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3 Tips for Stopping at Satisfied

Just because it’s the oldest advice out there for weight loss doesn’t make it any easier to actually do. The third habit in my book Lean Habits is called Eating Just Enough, and as you might expect, it’s one of the most challenging. However it has proven its worth again and again; as clients and readers who practice the habit get better at it, and as they get better, they have an easier time making the weight loss progress they want to see.

If you’re having trouble stopping at satisfied when you eat – you are not alone, and you are definitely not stuck permanently. Just about everyone has a tough time with this at first. Like anything else, stopping eating at satisfied is a skill. It’s likely you haven’t been practicing this skill deliberately, so it’s understandable if you’re unskilled at something you haven’t gotten a lot of practice with. And the best thing to do if we have a low level of proficiency at a skill is to practice it.  So if you’re not great at this, awesome! We’ll practice.

Eat Just Enough with Letters

Tip 1: Remember that satisfied is a range, not one specific bite.

If you find yourself routinely eating until you feel slightly uncomfortable, aim to stop eating in the green zone in the above graph. You don’t have to stop eating the exact moment when you pass from yellow (still hungry) to green (feeling good!) to practice this successfully. There are quite a few bites between not feeling at all hungry any more and starting to feel uncomfortably full. Aim for that zone. Pause if you need to throughout your meal to check in with the graph and see if you can feel you are on the “uphill” or “downhill” portions of the graph.

Tip 2: Break it into Two Mini-Habits

You can think of the Eat Just Enough habit as two sub-habits: first is noticing you are satisfied when you get there and second is acting to put down the fork and stop there. You can do the first without the second. My clients sometimes can recognize in themselves that they kinda sorta don’t want to notice when they’re in the green because then that means they “have to” stop eating their yummy food so there’s a bit of reward to “oops, I missed it again”. If that’s the case, I separate it out: Just NOTICE the satiety feeling, and you don’t have to automatically stop eating, just noticing it is a successful habit change!

Once that’s been practiced, many people find they go past it into the red zone less and less and are ready to begin working in the second part: choosing to be done eating when they notice that. (Often it helps to willingly and voluntarily do it several times both ways to see: what happens when I stop at satisfied? What happens when I choose to keep eating into the red zone? Which one feels better? For how long? Your own data is the best info.

Tip 3: Focus on Just Three Mindful Bites at Each Meal

Instead of trying to keep the brakes on through the duration of the entire meal (which I personally find challenging much in the same way as trying to sit still and “meditate”)try just focusing on really slowing down three bites. Then, pressure’s off and you can relax for the other part of the meal to be your natural pace. I think this can help because we can really nail those three bites in one condensed deliberate practice, it’s less frustrating than trying to stay mindful the entire meal, and even after we go back to our natural eating pace, the snippet of mindfulness in those few bites often leaves a lingering effect behind and we proceed a bit slowly and with slightly more awareness without really trying.

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You’re Not Falling Behind

Coach Sarah sent out a beautiful email to the group coaching cohort this morning – a response to the very natural phenomenon of feeling like we’re “falling behind”. You see, our group coaching format involves practicing each habit for two weeks in Phase 1, and then individual habits are revisited according to what each client needs in Phase 2. But two weeks is rarely enough time to feel like we “got it”.

And that is absolutely fine.

There is nothing wrong with revisiting habits.

Visualize the Yankees practicing. Or any other major league team. They can’t practice everything at the same time, so each player has to practice ONE skill at a time: batting, or throwing, or fielding or running bases. And no ever gets “perfect”, no one says “Finally! I have this fielding thing NAILED and don’t need to practice any more.” It’s always a process of getting better, improving, and there is no goal of perfection. When batting practice is over and it’s time to throw and catch, every player knows it’s okay to not be “perfect” at batting, you’ll come back and practice it again another day. No worries about being left behind because you haven’t perfected batting.

Keep practicing, work on one thing today. You are right where you are supposed to be, not ahead or behind.

