Portion control?

Hi everyone.

Hope you all are having an awesome weekend. This is my last weekend before classes start, and although I am exited I also can’t help but be a little bit anxious. There’s some mix up with my class scheduling which might make it VERY difficult for me to pass this semester. But in any case, I’m trying not to think about it enjoying my freedom while it lasts (even though I am working today).

Today is another post in the series of my recovery topics/healthy living debates (here are some other posts I did in this series). I want to talk about something that I’m struggling with and have struggled with since beginning my recovery journey and that is portion control. But please, before you all start telling me how “I don’t need portion control during weight gain” please hear me out 😛

When I was in recovery for the first time I had only been anorexic for about 6 months. I didn’t need re-feeding, and although I had a bit of weight to put on – portion control wasn’t an issue for me. I started eating normally again, without giving amounts and serving sizes much thought.  And because my body more or less still knew what I was used to eating, getting back into the swing of normal eating wasn’t too hard.

Next time around – it was a bit harder. I was already very aware of portion sizes and how much was “too much” (in my head anyways) so I would generally end up underrating. Then I would have days my body would just cave in and I would end up overeating – and would try to overcompensate by that by underrating the next day and it became a cycle. I’m happy to say that this still wasn’t a daily occurrence, but it did start a very strange fear of food.  I knew I had somehow disrupted the natural balance of my body knowing what it needed without overdoing it, but instead of redeeming it the right way by giving it enough food, I went the other way and would restrict even more in attempt to get things “under control”.

After my third relapse I was put in a hospital where they had a worked out system of re-feeding. They started off on a small portion and gradually worked their way up to really big portions. I never made it up to a full portion size (even the nurses commented it was ridiculously large), but I still ate more then I feel was necessary or even recommended. The hospital didn’t offer different food for ED recoveries, they just focused on sheer volume of food to aid with the weight gain, instead of giving us higher calorie food. In a way I wish they had done it another way, because after leaving the hospital my stomach was so stretched out that I didn’t remember what was a normal portion size any more. And so as soon as I went home I gradually reduced my portion sizes more and more until I was back to the beginning.

Some portion sizes just cross the limit – you know?

And now here I am – trying to figure out what a normal portion is for me – without under or overeating. This is additionally complicated by the fact that my stomach cannot handle large quantities of food (as in if I overeat I am in pain for 4 + hours), so I prefer to eat often but less at each sitting. Generally I have learned how much food is enough for one serving, and I try to either eat till I’m slightly more than comfortably full (if I know I can afford to rest afterwards), or I try eat high calorie foods to overcompensate for smaller portion sizes. But there are still days where I struggle with this –  usually when I let myself get too hungry and then I overestimate the amount of food I need, or I eat too fast and don’t give myself time to recognize fullness signals. Or I eat too little during the day and feel the need to “make up for it” at night – leading to stomach aches, bloating and overall unpleasentness.

Right now it seems like the more strictly I stick to my portion control – the easier my meals go down. Breakfast is generally the same thing/ration of foods/portion sizes – and I very rarely have stomach issues then. Lunches are generally my biggest meal- but usually that’s ok too.  Afternoon snacks are when I have the biggest issues – almost always under or overeat then. And depending on how snack goes, dinner follows suit – if I underate I generally  overeat at dinner, and if  overeat I undereat or sometimes (in rare, but very uncomfotable occasions) I keep overeating because I try to eat my normal portion size, even if I’m not that hungry.  So this is definitely a current issue for me.

I wish I didn’t have to  stick to general portion sizes and could just listen to my body as to when I’m hungry and full, but I feel the need to keep some sort of general “control” over how much I eat in one sitting.  After a few tries of just eating without any stop gates and a few hours in excruciating pain and mental discomfort I realized that my body and mind just aren’t in a place I can throw all caution to the wind and eat “whatever, whenever”. It seems my mind is more starved then my body, so sometimes I just want to eat a bit of everything – even if my body can’t handle it. So in these cases I find it helpful to slow down and sometimes even stop myself from eating more in favor of eating the same amount say an hour later – just so I know how my body will react to it.

I know some people will say it’s wrong, and disordered – but as someone who has struggled with overeating and binge eating in the past (and no, in my mind they are not one and the same – but that’s a topic for a different post) I feel like I can’t just eat with no holds barred.  I know even in the hospital  during re-feeding, we weren’t allowed to eat whatever, whenever. We weren’t allowed to eat at all outside meal times – because it was possible for us to overdo it. So there must be some merit to sticking to pre-planned meal times and portion sizes. At the same time I wonder if I’m overanalyzing my eating TOO much and if I will ever be able to just choose appropriate servings for myself without worrying about portion size.

