November 26, 2007

Make Friends With Fractions

Question: why is it so hard to remember that it's possible to eat a half, or a third, or even one and three-eighths of something? What is so compelling about whole numbers and unitary "serving sizes"--long after the invention of tupperware and aluminum foil and refrigerators that are perfectly capable of saving leftovers?

And sure, sometimes you can't save leftovers, and it seems a shame to "waste" food. But if you've got extra food on your plate that you could eat but you're not all that hungry for, then hell--it's already wasted! That food is not doing any more good sitting in your stomach than in a garbage can.

When Crabby remembers that a piece and a half of whole wheat toast is really the "right" serving size for her at breakfast, she is so much happier. Because while a single piece of bread simply does not yield enough toasty goodness, two slices of toast is more than she needs, given that she eats quite a few other things along with the toast. One and half pieces of toast: a perfect amount.

Yet far too often, Crabby throws two pieces of bread in the toaster anyway. It's as though slicing one in half would be akin to cutting her own skin open. Noooo! Toast comes in pairs, you get to have Two Pieces, it's a Rule!

Same problem with cheeseburgers. Crabby does not eat them frequently, but on the rare occasions when she does, she likes the big fat medium rare restaurant type burger, not a skinny dried-up overcooked fast food patty. But she is not a hyperactive 12 year old anymore. She does not need to eat an entire big-ass restaurant cheeseburger!

So just watch Crabby at a restaurant with her giant cheeseburger sometime, carefully cutting it in half and pushing the unnecessary half to the far side of her plate. What restraint!

The feat would be much more impressive, however, if she'd leave the extra half the f*ck alone. But she doesn't, does she? After she's gobbled up the first half, she'll eye the other half longingly, then decide to slice off just a bit more, and, then... well, you know the rest. She returns to the second half of the burger again and again until the whole thing is gone.

(Of course one of the best reasons to acquire a Significant Other is the ability to split cheeseburgers. Well sure, there's the lifelong companionship and joy and all that stuff, but--built in portion control! Alas, sometimes, one's partner isn't there or is not in the mood to provide cheeseburger portion control assistance, and if Crabby had more sense, she would never, ever, order a cheeseburger in these instances).

The good news is that just as the ability to divide things into fractions can be forgotten or ignored, this ability can also be rediscovered again! This morning, for example, Crabby had a piece and a half of toast and was very pleased with herself, so she knows it's possible.

So if you're forgetful like Crabby, you may want to keep in mind that you do not need to be ruled by "serving sizes"--they're arbitrary. Fractions are your Friends!

Is this a problem anyone else has? Or is Crabby the only one who needs to repeat fourth grade?


  1. From what I see, too much in this world is controlled by the lowest common denominator :-(
    Cranky Fitness being an exceptional exception :-)

    Dr J

  2. It doesn't surprise me at all, Dr. J., that you are fully in command of your fractions!

    My major fractional accomplishment so far is to be half-assed much of the time.

  3. Good Morning Crabby! Size matters. Rather than try to ignore half the food on your plate (and remembering your parents going on about starving Biafrans) or worrying about fractions simply take less to begin with and/or use a smaller plate. It'll look like a full serving. As for the cheeseburger, just splurge. Eat the whole thing and smile as you do it.
    Seems to me plate size was discussed in an earlie post of
    yours. Good points were made.

  4. Ah, the Bag Lady was never good at math. She had a small dinner party last night, and made lasagna. Now, the recipe said the lasagna served 8 - 10 people. There were 6 people at the dinner party. The Bag Lady cut the lasagna into 8 pieces. There was a piece and a half left. If the Bag Lady had cut it into 10 pieces, how much would have been left?

  5. No you are not alone...
    I do volunteer to eat 1/2 the cheeseburger, though, because I am wonderful like that. :-)
    I read somewhere (maybe here?) that if you do receive a big portion at a restaurant, ask for a takeout container immediately and put 1/2 the meal away.

  6. I'm practicing fractions and portion control, so I'm just going to leave half a comm...

  7. lol Hilary!

    I have not yet mastered the fraction concept when it comes to portions. I just haven't found an effective way to actually trick myself, other than just putting less on my plate.

    I can't even order that yummy "real" cheeseburger anymore. (yeah, I settle for the one that comes in the happy meal...that my five year old doesn't eat) Mostly because I feel like we don't go out enough so i've got eat some how scarf down food for 3 months worth of dates. It's like storing up food for the winter. A long cold dateless winter. :(

  8. I have this problem too! At home I prepare smaller portions than one gets in restaurants (well... duh) but if there is not enough left over to provide a complete other meal, I find myself forcing myself to polish it off.

    In restaurants, I cut my burger in half or even make a mental divider in the pasta or whatever... and then start picking at it, and then there isn't enough left to make it worth taking home, and I AM paying for it... it's bad.

  9. Hilary, you never cease to amuse me!

    I have learned that I can purchase a small order of fries at McD and split the whole order into thirds when I am out with my kids. It works great! We all get a bit-o-greasy goodness, but without scarfing down a whole order.

  10. I am awful at portion control, or rather, I am great at portion control, because I have the problem where, if it's on my plate - I eat it. So I make sure ahead of time that I have the exact amount of food I 'should' have on my plate.

