I poked the last piece of scraggly broccoli with my fork and swirled it around the now cold garlic sauce that puddled on my plate. My stomach was already heavy but I just couldn’t leave that lonely stalk alone on my plate. I chewed it but didn’t really taste it. Broccoli is one of those foods that tastes great- when you are hungry.
The final bite was more of a conquest (or a compulsion) to leave no soldier behind. 20 minutes later I wondered, “was that The Bite that pushed my belly over the edge to uncomfortable?”.
As humans, we like to be full. It is a preference wired into our DNA. Being full means sustenance and nutrition, and those two things mean survival. Well, at least before we lived just minutes away from Restaurant Row. Though our world has changed our genetic wiring has not. Our bodies don’t know that we have such an excess of food in the U.S. that we throw out 31% or 133 billion pounds of food a year. That’s a lot of food.
WE KNEW HOW TO STOP
You and I, we once were completely connected to our body’s hunger and fullness signals. As infants, we would push away a milk when we were done, without any need to “interpret” those stop signals. Before we were exposed to heaps of processed foods and unashamed advertising, we knew nothing more than the crystal clear indications that our stomach sent our brain. Hungry meant we needed food; full meant we did not.
My mom often shares the story of a big family trip to the ice cream parlor. Our crew descended upon Mack’s Ice Cream with a single goal in mind (mine was chocolate peanut butter). While we adults sat there intent on finishing every last bite, my two young cousins abandoned their half-eaten, half-melted ice cream cones and swapped their focus to play. Their desire and need to eat were one and the same. We marveled at this and, I am pretty sure, one of us older people finished what they left behind.
At some point, we knew how to stop but then we didn’t. How did it happen?
WE BECOME DISCONNECTED
If you are reading this post, I will go ahead and assume that you have lost a clear connection with your fullness and that you struggle to stop eating when you are satisfied. The disconnect may have happened at a young age for you, or like me, when you went on your first diet.
(I still have fond memories of my Halloween candy lasting until Easter and my Easter candy hanging around until Halloween. That was B.D., before dieting)
For many eating became a source of comfort during a difficult time in their lives. Managing hurt became more imperative than honoring satiety. Food was a big help but now it hurts.
Or, maybe you simply liked to eat and super-sized meals at super-sized deals were more than you could pass on.
Whatever your story is, it is what makes you, you. And you are in the majority, my friend. So many of us do not know what it truly takes to fuel our bodies. But, we are not without hope! Eating until you are satisfied IS a skill that you can (re) learn.
RECONNECTING TO OUR FULLNESS
For some the idea of stopping their meals when comfortable makes them squirm in their restaurant booth. For others, they are ready to change but don’t quite know how to make it happen. The rest, well, they quit reading to hit up the Super Buffet 3 paragraphs ago.
As we move forward, there are two levels of instruction I would like to share with you. These go hand-in-hand. One area will likely be easier for you than the other.
- The internal. This is the way we think and how we feel about food. Our baggage, so to speak.
- The external. These are the simple (not necessarily easy) actions that we can take to make stopping when full easier.
How we think and feel affects how we act and how we act affects how we think and feel. You will learn how to push away your plate by learning skills in both of these areas. You probably won’t need to do everything but you will need to do the important things (to you).
Read through the list below and then do the following steps to get started.
6 WAYS TO STOP EATING WHEN SATISFIED
1. START EATING WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY
It’s 10 pm and your slouched body can hardly hold up your lead-filled eyelids and bobbing head. You have been on-the-go since the wee hours of the morning and you are t-i-r-e-d. Contrast tired to being refreshed. We only know what exhausted feels like because we are familiar with feeling rested.
In the same way, eating when you are hungry is one of the MOST effective strategies for stopping when full! When you know hunger, you notice it’s absence. If you aren’t hungry when you start, how could you possibly know when to finish? Hunger and fullness are bookends on mindful eating.
Read more about eating when hungry in this blog post. In fact, you may want to start there first!
2. SLOW IT DOWN
We are a society of fast eaters. It’s common knowledge that it takes our brain 20 minutes to receive the fullness signal from our stomach but many of us consume a meal in less than 10! Nothing makes this more obvious than when you have spent an entire hour making a delicious meal for your family only to have them devour it in a fraction of the time. So annoying.
Truth is- we have places to go and people to see. We like to eat and we enjoy food, but we don’t make the time to fully enjoy it. It’s time for a compromise.
Do your best to slow it down. Break out a timer and see how many minutes your dinner takes you. Then try to go a minute or two longer. Then try these helpful tips on how and why to eat more slowly.
3. PAY ATTENTION
Piggybacking on eating slowly is paying attention. Did you ever get to the tail end of your meal only to wonder where the heck it went? You were scrolling Facebook on hand-to-mouth autopilot when you heard the “cling” of your spoon hitting rock bottom of an empty bowl. What a bummer. You’re physically full but still mentally hungry.
By being present at your meal you can really taste and enjoy the eating experience. This way, when you finish eating, your body and mind will know you were there. Then it is much, much easier to walk away.
