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Portion Control

I’m not very good with portion control. Not only in terms of my eating, but in terms of everything in my life.

  • I can’t watch just 1 YouTube video, or just 1 episode of a TV show.
  • I can’t play a video game for only an hour.
  • I can’t drink just 1 beer.
  • I can’t eat just 1 piece of chocolate.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Binge watching Netflix is normal for a lot of people I know, and it’s even crept into advertising campaigns.

For me, food is the most noticeable area for catching this tendency. I know when I’m eating too much and binging on something I shouldn’t be. But other areas are more insidious.

If I decide to spend my break time watching a YouTube video, is that really a problem? No. Not by itself at least, but for me it’s never just one. If I watch one funny video on my break, 50% of the time that turns into an hour or two of binge watching random related videos.

The same is true in reverse, skipping out on a healthy habit is just the same as succumbing to an unhealthy activity. If you don’t do a habit 100% of the time, that actually makes it more difficult. It all comes down to willpower, if you decide in advance that you’ll always do a healthy habit then you never have to waste time and willpower on the decision.

For example, brushing and flossing your teeth. If you don’t floss once a month, that’s probably not a concern. However if you have that attitude going in, that the goal is not 100%, then you’ll inevitably miss more. Missing one isn’t a concern, but that path leads to missing more, which is a problem.

Going on a Diet

The most successful weight loss diets have a high focus on teaching portion control and adding healthy foods rather than restricting food intake. Most importantly, they place the focus on cutting out unhealthy domino foods entirely while replacing them with healthy alternatives. If the diet focuses on just restricting the amount of food you would normally eat without changing anything else, it becomes very difficult or impossible to actually follow it.

If you control your binges then they aren’t always bad, but you need to be in control of them. That’s why planned cheat days in diets can be useful. Even though you may over eat for that 1 day, all the other days you’ve cut out binging entirely. If you aren’t honest with yourself about how much you’re actually eating though, then even allowing a cheat day in your diet or habit is a problem.

The usual advice for dieters is to remove all of these trigger foods from your house so there is no temptation. When you get a craving it’s a lot easier to resist if you have to go all the way out to the grocery store to get it. If you’ve left it in your pantry it’s probably going to get eaten.

The same is true for other triggers. Remove YouTube/Netflix/Facebook/etc from the favorites list on your browser. Unplug your gaming console or TV when you aren’t planning on using them. Lay out your workout clothes in the evening (or even wear them to bed!) so you don’t have to search for them in the morning.

If you’ve got a real problem, you can go even more extreme. Several years ago I went 6 months without Internet or cable in my apartment to avoid wasting time on those useless things, and it was liberating. I watched much less TV, started learning how to cook, worked out consistently, was more socially active, and even started dating my current girlfriend. Interestingly I also remember that time more vividly. I chalk that up to being more present in everyday life, rather than being constantly focused on other things.

Most importantly recognize these triggers in yourself. Do as much as you can to avoid the unhealthy ones at all cost, and encourage those that make you healthier.

If you’re worried you may be wasting a lot of time on your computer, install RescueTime. It tracks your Internet browsing and the programs you use on your computer and displays them for you in pretty graph form. Install it, including the browser plugin, and check back after a week or two to see how you do. You may find that you are spending far more time on something unproductive than you would like.