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Process Monitoring Beats Progress Monitoring

{I’m happy to have a guest blogger at AskGeorgie.com today! Jon Phillips from LiftingLeaner.com has some great insight to share that I really want my readers to take to heart, about how staying process-oriented can spare us emotional carnage and keep us moving forward, despite setbacks. Thanks Jon! – Coach G }

process

There’s nothing more discouraging than feeling as though all the focused effort you’ve applied towards losing fat has been for nothing.

Consider this: Body weight fluctuates regularly (many times a day actually) in response to a variety of influencing variables.

But if you aren’t conscious of that…

And you take to to the scale after several weeks of workouts and eating well only to find that you’ve actually gained weight – it’s devastating. Mentally and emotionally.

A Lack of Tangible Progress Can Be Demoralizing

Not making progress to tends to make us feel like we’ve blown it.

We tend to chalk up all our effort as yet another “failed” attempt and say,

“That was my best shot at making this work. I did everything I was supposed to. Heck, I didn’t miss a beat for a whole month. And now I’ve gained weight!? Forget it…”

And we go right back to unhealthy behaviors.

Is Your Diet Destined to for Fail?

What is your default response when A + B doesn’t equal C?

What happens when the perfect plan doesn’t work so perfectly?

Do you dive face-first into a trough of spinach? Me neither.

Rigid expectation of progress matched with a tolerance for nothing but forward momentum is a recipe for disaster.

Now, not everyone sets out on a journey with an absolutist mentality…

But I’m willing to be the majority of us do just that when it comes to diet and exercise.

I’m not saying aiming for progress is a bad thing. Rather, I think progress is pursued best when chasing it can be viewed as a journey that will inevitably ebb and flow.

We’re not robots.

No matter the calculations we make to estimate how much we need to eat, how many calories we’re burning during exercise, and how much weight we should lose by a given date…

If we aren’t forming healthful habits (processes) as we go, the wheels will fall off when that system stops working for us.

As long as the numbers seem to be trending in our favor, all the calculations can seem like a great help. But the minute the numbers go the other way…

We go right back to the behaviors that got us here in the first place. Again.

Why You Should Aim For Process Over Progress

“All or Nothing” thinking has been the bane of many a exercise and diet program.

When we’re willing to accept nothing but total domination, it inevitably leads to feelings of failure when things don’t pan out like we think they should.

Can You Think About Your Journey Another Way?

Adopting a growth mindset can do wonders for someone aspiring to be a fat loss success story. (You know, the ones with the awesome, impressive before and after!)

Addressing the journey as a process to monitor as opposed to progress that HAS TO HAPPEN OR ELSE might just help you stay the course when the road gets hard.

Process Monitoring = Practicing Habits

Those of you that read my guide on sustainable fat loss, Achieving Fat LOST, know I’m a big fan of Georgie Fear and her book, Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss: Mastering 4 Core Eating Behaviors to Stay Slim Forever .

Like Georgie, I think monitoring your lifestyle processes (habits) is a great way to evaluate whether or not your behaviors are trending in a direction conducive to meeting your goals.

If the process doesn’t seem to be working, no big deal! You haven’t failed! You can simply recalibrate and practice the process (habit) in a different way.

Rather than letting it derail you, an absence of progress can cue you to:

  • reflect on what you’ve learned thus far on the journey
  • highlight the good that has come from practicing healthful processes
  • continue working on healthful habits

Process Moves Forward Even When Progress Doesn’t

Heck, just maintaining the progress you’ve achieved is a win in my book!

Having a string of days or weeks of not backsliding is progress of the best kind.

It means despite no discernible change, you keep on going.

Rather than scrap a process, we can acknowledge that something is different than we expected – but not inherently wrong altogether.

The truth is, we’re not great experimenters (myself included).

Remember my weight gain example from earlier? (Working hard and eating well but gaining weight when you’re trying to lose it.)

