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The “Low-Calorie Means I Can Eat More” Trap

One of the biggest lessons that I learned on my health and fitness journey has been relating to low-calorie foods.

When I was navigating my way through eating for fat loss, I learned that if I ate foods or developed recipes that were really low in calories, I could eat more of them. Sometimes A LOT more of them.

I distinctly remember many dinners consisting of three ounces of boneless skinless chicken breast plus the rest of an entire large dinner plate (11” diameter) filled with broccoli and/or cauliflower.

I was thrilled because I could eat so much food and still have it fit within my daily allotment of calories. But what I didn’t realize was that I was setting myself up for failure.

I didn’t understand at the time that while I might be able to eat huge portions of veggies and maintain or lose weight, I was getting myself used to eating really big portions.

I also didn’t realize that I was replacing one unhealthy habit with food, with another. It took me a long time to understand that I really didn’t need to eat that much food.

I ate that much food because I wasn’t feeling satisfied with the food I was eating, so I thought that by eating a lot of it, that would make me feel better. But looking back, it didn’t. It actually did the opposite.

I may have been full after eating all of that food, and my digestive system was certainly busy to say the least, but I wasn’t happy.

And when it came time to eat meals other than something consisting of chicken and broccoli, I usually ended up eating a lot more than I needed to eat, for two reasons:

  1. My understanding of portion sizes was entirely warped.
  2. I was eating to fill the void created from feeling like I didn’t get to eat {fill in the blank, off-limits-except-for-cheat-day food} very often.

Shifting habits

Since then, my habits have slowly changed. I no longer use my platter size dinner plates, instead opting to eat meals off of the smaller 8” diameter salad plates.

I use small cup size bowls for oatmeal and ice cream. I even use smaller spoons and forks sometimes to eat with because it helps me to eat slower and really enjoy my food.

I also don’t eat enormous size portions of veggies or salad or finagle recipes for the lowest possible caloric content. In fact, I don’t count calories anymore.

I opt for only low-fat or even full-fat food options rather than fat-free. I eat bread. I have dessert. And not only do I maintain the healthiest, fittest body I’ve had in a really long time, but I also truly feel satisfied.

Allowing myself to eat smaller portions of foods that I really love and was previously depriving myself of for the sake of weight loss, also helps me to enjoy my veggies and salads more too because not only am I not overdosing on them, but I’m also adding in more creative ingredients into the mix.

For example, sometimes I add cheese or butter to my veggies, or various nuts, avocado, cheese, or full fat dressings to my salads.

These are all items I used to stay away from since I didn’t think I could eat much of them, and therefore I didn’t want to bother with them.

Living in a world of inclusion rather than exclusion

Living a truly healthy lifestyle means having a healthy relationship with food and with your body.

And, while I by no means consider myself perfect, I think that by allowing myself the freedom to enjoy all foods in small portions, I lost my obsession with wanting to eat large quantities of any particular food.

I found that while I enjoy chocolate, bread, ice cream or other foods that previously may have been binge inducing, I’m satisfied with a few bites, a slice, or a small bowl full.

So for me to live my healthiest, fittest life, I decided that I live in a world of inclusion rather than exclusion.

I don’t see any food as off limits, which may sound insane, with all the things that there are to be scared of relating to health and food.

But, by telling myself that it’s ok to eat whatever I want, it actually has the opposite effect.

I tend to “crave” veggies, and my body intuitively knows that I just need a few nuts on my salad, or just one or two slices of bacon.

I am satisfied with a few bites of cheese rather than the entire wheel (“…you ate the whole wheel?? I’m not even mad!”… Anchorman reference).

The feeling of self-control and self-empowerment that I have now because of making this shift is incredible, and it’s given me a whole new appreciation for and relationship with healthy food.

I no longer feel like I live in a deprived world because I’ve got to get to that goal, but instead in a world where I can enjoy myself every step of the way, while I have health and fitness goals to strive for.

Have you experienced something similar or is this a challenge you are facing? I’d love for you to share your comments and questions below.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

skwigg November 12, 2010 at 3:14 PM

Me! Me! That was me! I distinctly remember that Susan Powter lady telling me I could eat as many bagels as I wanted because they don’t have fat and everyone knows that fat makes you fat. I believed her because, as a gullible diet ninny “fat makes you fat” sounded logical. Do you know what happens when you eat several huge bagels a day for weeks at a time? BAD THINGS. lol I gained a good 10 pounds before I realized I’d been duped. And fat free cream cheese? Blaaargh!

I’m with you now – small portions, small plates, real food, nothing off limits. It works so much better than big portions of unsatisfying “diet” food.

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Sheila November 12, 2010 at 4:48 PM

Hahaha, prior to the chicken plus broccoli phase, I also went through the low-fat means I can eat more phase as well. I have memories of *multiple* Lender’s Bagels plus spray butter being an afternoon norm for me. Or most of a bag of bbq Baked Lays. Or most of a box of Lucky Charms. Or half an Entenmann’s coffee cake. I could go on.

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Roland November 13, 2010 at 11:34 AM

Wow! This is like a flashback to my Calorieking days, where I figured out that low fat meant more food to eat. Thankfully, I didn’t fall into the low fat cookie, candy, and snack traps, but still. I remember going for more pasta and rice, plus bigger helpings of turkey breast and pork tenderloin topped with low fat sauces. Mmmm…

When I finally came around to moderate protein, fat, and carbs, via a Lou Schuler/Adam Campbell book called Testosterone Advantage Plan, I was much happier and far less focused on the portion size. (Thanks, Lou and Adam!). I was happier, but the cries from Calorieking friends were loud and clear about what a huge mistake I was making.

Fast forward 8 more years, and I’m happy to be not counting calories and to have a healthy relationship with food, including being to eat without needing to feel full (or what was actually more like “over full.”).

Good post. Very good post.

Roland

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Sheila November 15, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Aren’t Lou and Adam great?! That is so awesome that you followed your intuition regardless of what other people around you were saying. What a true success story, Roland!

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Jenny November 15, 2010 at 11:29 AM

How long did it take you to adjust? I’ve never been a dieter, never ate low fat foods, but I’ve gained 20 lbs over the last few year, and I don’t know how to eat without feeling hungry.

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Sheila November 15, 2010 at 11:44 AM

It’s hard to say for sure because I had a lot of one step forward two steps back lessons. We are going to be doing a 30-day challenge soon that I think will be really helpful for you, Jenny, so stay tuned!

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Erin September 12, 2011 at 11:49 AM

Just read this almost a year later from your tweet about it! Thank you! This is exactly where my mind’s been lately. I did a competition a year ago and trying to get back to some semblance of healthy eating is a challenge but I’m basically doing what you do and it’s so great to have NO foods off limits. Your body will let you know what it needs. LOVE it! Thanks!

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Heather October 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM

I can kind of relate to this, though I really want a certain body look so I am willing to say that I will be eating much more veggies than not. But I love them and wont be eating gigantic portions, additionally I will not give up things I truly love, like dark chocolate covered almonds. They fill me up and are small enough to just have four or five and feel like you’ve had much more.

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