Note to the reader: This posting is the first in an upcoming blog series on mindful eating. Eating is so routine and easy that we can do it on autopilot. Mindful eating involves increasing our awareness of what, how, where, when and why we are eating. Being more aware can enable us to step back into the pilot seat and resume control of our eating. We have started this series at the end of a meal with the topic of feeling full. We hope that you enjoy this series!
During a meal, how do you know when you are full?
a) When there is no more food left on the plate?
b) When your belly begins to strain uncomfortably against your belt?
c) When the thought of another bite makes you feel nauseous?
d) When it's time for the dessert course?
e) When your fellow diners decide it's time to go?
It is common to rely on external cues and signals to indicate that it is time to stop eating. When I was a teenager I took pride in clearing my plate of food. In fact, I think that eating a lot became part of my identity. If there was anyone at the table who was having trouble finishing their meal I would happily finish off their plate for them. I was, in a sense, a human garburator.
Now I'm a thirty something year old man and to this day I still feel a strong desire to clear my plate before finishing a meal. I have imagined that I might have several stomachs, like a cow. "Sure the first stomach might be full, but the second, third and fourth are ready and waiting." Clearly my inner teenaged boy still has a voice in the back of my mind.
As an adult I now understand that eating as if I had four stomachs will eventually cause me to gain weight (unless I'm training for a marathon and my calorie needs skyrocket). So clearly I need some strategies to help me determine when I'm full.
One strategy, born out of research, is to estimate how much you want eat when you sit down for a meal and then serve yourself only about 80% (4/5ths) of that amount. If you still feel hungry after the first 80% of the meal then have a little more, but if you feel satisfied at 80% you won't miss the last 20%. I'm the type of person who will eat pretty much whatever is in front of him so this sounds like a good strategy for me to practice at home.
We are often led to believe that preventing overeating is simply a matter of will power. However, as a carryover from the hunter-gatherer days of feast and famine, humans have a history of eating whatever food is available in order to store up energy for times of food shortages. This feasting strategy worked well for humans when famines were common, but it can work against us when food is readily available and accessible to most of us at all times.
Our blog post entitled "See Food" explores the topic of mindful eating by looking at strategies for mindful eating when food is all around us.