A long post, (sorry Jinny for all the words!) but a good one and hopefully helpful to you too!

Life is a journey and for a great portion* of my journey thus far, I have carried a burden.  No, its not some deep, dark secret or misdeed, it was excess weight.  Beginning in 5th grade you can see from photos the change.  It was a big year for my family change-wise and I changed in my waistline.  Not that I will point a finger at anyone or anything in particular, mainly because I am a firm believer that if you point your finger at something, there are 3 other fingers pointing back at you.  Try pointing at the screen and then look at your hand whilst pointing…I’ll wait.  See?

Anyway, you can see the beginning of my weight gain between my 5th and 6th grade school photos.  My father left just before the start of 5th and you can really see it in my face.  Not that its his fault that I put on weight by any means but it was the start of a lot of stress, emotions and bad habits that I have carried for years, nearly 20 years this Memorial Day, actually.

Last year when I created my 101 in 1001, I was very specific about what I wanted to do with my weight:  #X Lose 30 pounds and #X Keep it off.  Joining a gym when I was in Anchorage was a good start but wasn’t enough, especially with my move out here to Nelson Lagoon.  At heart I am a researcher and a planner, so it only makes sense that when I decided to put my mind to losing weight and getting into shape that I would also put my mind to figuring out where my major problems were.  I had a good idea already so it didn’t take long to pinpoint my #1 failing…Portion size.

Lets get something clear before we go any further:  There is a difference between Portion size and Serving size.  A PORTION is what ever you take: 5 almonds or a handful.  A SERVING is a specified amount set by manufacturers, in the case of processed foods, or by the USDA: 1/2 c of rice or small orange.  I could eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting (portion) but Ben and Jerry say that there are 6 servings in that pint.

Serving sizes have been growing tremendously, as with most people in the US’ waistline, over the past 50 years.   This has triggered an almost parallel increase in portion sizes. McDonalds used to have only one size of fries…what we call “small” and can only be found in Happy Meals.  Take a look at photos and comparison of Portion size, Then vs. Now.  And see how well you do with Portion Distortion Quizzes too.  You will be surprised…and most likely a little scared too.

“New York University nutritionists evaluated as many as 39 samples of nearly two dozen popular items. With the exception of one — sliced white bread — the typical marketplace portion size of every item studied was at least twice as much as the USDA portion standard for it.  “We selected the items on the basis of their popularity, and because they are among the biggest contributors of calories in the American diet — although not necessarily the most fattening,” says lead researcher Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD. “Based on this finding, I’d say that people need to start paying attention not to just what they eat, but also how much of it they eat.”  But apparently, we can’t get enough of these hefty helpings, which may explain why most Americans are consuming about 200 more calories each day than just a decade ago. In the average woman, 200 more daily calories than her body needs could lead to more than a pound of weight gain each month.

Just two months ago, Penn State scientists reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionthat most of the 51 normal and overweight people they studied couldn’t judge an “appropriate” portion and continued to eat when given more food on their plate.”  “Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, dietitian at Albert Einstein College of Medicine: Obesity is a disease of excess — it doesn’t matter if the excess comes from McDonald’s or olive oil or skinless chicken breasts,” he says. “It does seem easier to have those excesses in high-calorie foods than in carrots and broccoli. But it’s not just fast-food chains that are supersizing everything. It’s everywhere. So my take-home advice is take it home. Because if you eat out, at most places you’re getting twice as much food as you should be eating.”  (Read the entire article here)

Yup…that was me to a T.  A “diet of excess” is what I ate with the problem being the sheer volume, not the food itself.  Sure, I have a weakness for Crunchy Cheetos and have, once or thrice, eaten the whole bag in one sitting, but really, I don’t eat ‘junk’ food.  I’m not a fan of sweets in general and would prefer popcorn as dessert to nearly anything else, I can’t and won’t eat chips to excess (with the rare exception of those Cheetos) and the most processed foods that you will ever find in my cupboards are Powdered Milk, instant Mashed Potatoes (both of which are staples in the bush and rarely used by me), BBQ sauce (a rarely indulged indulgence) and Canada Dry (1 a week, to celebrate the weekend).  Really, I would prefer a green salad, grilled meats and fresh vegetables to anything that has seen the inside of a factory.  But, over the years, it has been the sheer volume of those good foods that helped me grow outwards.  So when I put my mind to personal change, I knew exactly where I was going to start and the tools I needed:

A “yarn” scale (because, oddly, Amazon won’t send “food” scales to AK but if the seller calls it a “yarn” scale, the EXACT same scale, there is no problem), measuring cups, measuring spoons, paring knife, small bowl and plate, salad fork and teaspoon.

The first three are obvious:  To measure a serving.  Grams or Ounces of meat, vegetables, cheese or dried pasta, Table/Teaspoons of peanut butter, honey or condiments and Cup measurements of anything processed.  If the processor says 1 cup is a serving, 1 cup is what I ate.  Bread was the only thing that I had 2 servings of as norm: 1 slice of bread is a serving so a sandwich had 2 bread servings at first where as now I’m more satisfied with 1/2 a sandwich.

