Portion Creep

My grandmother had to move into a retirement home recently, and when we cleaned out her house I inherited a lovely vintage dining set. Despite my focus on eating healthy, body composition and weight training goals, I still love cooking, hosting parties and food. In normalizing my relationship with food, I’ve learned that I can still enjoy those foods I love. I can still have wine, beer or other drinks, just not as often and in massive portions.

This is why I laughed a little inside when I saw the size of the “dinner plates” in the vintage set compared to my every-day plates. My regular dinner plates are 12 inches in diameter, they were a gift from a family member when I moved houses a while back. These vintage plates are only 9 inches in diameter. When I think back to some of the rules of eating at my house growing up, we always had enough food, cooked from scratch, but when I moved out, my portions also increased.

I didn’t know how to cook back then, so I would buy a lot of ready packaged meals and many of them were for 2 people, but I would eat the whole thing. I used to say “The serving size is the container”, which explains how I got up to over 300 lbs at my heaviest. When I added in drinking soda with every meal because I thought water tasted boring and a constant snacking habit, on top of being a movie and gaming nerd who hardly moved, of course I got fat.

What is a Correct Portion Size?

I used to trust everyone else to dictate what the “right” portion size was, if I picked up a meal at a restaurant or fast food place, I assumed they did the job of making sure it was the right portion for me to eat. After all, their job is to prepare a meal for the customer, so I made the easy assumption that it was the correct size meal. The trouble for the various chefs and restaurateurs out there is simple, every customer is different. You can easily calculate your TDEE using a calculator such as this one and you’ll notice what only struck me years into my weight loss journey while out for a family dinner. My mother is 5 ft 2 (158 cm) tall, and was about 110 lbs (50 kg) for most of my childhood. I’m 6 ft 1 (185 cm) tall and was about 250 lbs (113 kg) at the time. Her TDEE was about 1300 calories per day, mine was 2382 calories per day.

For her, portion sizes at restaurants were always too big, to me they were always too small. It is impossible to adapt portion sizes to each individual when making a standard product. This is why most nutritional information has a caveat like “Based on a 2000 calorie a day diet” or something similar. I lacked the ability to intuitively eat the right amount, I was inactive, always chubby before blowing up into human planet size, and always overate by between 200 and 500 calories per day on average. My little brother on the other hand was always very active, always thin, and even struggled to put on enough weight, because when he ate as much as he felt he should be eating, he underate by a few hundred calories a day.

I think there may be people out there who naturally eat just the right amount and have stable weights, but I think more of us fall into either the category that I’m in, or the one that my brother is in, overeater or undereater. Even after years of training myself with portion sizes, it’s very easy for me to default to overeating a few hundred calories every single day. I noticed it when I went on a 2 month diet break towards the end of 2017, where I determined that I was not going to track accurately. I still tracked my calories but I didn’t use my digital scale.

You can see from the table on the left, that based on my tracking, I should have lost 0,65 kg (1,4 lbs) in September and another 1,18 kg (2,6 lbs) in October, but I gained 3,96 kg (8,7 lbs). 1 – 2 kg (2 – 5 lbs) is most likely water and glycogen from increasing carbs, but the rest is actual weight gain.

If 2 kg is fat gain, that means I thought I was in a 250 – 300 calorie deficit every day, but I was actually in a a 300 – 400 calorie daily surplus.  This was while tracking calories and food in MyFitnessPal, just not weighing everything on a digital scale, so imagine the damage if I hadn’t tracked at all.

A correct portion size is pretty easy, it is the number of calories you should eat per day according to your TDEE, divided among the number of meals and snacks you eat every day. I like to have a big dinner, never eat breakfast, have a snack before workouts and eat a light lunch, so at the moment I’m eating 1500 calories a day, 450 at lunch, 800 – 1050 at dinner, and set away 250 for my snack on workout days. It’s impossible to decide on this visually, but I can calculate it with my app and trusty digital scale.


Should You Try Flexible Dieting (If it fits your macros)

This is one of the new entrants into the market, promising to give you the most bang for your buck. The allure of flexible dieting is that you can have the freedom to eat the foods you enjoy, while reaping the benefits of calories in calories out and optimal macronutrient composition. This approach is known as both flexible dieting, “If it fits your macros” but also IIFYM for short. The idea behind flexible dieting is that all diets work, but people tend to go off them because they feel deprived of foods they love to eat. So, if you let people have the foods they love, as long as it’s within the boundaries of their eating plan, you get better compliance with the diet.

