Do You Know When to Stop Eating?

Here’s a question for you.  When you eat – whether it be a meal or a snack – when do you stop?  Is it:
  1. When you’ve finished everything on your plate?
  2. When the box or bag is empty?
  3. When the TV show is over?
  4. When you feel full?
If you answered #4 – good for you!  You probably have a healthy weight and are maintaining it.However, if you answered any of the first three, you may need to take a look at your eating style, or more precisely, your fullness factor.A key element in keeping your weight down is whether you use internal or external cues to signal that it’s time to put down your fork and step away from the table.Last year researchers at Cornell University studied people in the U.S. and France to better understand how they decide they’ve had enough to eat. The researchers found that the more people relied on external cues, the heavier they were.  External cues are just what the terms says, outside signals – like an empty plate or the end of a TV show – that tell people when to stop eating.Do You Know When to Stop Eating?Those who used internal cues – like feeling full – were more likely to be of normal weight.Not surprisingly, it was the French who most often used internal cues.  This is a key reason why they stay slim while still eating high-fat foods such as pastry and cheese.These findings were touted as “news” but I can tell you, for me this was something I witnessed first-hand when I worked for a French travel company and also when I lived in France.In general, the French eat until they’re full and then stop.  With they key word here being “stop.”  When they’ve had enough they don’t take seconds and just walk away (or stay seated at the table but don’t eat anymore).The French attitude towards food emphasizes internal cues related to the pleasure of eatingand minimizes opportunities from external cues.The Japanese have similar attitudes.  They have a saying that recommends “Hara hachi bunme”, which means “Eat until you are 80 percent full.”  Like the French, the Japanese eat slowly, enjoy the food for it’s flavor, and eat much smaller portions than Americans.So now you’re thinking, "But how do I know when I’m full (never mind 80% full!) and when to stop?"

How to Know When You’re Full

If you don’t know when you’re full, you need to train yourself to pay attention to internal cues and diminish the influences of external cues.But first, be aware that it takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you’re full.  This may be why the Japanese say to stop eating at 80% full (but I don’t know for sure – I’d love to get some insights from anyone Japanese!).When you find yourself finishing off your plate and reaching for seconds, take a moment to stop and relax.  Talk to others you’re eating with, or if dining alone you can take the break to write in a food journal.You just may be surprised that after even 5 minutes, you may not want that second helping after all.

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