Get your stopwatch ready. This strategy will help you to eat only when hungry AND avoid overeating at mealtime.
The Body Knows
Normally, the body shouldn't need a precise diet written on a piece of paper. The body knows what it needs and how much of it. And it knows how to ask for it through hunger. Sadly, we've lost the capacity to interpret its message. For example, our body might ask us to provide it with more fuel, and we'll interpret that as "must have ice-cream."
Hunger is a survival mechanism that makes us look for and eat nutritious food when the body needs energy. At least, it used to be that way. Now, with the overabundance of pleasure foods and the social nature of eating, we find ourselves wanting to eat more for entertainment, emotional comfort, and escape.
But if you want to improve your body composition, you should eat only when your body asks for nutrients. (The exception to this is the time around your workout when extra energy can actually increase your effort, your energy expenditure, and potential for gains.)
Obviously, managing hunger isn't as simple as that. Your instincts are to continue eating how you usually do, regardless of your body comp goals. So here are a few guidelines to help you:
- Eat only when you're physically hungry. Learn to distinguish between emotional needs, superficial cravings, and hunger. Get to the bottom of why you want to eat before you put anything in your mouth.
- Use a stopwatch. When you're not sure if you're hungry or just wanting to kill time with food, start a 15-minute countdown. Then use that time to reflect on whether or not you really need it. Ask yourself if you simply want to eat because of stress, boredom, or gluttony. Giving yourself this time to figure it out will prevent impulsive eating and will allow you to make better choices.
- Don't allow meals to drag on and on. It takes the body about 25 minutes to send out the "I'm full" signal. So if you eat your meal quickly, you'll be tempted to eat more than necessary because you'll still feel hungry even when your body has gotten adequate nutrition. Eat too fast and your chances of overeating (because you aren't satisfied) will drastically increase.
- Use a stopwatch again. If you eat meals too quickly, pull out the timer for this too. Set a 25-minute countdown and slow down. Chew and swallow every bite before you put another forkful in your mouth. Make sure you haven't finished eating before the 25 minutes have run down. If you DO finish before the timer goes off, don't start eating something else until you allow the fullness to kick in. That'll give you a better understanding of whether or not you REALLY need to put more food in your face.