Let’s talk about PORTION SIZE.

Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths. I was born with a stainless steel spoon being repeatedly forced into mine. It seems my family received some faulty data indicating an imminent famine. They decided the appropriate action was to feed me constantly and build up my baby-fat stores to withstand the coming hardship. My grandmother was the commander of this mission. No amount of food I ate was enough. “You eat like a bird,” she’d say.

Have you ever seen a sparrow chow down on a sparerib?

Imagine my surprise when I didn’t die of starvation back in the winter of 2008 after coming down with what I now half-jokingly refer to as “the first but undocumented case of swine flu,” which left me unable to eat for two straight weeks.


After noticing something resembling hip bones jutting through my skin, I crawled out of bed and dragged my weakened body to the scale. I’d forgotten I had bones in that part of my body. I was shocked when the scale said, “Who are you and what have you done with my owner?” and an 11-pound weight loss registered on the screen. Lighter, but still alive. Hmmmmm. There was definitely something wrong with my grandmother’s philosophy on portion size.

Truth be told, I needed to lose those eleven pounds. With the exception of my pregnancy, that winter in 2008 was the heaviest I had ever been, weighing in at 156 pounds. I’d always been up and down with my weight, but somehow I had let it get away from me. Too much snacking and zero exercise were the likely suspects. But now I was beginning to wonder if I was overeating even the healthy foods in my diet.


Motivated at my new weight of 145, I decided to take advantage of my near-death experience and continued lack of appetite. I nibbled at small portions of food to get my tummy used to eating again. When my appetite returned, I decided to forge ahead in the pursuit of health and wellness and a trimmer body. The first thing I did was cut all of my meals to half their former size. I told myself I could eat more if I were still hungry a half hour later. By giving myself that permission, I eliminated the anxiety and sense of deprivation I would have felt. I rarely had to go back for seconds.


The weight continued to come off at a steady pace. It seemed my metabolism had increased. Even if I overindulged at a special occasion, I did not gain weight. My set point had readjusted. As I watched the number on the scale drop and inches disappear, I decided to add in a bit of exercise. I grabbed my iPod and walked a 2-mile route I had mapped out with my car. Back at home, I did a few hundred crunches and stretched.

Those walks did as much for my mind as they did for my body, maybe more. I became addicted to that time away from it all. Soon I added jogging to my routine. Nothing crazy. I worked my way up to two miles and alternated with walking so I didn’t put too much stress on my knees. I promised myself I’d never go more than two days without exercising. My record turned out to be much better than that, in fact.

Six months after the flu, I was down 28 pounds and weighed 128. Some people [don’t pay any attention to my internal critic waving over there in the corner] might say I should be a bit lighter for my height of 5’4” and a half. (Don’t forget the half.) But at 128 lbs., my BMI was within normal range and I was in better shape than I’d been for quite a long time. My head was in better shape, too.

I managed to keep the weight off until today. This morning, I got on the scale and saw that I was creeping up into the mid-130s. I know the reason. It’s this damned winter. I’ve been cooped up, unable to do my beloved exercise routine due to snow and ice on the roads just about every week for the past month. So I’ve been going through the motions along with the too-perky trainer on one of my annoying exercise DVDs. (I want to smack her.) I’m also feeling a bit low from lack of sunshine, and I’ve been filling the void with sinful treats. I eat when I’m emotional. Happy, sad, angry, bored, or anything in between—I don’t discriminate. Sue me, I’m Italian. Sometimes I think those old habits are embedded in my cells.

But enough is enough already, right? It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve been in the groove, and it’s time to return. Reduce portion size that has crept up, eliminate sinful snacks (for me that’s anything that includes flour and/or added sugar), and exercise regularly. Anyone want to join me?

51 comments on “Let’s talk about PORTION SIZE.

  1. huffygirl on

    I’ll join you. I’m still trying to lose an elusive few pounds. Biking away on my trainer in the basement is just not the same as being out on the road on a beautiful day. And it’s so easy to eat too much when I’m cooped up inside so much.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Wouldn’t it be great if there were some kind of Disneyesque, multi-sensory experience, like Soaring, that you could install in your home for the winter months? You could run or bike through charming European towns, with the sun shining on your face, the breeze in your hair, the smell of bread baking in antique brick ovens…um, maybe not that last part. 🙁

  2. Mommarge on

    Great post. Yes, we force fed our children in those days to keep them healthy – in case they got sick and couldn’t eat (at least that’s what I was told by my mother.) It doesn’t make sense to my now but it did then.

