“Friss Die Haelfte!” – Eating Half Portions of Unwholesome Foods
“There will be obstacles…But with hard work, with belief, with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits. “
Michael Phelps, No Limits
After 35+ years of specialization in eating control, in 2013 I designed a small clinical program which oversees weight control, exercise and emotional management for post-menopausal women with double diagnoses. I called the program Lean On Me, because the double entrendre connotes the power of group interaction to help with what seems impossible, as well as the optimal life when each of us chooses our “lean” self as a model of health. Each member of Lean On Me carries two diagnoses: she has a serious physical health concern (e.g., heart arrhythmia, arthritis, pre-diabetes) as well as a mental health diagnosis that can be tough to manage (e.g., bipolar disorder, episodic depression, personality disorder). The program is successful in helping regain healthy bodies and hearts, with women currently working with weight, measurements, calories consumed, calories burned, emotional management issues, and interpersonal factors that enable success in optimal health.*
A side benefit of my decades of advanced psychological training in treating eating disorders is that I have gained deep insight into my own patterns of eating behavior. Although I do not share the severity of the physical and mental health disorders carried by the women in Lean On Me, I have long needed to be very careful about both choices and volume of my own food intake. Like so many women, I tend to “wear” excess calories consumed from fatty and sugary foods. For example, gooey chocolate cake finds it way to my hips and seems to thrive there unless I burn the calories and, like so many of us, I know the vicious circle of too many interesting life choices to prioritize a tedious work out. Family, career, and a big wide world compete for my interest. So, I have developed a panoply of calorie burning and muscle toning activities that are great fun: I swim. I bike. I walk our dogs to music. I climb on my Pilates reformer. And I work with an inspiring physical trainer who reminds me of what matters most.
My Ukrainian heritage sees to it that I easily wear extra calories, which take residence in pockets throughout my body, so I have been careful of what I eat for as long as I can remember. In 1966, when I moved to Bonn, Germany, to marry my late first husband, I became very close to my sister-in-law, who, though she looked slim to me, frequently purposefully lost weight through her own approach, which centered around one simple principle. She would proclaim loudly in German: “FDH!” Or “Friss die Haelfte! This translates simply into, “Eat half!” When she and I would choose our favorite item from the grocery department of The Kaufhof in Bonn, Germany, where we lived, my portion would be gone in a flash. She ate minuscule bites slowly, demonstrating her self-training to eat only half the usual portion of each meal or snack. Now, half a century later, she has internalized the wisdom of eating slowly and stopping when to wait the 20 minutes until her body tells her whether she is full. When I last visited her in Germany, she was biking to work, running, and practicing her “FDH!” eating habits which, by now, are second nature. She looks spectacular!
This summer I decided to tighten the reigns on my eating, requiring that I get more serious about portion control. I thought about “FDH!” and decided to read a motivational book on athletic prowess to put me in the mood to take charge of this tricky task. I chose Michael Phelps’s book, “No Limits: The Will To Succeed,” because his Olympic swimming career has been a model for so many who need to achieve a personal challenge. In his book , Michael , one of the greatest competitors the world has ever known, helps readers understand the habits he steeled himself to follow daily to enable eight Gold Olympic Medals and seven word records in swimming. He is inspirational.
This week, I decided to practice “FDH!” during a celebratory birthday dinner with my husband John who LOVES food! My gift was that he could order anything he liked. He selected The Yacht Club of Stone Harbor (www.ycsh.org) , where wing night is a delectable tradition on Thursdays each summer. I had cut hunger with an effective the protein shake at 4 PM based on the strategy I practice of never starting a celebratory meal hungry, especially if others will eat 4x times the amount I plan to consume.
Wing night provides a wonderful basket of twelve breaded and deep fried chicken wings slathered with a choice of succulent sauces.... for $12 John chose my very favorite, BBQ sauce, with blue cheese sauce on the side. It arrived with a handful of celery sticks to dip into the rich blue cheese sauce. It looked salty, greasy, fattening, and scrumptious.
Refusing to concentrate on feeling bad, I waited for my own order, an appetizer portion of Ahi tuna with Asian Cole slaw. When a nearly empty, smallish plate with 4 oz. of cole slaw and 4 finger-sized strips of tuna arrived, I blanched. My appetizer portion was stunningly attractive but woefully scant. My dinner was so tiny compared to Big John's huge and fatty pile of breaded fatty, salty and wings with tons of sauce that I doubted it would suffice after a day of ocean swimming.
I worried that John’s choice wreaks havoc on his health, but his pleasure was palpable. Taking a freshly laundered and pressed Yacht club blue napkin, he created a bib in an effort to spare his pressed shirt. Very slowly, my Mensa-intellect caveman devoured each wing in two bites. His delight was evident.
I proceeded delicately, reflecting briefly on what it would be like be a humming bird, taking one small morsel of food after another. I drank 3 glasses of ice water, chewing the ice cubes slowly. I ate slowly but was done my plate in ten minutes.
To make the time go by, I engaged John in a wonderful conversation about Being Mortal, the book by Dr. Atul Gewande the role the American medical community plays during final life stages.I delight in John’s intelligence, and he regaled me with stories of times he remembered from his 35 years as an executive at the National Library of Medicine. The import of the topic allowed me to get through the seemingly endless time watching him eat. I waited for the magic 20 minutes we all know about to help me feel full, but they had gone into hiding. I was hungry. I decided not to order more, since ice cream would follow.
We went for dessert to Tutto Gelato, a confection shop with delightful locally made Italian gelato (http://stoneharborbeach.com/business-directory/873/tutto-gelato/). I selected a 4 oz. kid portion of salted caramel. John had an 8 oz. large pile of cherry vanilla with a cone sticking out of the cup. Worried that I was doomed to envy as I watched him eat his large portion, I reminded myself that, when I was a small child, I was known for eating ice cream so slowly that I dripped it on my dress because I wanted to make it last. I used to race to be the LAST to finish and decided to do that with John. I won my race to be slower, though my portion was exactly half of what John ate. By the time we finished our dessert treat, I actually felt full enough to be cocky...I had managed a celebration in the most disciplined way I could imagine and, Like Michael Phelps writes, there were no limits to my ability to master my food choices. And, achieving my goal was the sweetest reward of all!
To consider:How might my quality of life be improved by adopting the principles that Michael Phelps has found so visionary in helping him meet his impressive life goals? Might you be glad you did?
To Read: Michael Phelps. “No Limits: The Will to Succeed”. 2008. Free Press
*Look for a new website soon.