Portion Distortion

What’s my Bariatric Portion?
Post ops get hung up on portion and how much goes on their plate. Physically, it’s more about what’s on the plate, as that determines how much fits in the pouch!

Recipes serve four unless stated otherwise. A Bariatric Portion is about half of a regular portion HOWEVER that doesn’t mean we have to finish it. How many a recipe serves or portion size is not as important as if it’s protein rich and low in carbs. After bariatric surgery we should be listening to the signals our body sends as the pouch will let us know when we’re done.

The ‘Clean Plate Club’
As a little girl in my Italian family, Mom fixed my plate and I couldn’t leave the table until I had eaten everything. Many of us grew up under similar parental rule and were released into the world on our path to obesity thinking Portion Size meant what was on the plate. Paired with the ‘no dessert unless you finish’ rule, we were doomed. What kind of logic goes into a reward of Strawberry Shortcake when we ate every bite, even if we didn’t want it.

burger vs. BURGER
We can’t rely on restaurants to determine our healthy portion either. Portions served have more than doubled over the last ten years and consumers expect large portions as representation of value. Hamburgers are currently suffering from gourmet excess and are giant fat and calorie bombs. Burger buns are butter filled brioche and have a sweetness from the addition of honey or sugar. A fully loaded half pound burger and fries is not a reasonable or healthy amount of food for anyone. Today’s entrees feature ten ounce portions of salmon and sixteen ounce steaks, a Dunkin bagel has over 500 calories before adding cream cheese and a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato has 40 grams of sugar. Even healthy places like Panera Bread serve 1/2 sandwiches equal in calories and size to what used to be acceptable as a whole.

A pouch the size of an egg
After bariatric surgery, we are thrown back into the world with a tiny surgically created stomach pouch that holds about four ounces of food. We clutch the sheet of instructions for the care of this new tool that will help us to lose most of our excess body weight in just twelve months. That gives us a year to figure out why we were 300 pounds, learn new coping skills and make better food choices!

One would think that restriction alone would be enough to keep us on the right path, but the pouch is just a tool. You hear that so often but truth is we have a new standard. We have to learn to use it. We learn early on that we can eat a lot more soft squishy foods than firm dense proteins. We need help with what to put on our plates that will limit the calories we are able to eat.

Yes… its old news, but it works!
We know you’ve heard this before but this time try it! It is a good idea to use smaller plates, in a set of dishes the sandwich plates are perfect bariatric portion control plates. I’ve used sandwich plates for my supper for fourteen years. It is human nature to put more on a large plate and then work to eat it all. Small portions fill a small plate and eliminate that ‘I’m on a diet’ feel to your meal. I have a collection of small but pretty mismatched plates that I have picked up for a dollar or two at Pier One and TJ Maxx over the years. I use them all the time. When people comment that the portions in my photos look large, I laugh because my plates are just five inches across!

You are neither five nor Cinderella
No plastic Disney dishes or paper plates. You are a grown up and making a meal special discourages mindless eating. Treat yourself with dignity, use a nice plate. You are not a five year old child. Ditto with the baby spoon. Come on, really? While I understand the point, these items make an intense learning curve less pleasant. You don’t need a bariatric plate with sections, bariatric forks with vibrating timers and lights or a special bariatric food template. Save your money for new skinny jeans.

How much chicken is 4 ounces?
We all have a pouch that holds four ounces – put two grilled chicken tenders on a sandwich plate – top with pico de gallo – add chopped baby spinach and tomato salad and we’re golden. For about five dollars you can pick up a digital scale, but I have a measuring device attached to my arm. The palm of my hand, not including my fingers, is about the same size and thickness of a 4 ounce piece of chicken, fish or steak. How handy is that!

But how much on my plate?
As a guide, fix your plate with 4 to 6 ounces solid protein with salsa or sauce and 1/2 cup lower carb vegetable or chopped salad. A good ‘real food’ example would be a four ounce piece of salmon and 3 asparagus spears roasted on a sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for ten minutes. Top with some avocado that you’ve fork mashed with a little chili powder and diced tomato.

Eat 1/2 of your salmon Protein First, 1/2 the asparagus Vegetable Second then go in for small alternating bites of protein and vegetable until you recognize you are at a soft fullness level. Then stop. Thinking about fullness while eating is very empowering.

Water Loading as a tool
When I was an early post op I would do something known as water loading to help me with head hunger. After my first 8 or 9 months post op we would go out to dinner with friends quite often and I would sip a big glass of ice water while everyone was drinking cocktails and diving into the bread basket. The cold water would shock my pouch and I could tell while drinking that I wouldn’t be able to eat much food. This kept me full and gave me something to do while waiting for my food. Once the plate landed in front of me, I would push the water out of reach; not another sip. Try this trick if you need strength or fullness to help you to not nibble or avoid foods you prefer not to eat.

