Assess Hunger First. When you decide that you are going to eat something -- whether it's a meal or a snack -- the first thing to do is figure out if you're actually hungry. I mentioned this briefly in my previous post, Smart Snacking for Health and Balanced Nutrition. I often ask clients to use a "hunger scale" where "1" means that you are physically content and have no physical need to eat anything and "5" means that you are beyond hunger and have more extreme physical signs such as headache, nausea, inability to concentrate, or lack of energy. Therefore, I recommend eating when you are in the middle, or about a "3", which I would describe as a point where you are clearly feeling some physical signs but you don't have to eat right now. However, if you don't eat within about 15 minutes, you may start to get cranky. Of course, there are lots of people out there who don't get hungry at all, but that's a topic for another article. I do understand that it's not always possible to do that, and we'll touch on that in the next section, but the majority of the time, it's best to eat at times that you feel physically hungry.
Why are You Eating? So, you've thought about eating and maybe even considered the hunger scale. Well, what if you don't rate a score that indicates hunger? There are plenty of reasons that people eat, such as:
- Habit: it's "time" for lunch; you always have an afternoon snack at 3 pm
- Availability: someone brought donuts in to work; your spouse is making cookies; your son has a bag of chips out
- Distraction: you're watching TV and are in the mood for a snack; you're avoiding a project that you have to do
- Social: others are eating around you; someone brought you homemade baked goods
- Emotions/Stress: when you're sad you always make your favorite comfort foods; you munch on candy to "calm you down" when a big project is due
- Reward: when you're celebrating an achievement, you always go out for ice cream.
- Enjoyment of Eating: You know you're satisfied but you finish the food or get more because it tastes so good
- Prevention of Hunger: You know you're not hungry now but you may not have a chance to eat when you think you'll be. (This can be okay to do sometimes, you just don't want this to become a habit.)
Where are You Eating...and Where Should You Be? Do you eat in environments that allow you to focus on the food or are you distracted? Many people find that they eat in front of the TV, in the car on the way to work, or while working at their desk, for example. These situations do not allow you to fully focus on your food and you may find yourself unintentionally eating past the point of fullness, "grazing" on food (that is, eating off and on for an hour or more), or not really enjoying your food because you're not paying attention to it. In our household, we always eat -- whether a meal or a snack -- in the kitchen or dining room, and mostly avoid taking food in other areas of the house.
How Long Do You Spend Eating? Some people eat super fast -- as in less than 5 minutes and the food is gone -- while others could sit there for an hour with a single plate of food. I know people that fit into both categories. So, there is a benefit to taking time to eat your meal, and that is to help you determine when you are satisfied, in other words, physically content. The idea here is not necessarily to finish your plate, but to figure out when you're body says it's time to stop. Granted, this is not easy for everyone, particularly if you were brought up being told that "there are starving children, so you better finish your plate" or "if you don't finish your dinner, you won't get dessert". I find that most people need at least about 20 minutes to eat a meal in order for their body to help them assess when they should stop eating. It can take a good 10 minutes for the signal of fullness to get from your belly to your brain, so if you eat an entire plate of food quickly, you may not realize you're "full" until 10 or 15 minutes after you've eaten. It can help to put your fork down and chew your food thoroughly before taking the next bite.
Assess Satiety Last. So you're eating because you're physically hungry and you are doing it in a focused environment and taking your time. The last thing to do is to recognize when to stop eating when your body is physically content and not full. I refer to this as a "satiety" scale and it's similar to my hunger scale, where "1" means that your body continues to show signs of physical hunger and you are not yet physically satisfied and a "5" means that you are physically hurting/miserably full and may feel regret for the amount of food you ate. Again, the idea is to be in the middle when you stop eating, or at about a "3" where you are fully content. This is the point that you may even feel that you could eat more because it's a fairly neutral feeling, but you know that the only reason you would eat more is because you like the taste of the food, not because you are hungry for it.
The information contained in this post is provided for educational purposes only with the understanding that Optimal Nutrition and Health makes no warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of the information. Readers are advised not to use information in this post or others found on this website for the treatment or prevention of disease, and it should not be used in place of medical treatment or advice. Please do not reprint this post for distribution without my permission. To feature on your website or social media, please link to this post as the original source.
Written by Michelle Baglio of Optimal Nutrition and Health (Google+). The information contained in this post is provided for educational purposes only with the understanding that Optimal Nutrition and Health makes no warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of the information. Readers are advised not to use information in this post or others found on this website for the treatment or prevention of disease, and it should not be used in place of medical treatment or advice. Please do not reprint this post for distribution without my permission. To feature on your website or social media, please link to this post as the original source.