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Portion Control

One early morning a few years back, I was booting my computer. I had stopped by Starbucks on the way to work to get my iced grande mocha, the same drink I had been consuming two to three times daily since I first walked into a Chicago Starbucks in the mid-1990s (unlike our last topic, changing up your workouts, some things don’t require mixing up). Since I was still partially asleep, I didn’t notice the top was only half on when the contents of the cup spilled all over my desk and floor.

Fortunately my desk had glass on top, and beneath my chair was on one of those plastic sheets to enhance rolling. This meant two things: 1) the liquid had nothing to absorb into (miraculously my computer was spared…no 3 Mile Island incident for me), and 2) I got a great visual of just how much that seemingly innocent cup contained. I couldn’t believe when it took nearly 20 minutes and well over 100 paper towels to clean it up. The quantity was shocking, and made me instantly realize that I simply didn’t need to be consuming so much chocolaty sugar crap that early in the morning.

It is not coincidental that the obesity rate in US adult men has tripled since 1975 along with portion sizes at restaurants. Since there is a lag time between how quickly you can put food in your mouth and how long it takes for your stomach to realize it is full, most people happily consume these obscenely large portions, only upon standing up realizing they have overeaten.

My iced mochas are probably the last thing I would ever give up, but the above incident made it an easy choice to switch to tall from grande. Did I sacrifice anything? Absolutely not (if you ever studied marginal utility in an economics class you understand the concept that as we consume more of something our incremental pleasure declines until ultimately it flattens out then declines). I still get my morning caffeine fix, I just consume fewer calories and spend less money.

Since I have two mochas a day, seven days a week, that means each year I save over $600 and more importantly about 100 calories a day which translates into over 10 pounds of fat I am not gaining per year. All without sacrificing an iota of pleasure.

Do a little experiment. Put some Phil Collins or Huey Lewis music on (if you have not seen the Christian Bale movie referenced above rent it – it’s a classic), lay down a plastic sheet, and ‘spill’ your typical large meal of pasta or other food that looks deceivingly small when nicely placed in a bowl or other container. You won’t believe your eyes, and I guarantee you that you will reduce your portions after that.


  • Drink Water Before and During Meal. This will keep your stomach full and minimize any unintended over eating.

  • Eat Frequently. Sounds counter intuitive, huh? A technique for eating less is to eat more? I am saying eat more frequently as a means to eat less overall (specifically to keep you from unintentionally over eating). You tend to over eat when you are hungry, thus don’t get hungry. If it is 2 pm and you are not having dinner until six, put something in your mouth – a piece of fruit, some nuts, a protein bar, whatever. Eating a couple hundred calories at two will cause you to eat 400 – 500 fewer calories at dinner (you will be less inclined to wolf down the white bread they put in front of you before the meal). Your mom was wrong when she told you not to spoil your appetite. You actually do want to spoil your appetite.

  • Cut Food into Small Bites. This may sound stupid, but try it. It takes a minute to do and doesn’t cost you a penny. Yet in taking that minute to cut up your food, you won’t rush to wolf it down. Also, the amount of food looks more substantial. Another practical benefit is that you literally will have more mouthfuls meaning it will take you longer to eat, meaning your mind has a decent chance of catching up with your stomach.

  • Eat Slower. Most of the techniques in this section have the effect – or at least objective – of eating slower. If you can just consciously eat slower, more power (and less fat) to/on you.

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