    I manage to eat properly now from breakfast until dinner. That’s when my probems begin because I require various snacks between dinner and bedtime. If you can figure out how to help me with this problem (and want to – if you’ve gotten over me force feeding you as a child), I’d really appreciate it. Love you.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I have the same problem. You’d think I was a health fanatic if you saw what I eat from breakfast through dinner. It’s after dinner that does me in, and only in the winter months. That’s because my behaviors change in the winter. During the other seasons, I am out and about in the evening, either exercising or chatting with neighbors outside. In the winter, I’m usually on the couch watching TV.

      There’s something about TV viewing for me that contributes to continuous snacking. If I go to a restaurant and have a dessert, I’m satisfied. Not so while watching TV. Mindless eating is a dangerous thing. I wonder if TV viewing is contributing to your nighttime eating, too. You mentioned wanting to take a crocheting class. I bet it would be hard to eat while crocheting toilet paper covers. 😉

  3. workingtechmom on

    Okay I am with you…well at least on the exercise side. I started Sunday and have committed myself to 90 days. (and tricking myself that if I can make it that far I can quit) The food is a see-saw for me so I don’t want to commit just yet. Going out and meeting new people often involves food or drinks so I don’t want to give myself an excuse not to network.

    You have proven you can do it. Cut yourself slack – you are still own quite well – and congratulate yourself for that. Then kick your own butt on Friday and get going again!

  4. Val Erde on

    My mum tried to feed/overfeed me but as I was ill a lot as a child and the calories didn’t really know what they were supposed to do, it was a losing battle for her til I was eleven… and then my body suddenly said “Calories! I know what they are!” and I got fat. There are a lot of stories therein (or thereout) which I’ll save for another time, but just to say that I sympathise.

    When we moved from London to Wales a few years ago, I didn’t realise how stressed out I’d been til I signed on at a new medical practice and had a (compulsory-for-new-patients) health check and it was found that my body had put itself into starving mode. I was so shocked that I kept a food diary for a couple of months and at the start of it realised I’d only been eating about 400 calories a day and had been walking a lot. I’m really surprised that I made it through all that! So I had to increase my food intake (which was very difficult to do).

    Nowadays, I don’t actually worry about it. I don’t eat a hell of a lot but do make sure I get enough. I find that artwork – as of old – distracts me from eating, so that is a kind of balance mechanism for me.

    When you’re writing, do you eat more or less?

  5. Jackie on

    Forget about the rib you are chowing down on in the picture above. Remember how proud everyone was of me to eat the ENTIRE rack of lamb at the ripe old age of 8 or 9. People still talk about it today. I have the same issue with after dinner snacking…I try to avoid it but the snacks just call my name. I feel like Homer Simpson with Beeeer! M & MMMMM’s. Although now that I have been working out, I do try to slip in a piece of fruit from time to time. The biggest joke in our house is what we EAT while we WATCH the Biggest Loser. We are always munching on something. So last week I decided I was going to do crunches while watching. I tried to enlist Joe but he didn’t last too long. So we did it for one week…let’s see if it catches on. I have to say, I love going to the gym, I am hooked on spin class. And although I have only lost a few pounds, I feel like my clothes fit me differently and I feel healthier. I can actually walk up stairs without getting out of breath. And I love riding my bike, so at least I feel like I should be able to make it to Jones Beach with having a heart attack one it gets nice out.

  6. Jackie on

    P.S. Maybe you, mom and I should get one of those high tech refrigerator, cabinet alarms that talks to you when you open it. James Earl Jones voice (as Darth Vader might work). It could say (with a deep airy breath) “PUT THE CHOCOLATE DOWN. LUKE…I MEAN PRINCESS MARGARET….IT”S GOING RIGHT TO YOUR THIGHS AND GUT”

  7. jesswords10 on

    Only yesterday I thought about hanging a beach ball from the bathroom ceiling and buying some tropical scented soap to make myself feel like summer. It is this winter, I swear! I’m with ya on the change of attitude and change of behavior. It’s time for homemade salsa, sunshine, and snow shoeing – Noooooo!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Not a bad idea. I ordered some tropical tasting tea from Harney & Sons yesterday. Here’s the description:

      “Breathe in the sweet aroma of Caribe, a light fusion of green and black teas enhanced by tropical flavors. The exotic tea fuses hibiscus, guava, coconut and strawberry, accented with marigolds and cornflowers mellifluously. The first sip tastes of green tea, trailed by an impressive array of fruit and floral surprises, revealing endless tropical notes tucked into each sip. A favorite for many, Caribe is an inventive and exotic blend softened into a serene escape.”