If you consider that:

  • Fluid retention can make body weight fluctuate anywhere from 5-10 pounds over the course of a single week (the higher end of the spectrum is certainly possible for women at a given point in their cycle).
  • Simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss (body recomposition) happens all the time – the scale just doesn’t won’t show progress if you’re only looking for your weight to drop.

You quickly realize there may be a host of variables at play you haven’t been aware of.

You can be doing everything right, but if you’re only watching one metric of progress (scale weight), you miss the changes that happen in other areas –

Such as your clothes fitting differently, circumference measurements decreasing, progress pictures looking better, etc…

If you’ve got to be married to one or the other, be married to process NOT progress.

Focus on healthful processes and progress will come. This is your lifestyle we’re talking about here. I think you should enjoy the ride.

Jon Phillips is a nutrition nerd who is passionate about teaching people to improve their bodies by eating well, training intelligently, and enjoying the process. When not writing in third person, Jon operates LiftingLeaner.com where he distills sciencey fitness information into entertaining, evidence-based resources for health and fitness-minded people like you.

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Are you a “Volume Eater?”

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Volume eaters, let’s talk.

You pack in your veggies, you enjoy some shirataki noodles or cauliflower mash at times, and your meals reliably fill a plate. You know it’s low calorie-density. You know that pile of roasted veggies that dwarfs your friend’s burger is not a “fattening” choice. You know you can eat your weight in zucchini or threaten the maximum load of the lunch table with your gargantuan salad for a still-reasonable calorie total. But there’s a latent worry in the back of your mind.

What if I travel? What if I go to a restaurant and there are 4 measly spears of asparagus on my plate? What about Mom’s where there’s only white pasta (no shirataki) and everybody eats hearty, dense food like cheesy lasagna, or shepherd’s pie…

What if I still want to eat 2 pounds of food???
Have I cursed myself by stretching out my stomach?
Will I end up gaining 100 pounds if they stop making miracle noodles?

This came up in my Facebook Group, the Lean Habits Community today.

Imee pointed out that she eats a lot of “healthier versions” or “diet products” and enjoys them, but “when I had no access to them, and thus had to eat normal foods”, she pared back on volume, but less volume left her feeling unsatisfied.

I’m a pile-of-veggies eater myself, but it’s not always feasible (for example, when Georgie went to France: WHAT? a handful of leaves is the equivalent of FIFTEEN DOLLARS??)  It IS a challenge to work with a digestive system that’s gotten used to a larger volume of food for the calories. But you’re not sunk.

Let me explain a bit. Your body gets used to the calorie density of your food, but not in a permanent way. You do not stretch out or shrink your stomach. The stretch receptors and the nerves they transmit messages through simply get more or less sensitive. This is actually a very wise design.

In mega salad eaters and veggie fans like us (woot!) the stomach stretch receptors and nerves in your gut get used to accommodating a larger volume amount of food so that you get appropriate calories. (If you got full on a little salad, we’d have a survival problem). But, if the diet is more calorie dense (croissants and cheese, steak, Nutella crepes) the stretch receptors get more sensitive and the smaller volume of food does register on the volume-sensitive elements of the satiety chain. But it takes a few days.

Explained a different way:

Rats given low calorie density food (pellets with extra fiber etc in it) eat more grams of it (to get enough calories) than rats given higher calorie density food (pellets with lots of fat). When you switch a rat from one to the other diet, for a while they eat as much as weight of food they used to, but then they adjust. And eat the appropriate amount of food.

So when we go on vacation or stay at mom’s house for the holidays, and there’s smaller, more calorie dense meals, yup, there IS a real temptation and ability to overdo it if your stretch receptors are accustomed to eating a larger volume of food. BUT we can work with that. Load up on the veggies that are available, and drink water right before your meal; a glass or even two will start priming the stretch receptors in your stomach to fire. If you don’t follow this with actual food, it doesn’t do much, but if you do follow it with food, it can help you feel full faster. Drinking water with your meal also helps to slow you down.

Carbonated water is my friend. Bubbles help a lot!

