The above post in the Lean Habits Community (my free Facebook group, have you joined yet?) got a really profound discussion going! Many people have heard the aphorism, “Eat until you are 80% full” included with healthy eating guidance, yet almost no one seems to be able to use that effectively to meet their weight loss goals. Occasionally I hear from someone who utilized it in a practical sense for a finite stretch of time, and it seems that the overwhelming majority of people who make an honest go at eating to 80% full end up with one of the following issues:
- “I was able to use willpower for a while to stop short of satisfied, but it got old fast.” After the shiny newness of flexing our willpower muscles wears off, we stop doing it. Because it’s draining. And after a while of not being satisfied meal and after meal, we gonna get FULL DAMNIT. So at best, people return to eating to their comfortable stopping point.
- “I keep trying to do 80% full…..” Unfortunately, one of the worst things that can be created is a pattern of reactive binge eating. It looks like this: Stop at 80% full for 12* meals in a row, then “lose it” and eat until I can’t move or breathe at the 10th. Disgust myself. Criticize myself. Vow to do it better. Recommit to sub-satisfying eating to 80% full, and do it all again.*Your mileage may vary, your x might be 2 meals or 25 meals but the pattern is the same.
- Get so caught up in analysis and trying to eat to EXACTLY 80% FULL that they stifle all meal enjoyment. Tasting the flavors of one’s meal and enjoying one’s company give way to thrilling inner dialogues such as:
Ok here I go! 80% full at this dinner, I’m gonna to it. Wait, if I’m not all that hungry am I starting from zero percent full, or is this like 25% full now because I had those baby carrots at 6 pm to take the edge off? Okay I ate a few bites, what percent full am I? Um, maybe 50%? But I drank water in there, did that screw it up? I mean if I drink more water now and feel really full, it might be 80% but I only ate to 50% on food, so that shouldn’t count… okay I’ll just not drink any more water til later and eat more…. Okay maybe I’m close now… but is this 75%, 80%, or 85%? I don’t want to mess it up and eat too little or too much. Gosh I am SO BAD AT THIS! [Buuuuuurp.] Wait, now it feels like that reduced me a few percent… do I eat another bite now? Or drink water? Or once I get to 80% once is it game over?….
I think some of the issue is defining 80% of what? I know the saying is “80% full“, but are we talking “full” as in the maximal amount I can hold in my stomach? Because goodness that is many TIMES more than I actually need to eat, if you have done anything close to binge eating you know! The human stomach is an almost-frighteningly-durable organ.
Clearly it’s not meant to be “80% of the maximal capacity of my stomach”…. so what is it? 80% satisfied? That means not satisfied, not as comfortable as I could be, and using some willpower. Which is possible, certainly, but it’s a conscious choice to stop short of feeling my best. How many times in a row will use my willpower to stop eating before I’m satisfied? Different people tend to do it for longer or more brief periods of time, which makes sense given the variability in willpower and delayed gratification between people. I’ve got willpower aplenty, so I can stop eating well short of satisfied and if that’s the price of a flat stomach, well I pulled it off for years. But I wasn’t happy or relaxed in my eating. It was an effort I put in, every meal, (all 6 or 8 of them) every day, without exception. And I’m sad to admit that, to be honest. Because that mental capacity could have gone to such meaningful things, and I spent it selfishly and needlessly on stopping eating before I was physically comfortable.
There’s an easier way to do this, people! A way that will become automatic. As in, zero willpower or effort. I call it Eating Just Enough.
They both are ways to manage portions at meals and dissuade overeating, but Eating Just Enough I find easier to explain than eating to “80% full”. First, we can answer the question “Enough for what?” with a REAL ANSWER.
You want to eat just enough to feel hunger for 30-60 minutes before your next meal, and just enough to feel your physical best, which is a range where you feel no perceptible discomfort from hunger or fullness. When you aren’t feeling better by eating more, you’re in the satisfied zone. You don’t feel better if you keep eating and eating. (Yes, there’s an enjoyment aspect, but that’s a separate discussion, you physically don’t get more comfortable, after a point it becomes incrementally less comfortable to have pressure build in the abdomen).
Eating Just Enough includes the idea that it is a RANGE and not one magic bite, which will vary day to day with your activity level, previous day’s intake, and what’s in your meal. (If we’re eating something lower calorie density, we need to eat more volume of to get satisfied and stay sated til our next meal – Gigantic salad eaters unite!) Whereas when I have pizza (my favorite higher cal density meal) I know I don’t need to eat the same volume to get to “Just Enough” as I would on salad. It’s just a matter of slowing down and giving the signals time to kick in. You don’t eat the same thing for every meal, so there must be several ways to eat healthfully without stopping still hungry or eating until we hurt, right?
Yes. In the above graph, A, B, and C are all Eating Just Enough! You might find you move toward your goals by simply aiming to stop eating in the Green zone, or you might find you can dial it in to stopping earlier or later depending on the particular food you happen to be enjoying. As you practice, you’ll get pretty good at telling what you’re feeling, and knowing how long certain foods hold you.
If 80% is the only “right”, then it leaves a lot of fullness levels which are “wrong”. Is 79% wrong? Is 82% wrong? Just as wrong as 300%? Well then, since I already blew it…..
If I’m trying to eat to 80% full, do I eat to the same fullness level if I’m eating zucchini noodles as cheesy lasagna?
So…. that is why we carefully chose the wording we currently use for Eating Just Enough, and always try to accompany it with explanation and the graphic to include the flexibility and that it’s a RANGE.
Want even more tips and tricks on Eating Just Enough and the other habits in the Lean Habits System? Grab a copy of the book or ebook. Have a friend you’d like to set free from Dietville? Grab a copy for them too and do it together.