Chances are you’ve heard of intuitive eating. One of the biggest advantages of this approach is that you can use internal hunger and satiety cues to help you decide when you’re full. Typically, this is done by using the hunger scale to help people avoid overeating. But exactly how to eat until you’re full (as opposed to stuffed) isn’t always clear. Here’s how nutrition experts suggest structuring your meals so that you can use hunger as a guide.
1 Avoid waiting until you’re famished to eat.
“If you don’t feel hungry until it’s too late, it’s hard to pay attention to your satiety level at mealtime,” explains Kelsey Lorencz, RD. Setting yourself up for success by starting to eat when you feel hungry, but not sick or irritable, sets you up for success. Still, many of us aren’t that good at knowing when we’re hungry until it’s too late.” If hunger is an unmeasurable feeling for you, planning a meal every 4 hours can be a good place to start.”
2 Ask yourself: are you hungry enough to eat an apple?
It may sound strange, but we often experience cravings that have nothing to do with hunger.” Have you ever noticed that you have plenty of room for another cookie after a full meal, but the idea that a nutritious snack, like apples and nuts, is better, doesn’t sound appealing?” Brittany Modell RD asks. In this case, you’re probably not really hungry, she says.” The next time you want to reach for a snack, ask yourself if you’re hungry enough to eat a whole apple. If the answer is no, think about the last time you ate and whether you’re experiencing true hunger.”
3 Drink liquids before you eat.
It’s always a good idea to have a drink before you start eating, says Kristina LaRue, RD.” Filling your stomach with a glass of water or tea can reduce hunger so you don’t rush into your meal and eat too quickly.”
4 Be more connected to your food
“Before a meal begins, think about where the food comes from, the different components that make up the meal, and all the work that went into creating it,” suggests Kylie Ivanir, RD. This can help you feel more connected and mindful of the food you’re eating.” These moments can also help us make healthier and more sustainable choices.”
5 Cherish those first few bites of food.
Really tune into those first few bites of food.” Your taste buds become desensitized to food in the first few minutes, which makes it taste less good after the last critical bite,” explains Stephanie Grasso, RDN.” Chewing slowly in the first few bites not only delays overeating, but also allows you to appreciate the food’s flavor at its peak.”
6 Engage your senses
Related to this, it’s useful to tap into the five senses as you eat.” Is your food visually appealing?” Lalu asked.” Note the color and arrangement of the food on the plate. What does it smell like? Does it remind you of anything? Enjoy the moment. Take a bite and savor the taste, flavor and texture of your food. Make a mental note of the experience and even talk about these qualities with the person you’re dining with. It makes the meal more enjoyable, and you’ll find that you start to notice satiety more easily.”
7 Removing the barriers
“Turn off the TV, step away from the computer, and put your phone on silent,” suggests LaRue.” It’s hard to tune into your body’s quiet cues, and digital distractions can create noise that takes our attention away from the task at hand: eating. Sit at the table with a chair and plate and put yourself in a good environment and mindset in order to eat intuitively.”
8 Balance your plate.
A meal that includes a mix of carbohydrates, fats and protein is more likely to fill you up faster and keep you feeling fuller longer.” When our meals are balanced, we get our short-term energy from starchy vegetables and grains and our long-term energy from healthy fats and protein,” says Randy Evans RD, a consultant with Fresh n’ Lean.” Healthy fats and proteins slow down digestion and give us a chance to increase satiety, giving us the signal that we’re full.” For carbohydrates, aim for a mix of whole grains, starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables.
9 Time your eating.
“Pause and put down your fork during your meal,” suggests LaRue.” This gives you more time to pace yourself and check to gauge how full you are. If you’re with someone else, you can engage in conversation. Take a few deep breaths and drink some water. Repeat this several times during your meal. It may be wise to give yourself visual reminders to put down your fork, etc., after you’ve finished a quarter of your meal.”
10ASSESS YOUR FULLNESS POST-MEAL (assess your fullness).
“When you’re done eating, evaluate your level of fullness,” suggests LaRue. If you’re more than satisfied or overstuffed, assess why. Did you just really enjoy the food? Are you overly hungry and you are eating too fast?” If you’ve finished your meal and you don’t feel physically satisfied, assess the balance of your nutrients – carbohydrates, fat and protein. If you’re still hungry, allow yourself to go for more food and trust that as long as you’re eating what your body really needs, you’re not eating too much. The only caveat is that you want to make sure your hunger is truly physical, not emotional.”
11 Manage your stress.
“As strange as it sounds, eating isn’t just something we do when we’re hungry anymore,” notes Evans.” A lot of our diets are stress diets, which can lead us to eating too much, too often, and the wrong foods.” By taking steps to reduce stress by exercising, spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, or enjoying time with loved ones, you can reduce your chances of overeating.
12 Avoid the “Last Meal Effect”
“Whenever we create food restrictions, it makes us prone to overeat later,” says Mallory Gonzales, RD. In other words, if you forbid yourself from eating certain foods, you’re highly likely to overindulge in them while you still can, a phenomenon also known as the “last supper effect.” This phenomenon can also continue after you stop eating certain foods.
By not making any foods off-limits, you give yourself permission to have them, which can make you feel less desperate to overindulge.” For example, if you want a cookie, you’ll get one,” says Gonzalez.” You know you can have another cookie tomorrow if you want, so you might not even finish the cookie. And you don’t get the thought, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to have another one, so I have to finish it.’ By removing the restriction, you can enjoy your food and have it be satisfying, which helps prevent overeating.”