The approach is very sensible, but it has been misunderstood by many people who see it as the freedom to eat crap and still get results. The idea is that once you decide on your macros (Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate), as long as you stick within them, you will eat a suitable number of calories, while getting the optimal macronutrient amounts to support your goals. To make sure that you are eating to fit your macros, you have to calculate your macros. Here is how I do that:

A man looking to put on muscle, would perhaps eat 1.6 grams of protein per kilo (0,8 grams per lb), this is 148 grams per day for a 185 lb man, 592 calories. If he’s 5ft 10 inches, and 185 lbs, this means he has a daily TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure) if sedentary of about 2166 calories per day. With this protein intake it makes up 27% of his daily calories, leaving 1574 calories for fat and carbohydrates. A fat intake calculator at recommends 69 grams of fat every day for a man with his stats who engages in moderate exercise but has a sedentary job. This is 621 calories, leaving carbohydrate at 953 calories or 238 grams.

This makes the man’s macros 27% protein, 29% fat, and 44% carbohydrates. As long as he hits his macros, he can eat whatever he wants.  (more…)

The Low-Carb Diet

I’ve talked about using the low-carb (ketogenic) diet for years as part of my weight-loss journey. The reason why I like it is that it lets me eat my fill of good, whole foods, while letting me lose weight. I’ve been off and on the low-carb and Paleo wagons for years, and it can be a very good program depending on your goals and preferences.

Any diet will work as long as it creates a caloric deficit, they just go about doing this in a different way. Low-carb does it by switching you off the typical Western diet rich in non-filling, highly processed, low nutrient density but high caloric density foods. Then switching you over to high nutrient density, filling foods that naturally makes you body down-regulate how hungry you get.

When burning fat, you also never get low-blood sugar, and rarely feel hungry at all. I was a person who was constantly hungry, even when consuming hundreds if not thousands of calories in excess every day, who used food as entertainment, but on the low-carb diet I had to remind myself to eat something.

The Benefits of Low-Carb Diets

The major benefit of the low-carb diet is that it can be very low-maintenence.  I can get away with eating just one large meal every day and I can fast for up to 48 hours, when I’m in ketosis without it affecting my moods or energy levels. For a person who has never tracked calories or macro-nutrients, just having to keep track of dietary carbohydrate is also much easier than tracking calories, weighing out portions, meal-prepping, eating 6 times every day and being constantly hungry.

The simplest form of low-carb diet is the “Carnivore Diet” and variations of it are as easy as just eating steak and eggs cooked in butter whenever you’re hungry. There is no tracking involved what so ever, just eat meat, eggs and butter. Going a bit more towards the normal spectrum, sticking with meat, eggs, butter and vegetables like broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower, you don’t have to track anything and you will still lose weight most of the time.

You’ll also lose a lot of weight initially when your glycogen (sugar stores) empty, and your body releases the water it holds along with these sugars, this is very motivating.

The Problems with Low-Carb Diets

The major benefit of the low-carb diet, the fact that it’s low maintenance is also the major problem with it. You can see this if you read low-carb forums or low-carb blogs, people hit plateaus, they stall out, and their weight loss is very unpredictable. I experienced many stalls on the low carb diet, and my weight loss varied between 6 kg (13 lbs.) and 0 kg, month to month. I had no way of knowing why I was stalling or why I’d suddenly lost a bunch of weight one month, despite doing the exact same things and eating the same foods.

In the table (in kg) you can see my results during my last period of the low-carb diet before switching over to another style diet. The results are very erratic, despite me thinking that I ate pretty much the same meals in the same amounts in every month. l

When you plateau on a low-carb diet the advocates will recommend eliminating more foods, usually dairy (cheeses, cream) and nuts. Allegedly this is because some people have problems processing dairy, and nuts. This is half-way true, there are people who have problems digesting dairy or nuts properly. If the nuts are salted, it can also lead to bloating that can mask weight-loss. However, the major reason is that nuts and dairy are what I call “EOE” foods, foods that are easy to eat, but are also very calorie dense and are not really filling.

This means that people can rack up the calories very quickly when they are adding cream to every coffee and snack on slices of cheese containing up to 110 calories per slice.

The biggest problem is that most of the advocates use “You don’t have to count calories or track anything and you’ll still lose weight” as a selling point for the diet, and this is the exact reason why every other post on keto forums is “How do I break my stall?” I stalled out in weight gain at 335 lbs, because at that point I would need to eat between 3500 and 4000 calories every day just to maintain my weight. On the same side of things, the reason people stall on low-carb diets is that they are consuming a very small deficit or have no deficit at all.

Why Should You Pick Low-Carb?