When I was on vacation I got to sit down to 2-3  meals a day, and most of the time my portions were served by someone else. I would try to focus on taking around 20 minutes to eat my food, so I could realize how much I needed. And for the most part it worked. I usually had to leave something on my plate (my friends decided it was better to err on the side of serving me too much than too little. There were days I overdid it as well, but I always did so consciously. As in the food was so good I ate till I was stuffed. And believe it or not I was ok with that because it’s part of normal eating to sometimes eat more then you absolutely NEED.

There are times I always ignore the recomended serving suggestion –  ice-cream being the primary example here. Sorry people but 1/4 a cup isn’t a serving for me.  And fruit, I usually go beyond the recommended serving of fruit – screw that!! 😛

One night while on vacation we had an ice-cream party and I managed almost 1 1/3 cups of strawberry ice-cream in one sitting. Felt a little sick afterwards but so totally worth it 😉

So my question is – where is the balance between pushing your limits to eat more (if you are re-feeding) and not overdoing? Are portion sizes helpful guidelines, or are they detrimental in the process of listening to your body, because you’re already mentally biased because you know how much you’re “supposed” to eat? Do you generally stick to portion sizes, suggested servings?

I’m very interested to hearing other people’s thought and opinions on the matter, so please do chime in.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!



  1. Wow I wish I could answer this, but I myself am struggling with the same question, although I don’t have an ED or anything I have gained since I have had a break from training as I had a fractured back and I didn’t reduce my ‘portion sizes’ if anything I was close to binge eating I think as I would eat the whole block of choccy as I was so depressed about things, but anyway moving on… as a result I have put on weight that I am not happy with as it will mean it will be so hard coming back to running, so I am actually going to a nutritionist/ dietitian, and I am hoping they will tell me how much exactly I should be eating… it will be good to know… Anyway, I hope you too find out what is best for you! I know the feelings you described very well! Hope you have a great weekend! 🙂

  2. This is such a wonderful post and I especially love reading it after going to see the nutritionist for the first time and all she gave me was the Canada Food Guide, which tells how many servings and how big portions are!
    I too have the worst time with afternoon snacks: either they are too big or too little and having dealt with binge eating in the past, I am always wary of “too big” snacks.
    Currently, I’m trying best to follow that guideline she gave me. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/food-guide-aliment/view_eatwell_vue_bienmang-eng.pdf and for the past three days, it has been working well! However, I do have problems when it comes to meeting the grains for the day as well as uncertainty as to where to put foods such as chocolates and cookies!
    There is the underlying fear that I will get too obsessed with measuring and counting portions, but I am happier eating this way rather than counting calories (because now ed doesn’t have a voice..well, has less of a voice, than if there were numbers involved).
    I’m going to keep this up for the next three weeks and see if emotionally and physically I become better. I’ve never had a good estimate of portion sizes, so it’s definitely a new experience!
    ❤ love you sweetheart. Sorry for being a little MIA lately. School is stressful, but that is no excuse! 😛
    always thinking of you!!! sending you awfully huge huge hugs.
    p.s. do you have facebook?

  3. I am also recovering from anorexia, and have been struggling with portion control. I also have stomach issues (gosh, I feel like I could’ve almost written this post myself!) and I usually feel full and bloated, so I basically have no hunger cues. I wish I could listen to my body, but I usually just eat by the clock and follow recommended portion sizes. Though I do have a tendency to eat smaller portions than I know I probably should, especially since I am trying to gain weight.

    I try use the exchange system instead of couting calories, and I feel like this works better for me. Although I do wish I didn’t think so much about what/when/how much I eat. My ultimate goal is to just be able to listen to my body…eat what I am craving and until I am comfortably full (but not stuffed).

    I hope to get there some day, and I hope you are able to as well!

  4. Portion sizes are a very big issue for me right now, too.
    Because i tend to eat more and more after the portion i plated for myself. i just go back into the kitchen and grab sth more and stuff it into my face until i’m overly full. i don’t know why thos happened in the last week but i think it’s because i underestimated the amount of food i needed in one sitting. it’s easy to overeat on certain things for me – cereal, trail mix, peanut butter and hummus… and the i reseached and informed myself about how many servings of every food group a girl in my age needs and i looked up some food – what is a serving of peanut butter? I listed what i usually eat a day and saw that i’m totally ok with what i’m eating(even when i sneal into the kitchen to grab more).
    It’s just difficult to live on my own now at college and feed myself properly… a lot of anxiety you know? all i think of is food…i think you can’t eat healthier than i do now :S

    • Sorry you’re struggling with this right now – I sometimes tend to do the same things as well. Often it’s when I’m not eating enough, so then when I’m hungry I’m STARVING as opposed to just hungry – so I just keep eating.
      One thing I know works for me is eating every 2-3 hours. When I stick to that generally I can stick to my hunger cues without overdoing it. Also if I don’t feel satisfied after eating a certain amount of something (1 serving of lets say peanut butter) I know that I can always have a snack in a few hours. It helps me give my body what it needs without overeating and feeling uncomfortable full in the process.

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