If you find yourself at a social event and the conversation is keeping your concentration at bay, sprinkle in a few moments of mealtime mindfulness. You don’t need to pay attention to your plate all of the time to find value in this practice. Rather, use your new millennium multi-tasking skills and do two things (kinda) at once.
To practice, simply redirect your attention to your taste buds and tummy for a quick assessment. Much like checking your speed while driving- your attention is on the road but you divert your eyes for just a moment to see if jamming out to your favorite song has caused your lead foot to take over.
4. TAKE A BREAK
Before this stop-when-you-are-full habit is natural, there is The Break. If an empty plate has been your cue to stop eating then you are a prime candidate for a pause. Mentally or physically divide your plate into quarters. Then as you finish each segment give yourself a minute or two to regroup.
Check in with your body, reconnect with your brain, and pry the fork from your hand. This speed bump is a fantastic way to slow down and reset.
5. EAT THE BEST
Do you ever find yourself saving the best bites for last? The center of the sandwich, the perfectly cheesy bite of pizza, the just-floppy-enough French fry off your husband’s plate?
When I was a kid I loved Lucky Charms. You know the cereal with marshmallows? Yeah, it’s a real winner. I crafted a well thought out technique- First, I would eat all of the sweetened cereal so that I was left with spoonfuls of only marshmallows at the end.
Imagine if you ate the best bites first. This means enjoying the tastiest bits when they are hot and fresh and when your appetite is at its peak of taste enjoyment. Then, as you reach comfortable fullness while there is still food on your plate, it will be much easier to leave the less ideal bites behind.
When your body has said “all done”, that dried out, cold, scraggly bit belongs in the trash.
6. TASTE FATIGUE
Just as hunger makes food taste amazing, fullness makes food taste ho-hum (another great reason to practice #4).
Proverbs 27:7 NKJV A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.
By rating the deliciousness of your meal you will have a pretty good clue about your body’s needs. As your salad slips from a 10 to a 7, you are filling up. When you are gnawing lettuce leaves that are just a 4 it’s time to pack up and move on.
Notice the way that your tastebuds fatigue and use that indicator to guide your decision to stop.
7. SERVE YOURSELF LESS
Sure, in an ideal world you would listen to your body’s every whisper and respond accordingly but, let’s face it- we live in a noisy world. If you have trouble hearing your stomach signals or you aren’t quite ready to leave a soldier behind (on your plate), it is perfectly OK to simply serve yourself less.
Plate up what you normally would and put 3-5 bites back. It’s really that simple. Stick with that new portion size for a bit and, if you think you could spare a bit more, pare your meal back again.
WHY IT MATTERS
If health, body weight, and eating in a self-controlled way are of any concern to you, learning your body’s hunger and fullness signals is a worthwhile pursuit. Energy (calories) eaten outside of our physical needs and what we burn on a daily basis will be stored as body fat. That’s not great for our health or for fulfilling our life mission.
This is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to move forward. Yes, changing what you eat matters too, but I will be the first to tell you that you can easily overeat (and be overweight) while eating healthy food.
But, sometimes, it doesn’t seem to “work”.
WHEN IT DOESN’T “WORK”
We can become so disconnected from our “stop” and “go” that we may feel like we are eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are full but yet we remain overweight. I have had this discussion with clients many times. Yes, our cues can become miscalibrated.
In my dieting career, I knew two signals rather well- starving and stuffed. I’d white-knuckle not eating until I could hardly stand it only to eat voraciously until I was overfilled. On a hunger graph, I spent my time at “0” and “10”. Relearning to live in the middle meant that I had to become more sensitive to the messages my body was sending me.
If you feel stuck, start to experiment with stopping your meal a little sooner. By faith, put down your fork and see if you can reacquaint yourself with a new level of hunger that feels great. Chances are good that you will be pleasantly surprised by how fabulous you can feel with a little less food!
WHAT TO DO
Now that you have had a chance to read through some fresh ideas about why and how to stop eating when satisfied, it is time to put an action plan in place. If you need help tweaking these suggestions, be sure to check out The Ultimate 12-Week Healthy Habit Goal Setting Planner. This resource will teach you how to create a doable plan that you can put into practice right away.
- Download your Hunger & Fullness Tracking Sheet below.
- Do your best to wait to eat until you are truly hungry. This will make stopping when you are satisfied so much easier. If you are up for it, you may want to consider focusing there first.
- Read over the 7 tips above and choose ONE to practice. Determine when and how you will work on this skill. Be sure to choose a practice that is exciting and that you feel about 90% confident you can successfully complete.
- Practice this habit for 1-2 weeks, evaluate your proficiency and then add additional skills to support your efforts. It is essential to ditch diet perfectionism. You will NOT stop eating when satisfied every single time you eat, ever. Accept this keep your eyes forward, even on those days you find yourself willfully speeding past your internal “stop” sign.
Stopping your meal when you are satisfied is one of those skills you will probably need to remain aware of your entire life. As a society, we are faced with oversized portions, dinnertime distraction, and hyper-palatable foods that make it easier than ever to overeat.
But, with some time, attention, and some ninja moves, you can train yourself to hear and respond to your body’s fullness cues!