How do you decide when to stop eating?
Do you eat until you feel full?
Do you eat until the food on your plate is gone?
The answer is going to be different for everyone.
It’s harder to overeat if you’re eating a whole foods based diet, but it still happens.
There are hundreds of small cues that can encourage you to eat more without you realizing it.(1) People who rely more on these external cues to stop eating, versus their own hunger, also tend to weigh more.(2)
How fast the people around you eat, the size of your plates and bowls, whether there’s music playing in the background — all of these changes can affect how much you eat at a meal.(1)
If you’re not aware of them, it’s easy to eat more than you intended.
Your goal is to eat until you’re satisfied, but not stuffed or completely full.
This simple change is often enough to help people lose all of their unwanted weight. In addition to losing weight, here are two more benefits of this strategy:
1. You’ll enjoy your food more.
Your first 2-3 bites are generally the most enjoyable. After that, the pleasure you get from eating becomes less intense.
By only eating until you’re satisfied, you’ll get more pleasure from each meal.
2. You’ll be more comfortable throughout the day.
Gorging on calories, while fun in the moment, often makes you feel sick and bloated afterwards. Eating smaller portions helps you stay satisfied, while maintaining your ability to work, be social, and get outside.
Let’s be honest though, the main reason you’re reading this is because you want to lose fat. Keep reading to learn how to eat less.
How to Learn When to Stop Eating
Serve yourself 10-20% less than you normally would. Studies have shown that you generally don’t notice if you eat 20% less, but more than that generally makes you hungrier.(1)
Repeat this for a few days. If you get hungry, serve yourself about 10% more protein and vegetables and see how you feel after a few days.
At your first meal of the day, eat only until you start to feel your stomach expand and your hunger disappear.
Ask yourself several times, “Am I still hungry.” If you start to eat something when you aren’t hungry, say out loud “I’m not hungry, but I’m about to eat this anyway.”
Calling yourself out is often enough to make you stop.
If you force yourself *not* to eat, do the same thing. Say “I’m hungry, but I’m not letting myself eat.” Then eat. If you’re hungry all day, you’re probably going to overeat eventually.
As soon as you don’t feel the need to eat any more, stop.
Eat in a low-distraction environment.
One of the main reasons people overeat is because they’re aren’t paying attention to their food.(1)
Watching television, talking with other people, and listening to music, can all cause you to eat more than you would otherwise.
This doesn’t mean you need to lock yourself in an empty room and stare at your plate. Spending the first minute of your meal focused on your food is a good place to start.
Have something else to do after your meal.
I don’t have much evidence to support this, but I’ve found something interesting about my own eating behavior:
If I have something planned for after meals, like a walk, a writing session, a dance lesson, or hanging out with friends, it’s much easier for me to stop eating.
I think there are several reasons this is the case:
- It helps me stop thinking about food after the meal, so I’m less tempted to get seconds.
- If I’m going to be moving around, I don’t want to be completely full, as I’ll be uncomfortable.
- I’m less tempted to multitask by checking my phone or computer while eating, since I know exactly what I’m supposed to do after the meal.
Plan some kind of activity for after your meal, even if it’s something simple like a walk. My friend Dr. Spencer Nadolsky has been telling his weight loss patients to go on walks after meals for years, and this may be part of why it works.
Eat until you’re satisfied 80% of the time.
Some people take this to insane extremes, and recommend you constantly question whether or not you’re hungry. That’s stupid.
For the rest of this week, pay slightly more attention to your hunger and satiety levels. That’s it.
- Serve yourself a little less at the first meal of the day.
- Eat until your hunger has mostly disappeared.
- Eat without major distractions like television and your phone.
- Make plans for what you’ll do after meals.
Do that 80% of the time, and then reassess whether or not you need to be more strict.
Eating less generally sucks, but it’s not as bad as you might think. If you stop eating when you’re satisfied, instead of when you’re full or stuffed, it will become much easier to lose weight.
This is part 3 in a series on Flexible Dieting. Click here to read parts 1 and 2:
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1. Wansink B. From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiol Behav. 2010;100(5):454–463. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.05.003.
2. Wansink B, Payne CR, Chandon P. Internal and external cues of meal cessation: the French paradox redux? Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15(12):2920–2924. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.348.