions & keep pace with my friends so as not to be the last one lingering over dinner.

Thanks to socializing with beer and oversized restaurant portions, I’ve gained about 15lbs in 5 years, the final 5lbs being in the latest 9 months. I am always constantly hungry because I have gone so long with making bad food choices, both in quality & quantity. I have to snack all day long in order to feel full & ward off a “crash”, and I want to get out of that habit while I’m a healthy 25-year-old woman who can make long term, well-rounded, healthful diet choices. I want weight I put on to be related to muscle mass, not beer belly.

With the excuse that I’ve brought my lunch to work, I’m less likely to accept an invitation to eat out at one of the many fast food places near work. And because I don’t overindulge on cheap food, I’m more likely to enjoy the time I spend at quality eateries – even if it’s just Rusty Taco with friends.

I’m much happier now that I’ve learned to prepare my meals in sensible proportions – and since I figured out that leftovers can be put into the lunch box before they’ve cooled from the stovetop, giving me no excuse to forget my lunch before work in the morning. I feel like this is a really good habit that not only saves me money but makes my life easier.

Do you have any tricks to keep from overindulging at dinner? I don’t mean the sort that denies you what you honestly want or need to eat – I mean the sort that helps your mind and body realize that you have eaten a decent amount of food and it’s time to stop the meal.