Try these tips for getting more satisfaction from fewer calories.
Babies are born knowing to eat when they are hungry, and stop when they are comfortable. But as we grow up and are exposed to fad diets, advertising, food used as a reward, etc., many of us unlearn this beautifully balanced way of eating and begin to overeat.
Yet eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are comfortable is one of the keys to healthy eating and living, says Linda Bacon, PhD, nutrition professor at the City College of San Francisco.
Much has been written on the "eating when you're hungry" side of this equation. But how do you learn to stop when you're comfortable if you've lost touch with this over the years?
Experts say there are things you can do to make yourself more likely to stop eating when you are comfortable. They include:
- Eat slowly. This isn't a new concept; remember all those familiar dieting tips like "sip water between bites" and "chew thoroughly before swallowing"? These were all aimed at slowing us down when we eat. Research led by Mark Gold, MD, at the University of Florida at Gainesville has shown it takes 12 or more minutes for food satisfaction signals to reach the brain of a thin person, but 20 or more minutes for an obese person. Eating slowly ensures that these important messages have time to reach the brain.
- Be aware. "Be more attentive about the whole eating experience; don't eat when you are driving or at the computer," advises Bacon. When we're distracted or hurried the food (and calories) we eat tend not to register well in our brains. Jean Kristeller, PhD, a psychologist and Indiana State University researcher, suggests a brief premeal meditation to get centered before eating so you can more easily derive pleasure from your food, give the meal your full attention, and notice when you've had enough.
- Make the first bites count. Bacon believes that maximum food enjoyment comes in the initial bites. "After a few bites, taste buds start to lose their sensitivity to the chemicals in food that make it taste good," she explains. Satisfying your taste buds by really savoring those first few bites may help you stop eating when you're physically comfortable.
- Keep up appearances. Using a smaller plate and paying attention to the presentation of a meal can increase your awareness of the food in front of you and help you stop eating when you are comfortable. "The brain looks at the plate and decides if the portion is adequate," says Gold. "It takes some time, but the smaller the plate, the smaller the portion."
- Choose satisfying foods. Steer away from foods that give you a lot of calories for very little volume, such as milk shakes, cheese, and chocolate, Gold recommends. The higher the fiber, protein, and/or water content of a food or meal, the more likely it is to be satisfying in your stomach without going overboard on calories. (More on this below.)