      Come on over. Bring the beach ball.

  8. rebecca @ altared spaces on

    I don’t do any exercise that isn’t fun. Because it doesn’t work. And I feel like a fat slob almost immediately. I eat cartons of ice cream when I feel like a fat slob. You think I’m joking. Yeah, well, you just think that.

    So, only fun for me.

    But I have a lot of fun friends. And, even when I’m in a poopy mood, they can get me movin’.

    I think you’re probably right on portion size, but I’m a “no rules” girl. I am actually talking about this (almost) tomorrow.

    I thought the beach ball story was going to turn into a punching bag/indoor gym kinda thing. Maybe indoor volleyball over the shower curtain. How ’bout it JessWords10?

  9. Carl D'Agostino on

    I don’t understand why I weigh more than people that are much bigger than me in height and girth. Many people have been saying I am dense for decades but I figured out after decades that they were not talking about body shape.

  10. Just Me on

    You can’t blame Mom too much, you were always trim as a kid. Besides it’s in those Italian genes-you were doomed no matter what she did. We make kick ass cooks and then learn to do one more lap around the track !!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Oooo, a mystery. Who are you, “Just Me”? It’s driving me crazy. I don’t have your email address in my contacts, yet you have knowledge of what I looked like as a child. I’m starting to feel like Kate in my novel. Life imitating art.

  11. Jessica Sieghart on

    I know this sounds obnoxious, but I seriously thank God all the time that I’ve never had a weight problem. I see all my friends struggling and watching what they eat and I just could NOT deal with that. Maybe the tradeoff is the Leprechaun shenanigans, I don’t know. If I had to give up snacking and chocolate, I’d be done. I’m also not a big fan of traditional exercising. I don’t mind walking if it’s nice outside (which is maybe 3 days a year) and I don’t like the machines and stuff at gyms. I do love to dance, though! I didn’t this winter because life got too crazy, but I usually take belly dancing classes in the winters. It’s a workout and so much fun. I get super lazy in the winter and that always picks me up. So does going to cheesy bars and jumping around like crazy with friends to a bar band.that’s more my kind of exercising 😉

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      You’re lucky, Jessica. I wouldn’t mind being able to snack endlessly and not gain weight.

      I love to dance, too. I’ve always wanted to take belly dancing lessons. Long ago neighbors owned a belly dancing school and I attended one of their shows. It was great.

      I haven’t been to a cheesy bar to listen to a band in a long time. The good old days. The last time I went dancing was August 2009. It was salsa dancing in…wait for it…Scotland. That was unexpected and a lot of fun.

  12. Jessica S on

    I am soo in! I would love the extra motivation. I’m ready to have a baby, but I want to be able to run 4 miles every morning before that happens. I’m about 3 and 7/8ths short of that goal. LOL

  13. Just Me on

    The plot thickens….. hint hint… You didn’t want to ring my bell because you were afraid of my, just alittle too big, dog. Congrats on your book, it’s well deserved.

  14. fordeville on

    I’m with you. Begrudgingly.
    I knew I had gotten lazy over the holidays and finally looked at the scale two weeks ago. Oh boy. And so back on the proverbial wagon I climbed. Down a few pounds already and feeling better. But not, repeat not, ready to tackle bathing suits and shorts for my upcoming warm weather vacation. I have three weeks and 8 lbs to go.

  15. suzicate on

    I blame mine on Winter. I can’t wait for the beautiful weather for hiking and biking. If I could only not eat all the wonderful junk I love to indulge in. Actually, if I could just pass on those few glasses of wine a week, that alone would help! And I won’t even mention my best friend, Chocolate!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I know it! This week, the weather is supposed to warm up. I can’t wait to get outside again. I’m so ready to get back in the groove. The good part is that when I do exercise, I can have my little indulgences without disastrous effects. That’s the beauty of balance, I suppose.


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