1. Give Yourself Ample Time to Eat
Why: People who say they eat quickly right up until they feel full are three times more likely to be overweight than those with slower dining habits, according to a 2008 study published in The British Medical Journal. In an irritating tribute to something your mother probably told you, researchers suspect that fast eaters don’t give the brain’s fullness signals time to kick in, which can take as long as 20 minutes after the first bite, according to research.
How to do it: Check the clock before you start eating, even if you’re having a meal on the go or while working at your desk (never an ideal way to eat, but often a necessary evil). Then stretch that meal out for at least 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry after finishing, take a 20-minute time-out (sip tea; relax; take your mind off eating). At the end of the time-out, check your hunger signals. Go back for seconds only if the signals are still strong. Other smart ideas: Be sure to sit down for meals―don’t stand or walk around―and take small bites, chewing each thoroughly. Researchers at Cornell University found that people, who chew their food approximately 15 times, versus 12, tend to be thinner. That’s how much impact these subtle changes can have.
2. Understand Hunger
Why: A craving represents the body’s need for fuel or a specific nutrient. Evolutionarily speaking, you’re especially susceptible to―surprise! ―foods with salt, sugar, or fat, because these substances helped people pack on needed pounds to survive food shortages. However, “there’s also the modern- day mental component to contend with,” says Elizabeth Somer, a nutritionist and the author of Food & Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best. “Just seeing a food you like can pull up positive associations and make you want it.” Additionally, if you’re used to eating something every day, you’ll want to keep doing so―not because your body needs the food, but because your mind has made a habit of it.
How to do it: Listen carefully to your body before digging in. True hunger manifests itself in stomach grumbling or feelings of sluggishness, often within three to four hours of your last meal. Consider when you ate last. Has a reasonable amount of time passed for hunger to return? Try drinking something first. Hunger and thirst are sometimes indistinguishable; a tall glass of water might be all it takes to satisfy you for a while.
3. Recognize Fullness
Why: Technically, you’re full when you’ve eaten enough to fill your stomach and given your body adequate fuel to run on for the next several hours. At that point, your stomach tells your brain it’s done, and your brain starts producing fullness hormones that make you intuitively know this. But fullness is a subtle concept. Mostly it involves a physical heaviness and a vague sense that you don’t want to eat any more. And it can be easy to ignore accidentally. In a Cornell University experiment, people eating soup from bowls being secretly refilled consumed 73 percent more than those eating from regular bowls. A good way to avoid overindulging is to get reacquainted with your hunger signs.
How to do it: Midway through your next meal, with half your food left on your plate, pause and place your hands on your belly. Close your eyes and ask yourself how full you feel on a scale of 1 to 10, with “just right” being six or seven on that scale, says Lamothe. Three should mean “Eat a little more,” and nine should signal “Have more and you’ll be uncomfortably full!” Over time, you’ll train yourself to stop automatically, no matter how much of a favorite the food is. Remember: You can always have more of something later, when you’re hungry again.