Did you know that children have superior awareness of their hunger and fullness cues compared to adults? As my friend Jo (RD) puts it, parents are in charge of when and what children eat, but children are in charge of how much. Somehow, as we grow up, we listen less to our hunger and fullness cues because of distractions, cravings, social pressure, and lack of awareness.
Just like we can retrain our taste buds’ sensitivities to high levels of flavors, we can also readjust our awareness to our hunger and fullness cues. By doing so, we’ll be able to make better choices at meal time and prevent overeating. Here are 7 tips to help:
- Drink water before eating. Often, when we don’t hydrate properly throughout the day and our thirst cue is firing. It’s easy to mistake that thirst cue for hunger. So, sip on a cup of water 15-20 mins before a meal to quench that thirst. It’ll allow you to have a better gauge of how truly hungry you are.
- Practice smart portioning. Let’s be real: if it’s delicious and in front of us, we will eat it. So, build your plate around greens, veggies, and fruit before picking your protein and grains. The latter two are sides, not main entrees! Overloading your plate with crap will only entice you to eat it all simply “because it’s there.” Besides, if you’re hungry after your first plate, you can always get more (see point #5). To gauge your portions, loosely clench your fists. A good size reference is about 2-3 fists of food.
- Chew slowly. Eating for fuel is important, but don’t forget about enjoying your food. Food gives us pleasure and all too often we eat it way too fast to derive that joy. Chewing slowly will allow you to savor the food more and allow your stomach to catch up to your mouth. You’re not a vacuum. Slow your roll!
- Forget the “clean your plate” philosophy. Growing up poor, we did not have the option to leave the table until every grain of rice was cleared from our bowls. It’s an understandable tactic! Food isn’t always cheap. But that’s why leftovers, plastic wrap, and refrigerators exist. If you’re full, save the rest for lunch or dinner the next day. You won’t overeat and you’ll actually save money. Also, look at your plate to see how much food is leftover. You’ll be able to gauge how much food to put on your plate before eating in the future (tied to point #2).
- After your first plate, pause for 15 minutes. Literally, stop. Talk with friends, sip on water, and wait. After 10-15 minutes, ask yourself, “how full am I?” Aim for to be at a 6-7 (on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “starving” and 10 being “hella full”) to be just the right amount of full instead of feeling overstuffed. By doing this, you’re actively trying to listen to what your body is telling you. Practice saying it out loud after every meal to build that awareness. Try it before ordering (or not ordering) dessert 😉
- Reduce distractions. Don’t eat in front of the tv. The visual stimulation will distract you from seeing your food and it will encourage mindless eating. Raise your hand if you have never mindlessly munched on chips or candy during a movie or tv show. No hands should be raised. If your hand is raised, then you’re a liar!
- Snack/hydrate throughout the day. How often have you been so busy during the day that when you get home from work, you realize it’s been 7 hours since you last ate at lunch? Oops. Not only will your hunger be out of control, you’re probably more likely to succumb to your cravings. This is doubly tough because you’re unconcerned with quality and quantity of food at this point. Remedy: have a healthy snack during the day. Yes, that means actually taking a break from your work and picking a snack to curb your growing hunger. We make smarter choices when we aren’t starving so try not to go more than 3 hours without eating. Remember the last time you went to the grocery store hungry? Mhmm.
Listening to your hunger and fullness cues brings your awareness to what your body needs not just what it wants. It’s the difference between being “head/eyes hungry” and “stomach hungry”. Always, let your stomach be your guide.
Happy eating, friends.
Thomas Ngo RD