15 almonds or two ounces
Pier One is a great place for bariatric friendly dinnerware! The clearance section always has a great selection of small plates and bowls. The best bariatric portion secret is a dish called a ramekin, which is a small white porcelain straight sided baking dish that holds 4 ounces. A bonus is that they are a dollar each! I use them for a handy measure when I don’t want to eat too much of something that is not a hard texture, like berries or cottage cheese or Greek yogurt. They are also great for individual portions of puddings, jello or small baked custards or fresh fruit crumbles. Never eat from the container, filling your porcelain ramekin to half with almonds would be 2 ounces and there is no temptation to keep eating from the container.

Think Before You Drink
Pour what you think is a cup of diet cranberry juice cocktail into one of your kitchen glasses. Then empty it into a liquid measuring cup to see how you did. Most of us horribly underestimate how much liquid we pour. No doubt because of the giant cups we all carry around. My mother used to serve coffee in coffee cups. They were dainty and came with a saucer. I use mugs that are so large that you could one to hand wash a t-shirt.

During your trip to Pier One, pick up some tall skinny drinking glasses! It has also been shown that most people pour nearly twice as much juice in a short glass as the eye is a poor judge of volume in relation to height and width.

It’s all in my head!
Not all portion control strategies are about eating less. At a party, go for the cocktail shrimp or Swiss cheese! Fill up on the foods that cause little harm so you don’t eat those that do. I use a slightly ‘crazy’ trick in that I will negotiate with myself and make a deal that I can have half a cheese biscuit but only AFTER I have eaten most of my steak. Of course once I have eaten the steak I no longer want the biscuit. I am a tough negotiator with eyes bigger than my pouch and a short memory.




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16 thoughts on “Portion Distortion! Tips for Bariatric Portion & Serving Size

  1. Rheta says:

    Thank you for some wonderful information.  I had gastric bypass surgery May 5, 2014 and has lost about 110 lbs. I still have trouble figuring out the right portions and amen to what you said about restaurant portion sizes!  I laughed because I do eat from Disney princess bowls and baby spoons! Keep up the great work and I’m looking forward to reading more!

  2. Joan Narodowiec says:

    Thank you for again reinforcing the portion control. I was getting into trouble by trying to eye things and I was always feeling terrible. So I finally figured that I was doing and I’m not back on track with my portions. I use a salad plate, is that the same size as your sandwich plate? Thanks for the idea of going to Pier One. I want to get some fancy smaller dishes and glassware. P.S. I love your recipes too.

  3. Shirley Anderson says:

    Thanks for the valuable information. I had ruen Y surgery on Aug 29th, have lost 120 lbs, just 25 more to go to reach my goal.  My husband is preparing to have the surgery now. This will help me reach my goal and enable me to help him attain his goals. 

  4. Charity says:

    I profile 2oz rubber made cups with lids and during snack time only have 1 of those. I only pack for a week and keep at my desk at work. To get the visual eating everything off my plate I use tea saucer. Even then sometimes I can finish that. My surgery was 2years ago

  5. Lynda Lingg says:

    I’m so glad I found your article!  I’ve been trying to maintain a 180 lb weight loss (surgery 12/3/2012) but it’s been wobbling back and forth.  I’ve got a disk that’s blown out which is causing sciatica so it’s been hard to exercise.  I still want to lose 100 lbs more.  I’m hoping as I heal and remember my portion control that eventually I’ll be were I want to be.  Thank you so much for posting this!!

  6. Janet Keller says:

    Your comment about baby spoons gave me a chuckle. When I was young, we had quite a few spoons that Mom referred to as “ice cream spoons”–that’s all we ate with them. It wasn’t until I was quite a bit older that I realized (and she confirmed) that they were stainless steel baby spoons! We always just thought they were special!
    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for sharing this article. I’m 2 months post-op VSG and currently use a food scale (from my Weight Watchers days) and measuring cup to determine portion sizes. I eat off a sandwich plate or small paper plate, or use a bowl just slightly larger than a ramekin. It holds about 6 oz., giving me room for 1/2 c. cottage cheese and a little fresh fruit. I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but it sounds like I’m on track.

  7. marshs says:

    I’m just getting ready to have the bypass and was overwhelmed thinking I would only drink my food for the rest of my live thu you site I relize you can still eat just better food for you and the size thank you for your site

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