The major benefit of low-carb diets from my perspective is that it helps with breaking addictions to carbohydrate. In my case, I was a major carb addict, and by maintaining a low carb diet for months or even years in some cases, I was able to break this addiction so my relationship with carbs normalized. It’s also a good “gateway diet”, as it gets people who have never dieted before into the idea of thinking about what they are eating, making conscious food choices and tracking.

Much of the eating we do is habitual, grabbing a cookie, a sandwich or a burger because we’re bored or a little bit hungry. These calories do all add up, and just eating 100 extra calories every day (about 1 slice of cheese) will result in a 4.7 kg (10 lbs.) of weight gain in a year. The low-carb diet gets people used to reading labels, tracking macros and being aware of what they are eating.

If you are a carboholic, eat for comfort and emotional regulation, or are just getting started with your weight loss I recommend trying the low carb on for size. If you are the type of person who prefers predictability and control, I’ll review other weight loss programs I used during my journey in the coming weeks that are much better than low-carb for control.


A History of Weight-loss and 2017 Results


Since I’m writing a summary of 2017, I thought I’d begin with chronicling the history of my battle with my weight. The last 9 – 10 years of my life has been a bit of a yo-yo with a downwards trend. I’ve taken two steps forward and one step back over and over during these years. You can see this for yourself in the graph. At the start of 2008, I weighed in at 152 kg (335 lbs.). During 2008, I went on an “accidental diet” and lost 17 kg (37 lbs), getting down to 135kg (298 lbs). I was a broke student and could barely afford to eat, and suddenly my clothes were too big. I always dressed in clothes a size or two too big when I was overweight, because it made me think that I would look less massive, but suddenly my clothes were 4 – 5 sizes too big.

During 2009, I went on an intentional diet for the first time in my life, my choice of diet was an ultra-low carb diet with planned cheat meals every week. This gave me the benefit of low-carb weight loss, without having to give up all my favorite foods. This was successful and I lost 23 kg (51 lbs) that year. I also started weight lifting for the first time.

In 2010, I kept losing weight, but the loss was 9 kg (20 lbs), something that seems minimal since I’d lost 39 kg (86 lbs) during 2008 and 2009. I started a new job that year, and it was pretty stressful so I ended up stress eating a lot more than I should have. In 2011, thanks to stress eating and regulating emotions with food, I regained 5 kg (11 lbs) in 2011, and stayed at the same weight through 2012.

2013 was going to be the year I finally got in control of my eating habits, and I lost 13 kg (29 lbs.) over the year just using the low-carb diet, reaching a new decade low by the end of the year of 95 kg (209 lbs.) During 2014, I regained 3 kg (7 lbs.), I didn’t think much of this, and I was going to keep losing weight in 2015. 2015 started off well, but my personal life took a turn for the much worse that year, and I stress-ate for the entire year. I resolved most of the personal issues towards the end of the year, and when I stepped the scale during Christmas 2015, I was shocked to see 117 kg (258 lbs.). I had undone almost 10 years of a downward trend, with 1 year of stress eating. My total gain that year was 19 kg (42 lbs.)

I slowly got back on the low-carb wagon, even though it was very difficult to go from a diet filled with sugar and fat, to one based on protein, good fats and vegetables. During 2016, I slowly lost 11 kg (24 lbs), at my weigh-in before Christmas I was happy to see myself weighing in at 106 kg. 2016 was also the year when I started tracking my weight so it’s also the year where I have good statistics.


As of today

As of today, I’m closer to my goal of being a former fat fuck, than I have been before. This journey that has been a series of attempts, failures and improvements is nearing the presumptive end, as I look down on the scale. 218 lbs, 99kg, the first time under 220 lbs, 100kg, in 2 years.

When I started this journey, my goal was to be 220 lbs, as I’ve slowly crept closer to my goal, a new frontier emerged, 185 lbs, at 10% body fat. There was a time years ago where I had no idea how much I weighed, I had no idea about my health in general. I just enjoyed life, as I saw it, a lot of tv, a lot of food and a lot of soda. My weight started creeping up at the start of my teenage years, and as I grew older, my weight grew larger and larger until I found myself wearing 3XL shirts, and size 44 pants, at 26 years old.

My size seemed to stagnate at this level, a little north of 330 lbs, at 6 ft 2 inches. I spent most of my time sitting around, eating and watching various movies and tv-shows leading to an nearly encyclopedic knowledge of English speaking pop culture. I didn’t really want to lose weight, or rather I did not want to give up delicious food. Then as I was about a year away from finishing my bachelor degree, I was running out of money, and as a result I ended up eating a lot less. Thus, I lost the first 30 lbs that started this journey.

I didn’t do this knowing what I was doing, I just ate whatever I could afford, and let my body mass make up the difference. (more…)