A paring knife to prep foods is an essential tool.  Not just to pare or chop but because division of foods is almost always necessary.  Think about a chicken breast, one taken from a bag of frozen ones.  The average size of one of those is nearly 9 ounces, at least in the past 2 bags I’ve eaten through, while a serving of meat as recommended from the USDA is 3 ounces, making a paring knife essential if one wants to be able to put just one serving on her plate.

And speaking of plates…the use of a small salad plate, small bowl and small flatware make eating smaller portions an exercise in optical illusion.  You see a full plate, you feel like you have eaten a full plates worth of food.  If your bowl is full of soup, you only see the full bowl, not the fact the bowl only can hold 10 ounces (8oz=1 cup) full to the brim.  If you use a salad fork, your full fork coming to your mouth only looks full, you don’t think about the shorter tines and the same goes with using a teaspoon instead of a dessert/table spoon.  Sure, you do know that its smaller, especially if you think about it, but if you let your mind relax and focus on the meal, the table setting fades into the background and you can enjoy the food.

When I started paying attention to what went into my mouth, I was truly shocked.  I followed the mantra: Bite it, Write it and Move on.  If it crossed my lips, I wrote it down in a little notebook along with my feelings about why I was eating and the rough volume of it.  Jelly Beans, bored, handful.  Apple, double fist sized, snack after work.  Popcorn, mixing bowl, evening snack.  1 Chicken thigh, 2 carrots and scoop of white rice, dinner.  In general, the number of snacks or just one or two bites were crazy.  Mindless eating abounded.  Volume was insane and unchecked.  After only a few days of BiWiMo I had started thinking before I popped something into my mouth just because I didn’t want to write “1 egg, 2 Jelly Beans, 1 pickle, random snack before bed” and admit to myself that I ate that just for the hell of it and with no rhyme or reason.  That was step one, was eye opening and surprisingly easy.

Step two was correcting my thinking and my idea of what “1” was.  Sure, 1 jelly bean is 1 and 1 egg is 1 and 1 russet potato is 1 but 1 jelly bean isnt a serving while 1 egg is and 1 russet potato is more.  This was a harder lesson.  The first thing that I did, along with using the smaller plate, bowl and flatware, was give myself permission to have seconds.  If I ate all of “1” in a meal and after waiting 20 minutes still wanted more, I could have it.  Rarely did I follow through or take advantage of my permission but knowing it was there was gratifying and very freeing.  I also refused to change what I was eating.  I did and still do and always will eat whole foods.  No non-fat/low-fat/fat free/no sugar/sugar-free/diet/light foods for this girl.  Too much processing and fake-ness in those pretend foods and as a whole, I feel much more satisfied after eating just a little bit of the real thing than any amount of the mock ups.  Denial of anything leads to an inordinate increase of desire for the forbidden fruit and going into something that I wanted to be a lifestyle change, I wanted nothing to be forbidden.  In the “real world” I would have access to pizza, ice cream, birthday cake and sour cream and if I didn’t know how to eat those things in reasonable portion as a ‘normal’ food then the odds that I would overeat them increased.  Let me tell you, this was the best idea ever.  If I want it, really, really want it, then I have it.  My mantra changed slightly to: Bite it, Write it, ENJOY IT and Move on.

And speaking of writing it, I use SparkPeople.com** as my food and fitness journal.  It is totally free, is completely gimmick free and so incredibly helpful.  When you start and set up your account you set your own goals.  Spark, however, keeps you smart.  If you think you are going to lose weight at a rate >2 pounds/week and want a diet and exercise plan to do so, think again.  Studies show over and over again that people who lose weight quickly also gain it back again and the whole point of Spark is to help you make healthy changes permanent.  You can follow their meal plan or your own and not only is there a massive food database so the only thing you need to know is what you ate and how much there was of it and it ‘knows’ your calories consumed, but Spark has and puts great stock in what they call “SparkDiet”, described as: “The SparkDiet is a four-stage journey that helps you make the elusive jump from “dieting” to a fresh, new lifestyle. The stages combine healthy tips and tools with motivation and confidence so that healthy habits become part of your everyday life”.  Nothing could be more smart and sensible and their fitness plan is set up quite the same way.  Depending on your goals and time you want to spend sweaty per week, Spark gives you a plan of cardio and strength to follow that is completely adaptable.

30 pounds have been purposefully shunted out the door through portion control alone.  Yes, I walk and now I run but really, I did that (walking) before too and was still fat.  It has been the volume of food that has changed my trouser size more than anything else and I would highly suggest that anyone who struggles with weight, gain or loss, take advantage of SparkPeople and/or to try following the BiWiMo mantra, even for a week.  It has made all the difference and now, on my path less travelled, I am a much happier person and looking towards my next pair of smaller jeans!

*Its funny how certain words are just so fitting.  I love language.

**Not to be confused with Spark.com which is a dating site.