Eat SLOWLY when you have a more calorie dense meal – because remember, as I wrote about in Lean Habits, there’s more to satiety than volume. The stretch receptors and vagus nerve are a hotline to the brain which gets a signal there really quickly, BUT it gets followed up in the next 20 minutes by the nutrients in the food. If nutrients have been coming in, the signal gets confirmed and we get more comfortable putting the fork down. If not (i.e you try to JUST drink water when actually hungry) your body isn’t fooled for long by the volume (whoops, false alarm!) and will resume giving you those hunger signals.

By eating slowly, your body will sense the products of fats, protein and carbohydrate digestion and even though your meal was volumetrically less than your norm, the nutrients WILL make you satisfied if given some time. (And often keep you sated for an incredibly long amount of time, if your meal ends up higher in fat than the norm for you).

So when I want to go out for pizza – I know that eating it slowly is key because my stomach could happily accommodate quite a lot more than my calorie needs require. And I get a fizzy drink. (You can also do a side salad for starters).

Did that confuse you? Got a question? Come by and join the discussion in the Lean Habits Community.

[Big-Ass Salad Photo by @katiecrewe.]

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“I’m afraid I’ll NEVER lose weight”

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Sometimes it takes hold, this deep-seated fear I will NEVER be able to lose the weight, no matter what I do. I just get so discouraged because I never see weight loss progress and I’ve been trying for such a long time. And that leads to overeating. What would you advise?

What a situation. It’s distressing to suspect that weight loss might just be impossible for us. In that hopelessness and despair, overeating is a common reaction. Which only adds to the trouble of course, since as long as you overeat you don’t lose weight, confirming your belief.

I would counter the “I’ll never lose weight” thoughts with some rational logic, first. Losing weight is a matter of science. If your body is subjected to a calorie deficit, it cannot help but lose weight. If you have doubt in that statement, please let me know, we’ll talk more about how it works, and that no one is exempted.

I suspect your fear may be more along the lines of “I worry I won’t ever make the choices necessary to get my body into a calorie deficit. Maybe I am too weak, too selfish, too prone to immediate gratification, too good of a baker. Or maybe not tough enough, not focused enough, or not smart enough.”

Having a history of trying to lose weight and not succeeding long term can be an illusion that appears like evidence in support of this belief – but it isn’t. You only have evidence that at THAT prior point in time, the particular method you tried, combined with the skills you had at the time, and the social support you had at the time, didn’t lead to a calorie deficit. You may not have had the support you needed. It could be that you needed overeating to cope with emotions or stress (not having a superior coping mechanism at hand, eating will do) or perhaps the weight loss methods you attempted were not physically or mentally sustainable and fell through when your healthy control mechanisms kicked in. (An inability to stick to crazy diets for long is an evolved survival mechanism, not a character flaw.)

There is a definite value to noting cause and effect relationships. I think it’s helpful to look at our past and see that every time we do x, y follows. However, be cautious because:

  1. It’s easy to incorrectly pair causes and effects.
  2. It’s easy to generalize inaccurately, for example “all weight control methods are the same and they all fail me”
  3. Just because something occurred in the past doesn’t mean it WILL again. You have grown and learned since yesterday, you are more experienced in life than you were last month, and compared to 1981….
  4. Lastly, something never happening before is no reassurance it won’t happen in the future. I have never had a heart attack, but I’d never assume it therefore couldn’t happen. I had nothing but failed relationships until I met Roland, and we are head over heels in love and blissfully married. In fact, everyone who is happily in a relationship has nothing but a consistent record of breakups in the past. Everyone who does a triathlon or marathon or earns a degree does it for the FIRST time at some point.

    So have heart. You have never been at this place in your life before. Lean Habits is going to help you practice skills you never had before, so you can achieve what you didn’t before. Take part in the Community for free help, and discover that when you are armed with new skills and habits, and when you are supported by coaches and peers, a whole new world of accomplishments becomes possible.
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