    I don't really worry about what I eat when we go out, because (similar to Katieo) we never eat out, so when we do it's a special occasion and I don't bother to worry about it!

    However, there are many purchases I make at the grocery store that I rely on the significant other eating, just so I can have a taste. Once I have my taste, he has orders to destroy the rest of it before I can devour it all... (destroy = eat)

  11. Wow, I can feel a panic attack coming on just *thinking* about fractions. Say it with me: Math phobia. :)

  12. I destroyed half a chocolate bar today so that I wouldn't eat it. There is no way I would be able to forget that it was in the house.

    Something that bugs me about serving sizes: Half a banana is a serving of fruit. Who eats half a banana?! Except maybe on cereal?

  13. I su** at them as well

    just wrote a column about being SURROUNDED by empty 100 calorie packs.



  14. what a fun post. I'm trying to work on portion control as I would have 1/4 cup of uncooked oatmeal with 1/4 cottage cheese and 1/2 an apple as a snack...I know having a lot of variety is bad too because it stimulates new tastes, but it works for me.

  15. Yes- I agree with Missicat, although I've never actually done that myself. I, too, will cut the (veggie) burger in half, eat half and decide I want to stuff the rest down my throat even though I'm usually full.
    I'll tell you what helps though- offering others bites of your food or eating a side salad before your main meal.
    Give it a shot!!

  16. I find it MUCH easier when I'm dining OUT to do the fractions than when I'm eating at home.

    In my point driven world, I fear the NI of foreign made food so I always leave half to a third on my plate.

    At home, it's already portioned out right (scales and cups are employed) so it's licked pretty clean at the end :D

  17. ...AND speaking of arbitrary portion sizes, what is the deal with oatmeal? In theory, the serving size is one half cup uncooked. Or is it one cup cooked? If you cook one half cup of dry oatmeal does it equal 1 cup cooked? WTF?

  18. Crabby,

    I was in the middle of reading this post, when my Jimmy Buffet CD (Buffett Live: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) finished "Coconut Telegraph" and fed into "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

    Nuff said!


  19. Erin:

    I prefer to think of it as "one banana is two servings of fruit." Because, you're right, nobody in their right mind eats half a banana. :p

  20. If The Bag Lady gives us the answer, is it cheating?

  21. suzi - if the Bag Lady knew the answer, she would give it to you, and it wouldn't be cheating, but she really sucks at math, so she just gave the damned left-overs away!! And the 85-year old widowed fella told her he would probably get 3 meals out of it, so now the Bag Lady is totally confused!

  22. Math frightens me.

    However, I do try to keep fractions in mind when approaching unhealthy food. "Well, okay, that club sandwhich is 800 calories, but if I only eat half of it, and have a diet soda, and pass on the chips..."

  23. This whole subject makes me fractious :(

  24. Thanks for the great comments everyone! One of those busy days. I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't leave an unfinished burger or who thinks a whole damn banana is a serving size, or who has been hounded by evil 100 calorie snack packs!

    Some great ideas and reminders, like pre-meal salads and take out boxes and palming off leftovers to innocent old widowers and listening to Jimmy Buffet as an appetite suppressant, even if he is singing about cheeseburgers.

    I will try to keep these lessons in mind!

  25. Crabby, stop buying pre-sliced bread. Either have the bakery at the grocery store slice it or do it at home. Then decide, if you want them thinner than regular bread & eat two, or thicker and eat one.

    Eating out - I have never had a problem stopping when I get full and ignoring the rest. I don't get the guilt feelings even though I was raised with the "starving Biafrans/clean your plate" rule. Unfortunately lately I am able to clean a whole lot more food off the plate than I was able to before.

  26. This is the problem with being reasonable. You starve.

  27. Portion control? What's that? You mean I'm not supposed to eat every last morsel on my plate at restaurants?? Crap. I *knew* I was screwing something up!

    Isn't it amazing how we gradually slip and start to shove in just a little more every time? I'm terrible with portion control.

    Looks like we'll be classmates in that fourth grade remedial math class. D'oh!

  28. You guys crack me up! (And Reb, yeah, the fresh baked kind is a lot tastier too!)

  29. I think of it a little differently. If I only eat half a serving of crackers, then that leaves another half a serving of something else I can eat later. And I have this weird thought that since I didn't eat the entire serving of whatever, I will definately lose some weight. Even if the half I did eat was a chocolate fudge sunday.

  30. Alas from childhood we are programmed this way.

  31. Half a banana cannot be a portion size. Nobody eats half a banana. Besides, bananas are good for you, right? I can usually manage portion sizes for unhealthy stuff (one cookie, 1/4 cup ice cream, etc.), but when I see fruit or vegetables--in their true form, of course, not in a pie--I can't help but think that the Portion Police aren't watching. No one ever needed a triple bypass from eating the other half of the banana, right?

  32. I have good intentions but I hate leftovers. I bring them home from a restuarant to fill the tupperware after a big meal only to throw them all away when it turns to unidentifiable mush.

    I'm good with fractions but have my mother's voice in my head telling me to "finish it, there are starving people in [insert third world nation here]." I'm learning to tell her to shut the hell up.


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