Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
In an ideal world, we would all eat food that nourishes the body, fuels the mind, and satisfies the soul, without deprivation or overindulgence. Yet so many well-intentioned foodies struggle. When we lose touch with our feelings of hunger and fullness, it’s easy to disconnect, under or overeat, and then seek outside direction as a way to get back on track. Unfortunately, this can lead us further astray, on a constant search for the right diet, eating style, or meal plan, without ever finding sustainable satisfaction from our food. In order to eat more intuitively, we must reconnect with the inherent wisdom of our bodies.
Why “Portion Control” Doesn’t Work
Whether you restrict your portions, calories, or specific foods, depriving yourself is not the answer. When you manipulate your diet and eat less than you need, your body remains dissatisfied and continues to search for more, all while storing the food you do eat as fat — protecting you from starvation. This also puts significant stress on the body, which can cause weight fluctuation, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, and, more than likely, binges later on. But many continue to control the size of their meals in fear of mindless overeating, with no solution in sight.
Your Unique Signals
Thankfully, there’s an approach to “portion control” that allows you to eat the right amount, feel full faster, and stay satisfied and energized longer. It involves redefining what hunger and fullness mean to you. These signals are unique to each person, and the only way to figure them out is to practice paying close attention to sensations in your body and thoughts in your mind.
Learn more about mindful eating in our Clean Eating Academy course: A Whole-Life Guide to Lasting Weight Loss. Click here to find out more!
Tune Into Your Hunger
How do you know when you’re hungry? Does your stomach growl? Do you feel empty, weak, or tired? Believe it or not, everyone has their own set of hunger symptoms. Once you’re clear on how hunger manifests for you, you’re prepared to tune in. Envision a scale from 1 to 10 — 1 meaning you’re barely hungry and 10 you’re ravenous.
Set a goal to start preparing your food when you’re at about a 2, allowing yourself enough time to cook or pick up a meal before your hunger impacts your mood and stress level. You can then eat in peace and enjoy your food without the physical urge to scarf it down.
Declare When You’re Done
How do you know when you’re full? Do you feel satisfied, calm, energized, or more clear-headed? Do you feel a weight in your stomach? Once again, your definition of fullness is completely unique to you. Envision the same scale, but this time at 1, you’re still hungry and at 10, you’re so stuffed you feel sick.
Strive to stop eating when you’re at a 7, when your stomach is 3/4 full and still has room to digest your food. Knowing when to call it quits can be tough, but when you prepare to eat before you’re starving and stay present throughout your meal, you have a far greater chance of success. When you notice you’re full, an excellent way to seal the deal is to use gestures to declare you’re done. Some examples: say “I’m full” out loud, push your plate away from you, or stand up and walk around the room. All help you register that you’re full and finished eating, ready to take on the next part of your day.
Eat for Energy
Honoring your hunger and fullness becomes even easier when you eat nutrient-dense foods that your body wants and stay present throughout each meal. This means sitting down without distractions, chewing, tasting, enjoying, and expressing gratitude for your food. So when you’re done eating, and your stomach is 3/4 full, you feel nourished and energized, rather than stuffed and tired.
As you eat more mindfully, take an inventory of your experience. Did you get full quickly? Did you actually enjoy your food? Did it taste rich, bland, or not as good as you thought? This awareness allows you to create your own eating strategy without needing to rely on an outside plan.
Practice Not Perfection
The more you practice tuning into your body’s unique signals, the easier the process will become, and the better you will feel. When you forget to check in with your hunger or end up eating until you’re uncomfortably full, halt! Don’t fall prey to guilt, shame, or judgment. These feelings leave no room for understanding and progress — not to mention they further disconnect you from your body. Instead, call on your compassion and curiosity. Investigate when, where, and how you fell off track. Notice patterns. Ask yourself how you can shift your approach to improve next time around.
Honoring your hunger and fullness allows you to create a loving relationship with food, your body, and most importantly, yourself, as you begin to develop a deeper understanding of what you want, what you need, and who you are.
Ashlee Davis is a holistic health coach and Kundalini Yoga and meditation teacher on a mission to help men and women build a sustainable healthy and loving relationship with food, their bodies, and, most importantly, themselves. Check out her website for free guidance and opportunities to connect.
Photo by Shutterstock