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.
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.