One of the biggest challenges many American women face is knowing when to end a meal. Pop quiz.

When you eat, how do you know when to stop?

a) when your plate is clean
b) after everyone has finished eating
c) when the food is all gone
d) when you’re full

If you answered, d) when you’re full, you’re right. You probably have a healthy weight and you’re maintaining it effortlessly because you are able to eat until your physical hunger is satisfied. But many people who struggle with their weight don’t have a strong connection to their bodies, so they’re not able to stop eating until they get to the point of being stuffed. Here are some tips to help you to know when to stop eating.

Internal vs. External Cues

In 2010 Cornell University researchers studied groups of people from the U.S and France to understand how they knew when to stop eating. They discovered that those who relied on external cues (outside signals such as a clean plate, an empty box or carton or the end of a television program were heavier because they ate more food.

Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to have to put your fork down. Isn’t it?

Can you relate? If you get where I’m coming from, then you know what it’s like to be so disconnected from your body that you just don’t feel satisfied after the meal is over. Perhaps you feel compelled to eat more than your tummy can comfortably hold, which in reality is not very much. It’s a well known fact that your stomach is just about the size of your closed fist, somewhere around a 2 cup capacity.

Despite what you may have been told, eating beyond that point doesn’t mean that you’re a pig or have no self control and you’re most definitely not alone.

Feeling the Pain of Ending a Meal

Before I made the decision to stop dieting, it was nearly impossible for me to resign myself to ending a meal. It felt like every meal would be my last and I was always worried about not having enough food, so I just kept eating. It didn’t matter what I ate, just as long as I was chewing. I justified the reason as being that I was still hungry, but now I know that it wasn’t physical hunger that drove my appetite. It was my frayed emotions, my level of exhaustion, an overcommitted schedule, my inability to say, “No” to people, but more than anything else, the hunger that gnawed at my soul was feeling deeply hurt from betrayals by several beloved family members.

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

As far as I’m concerned, there is no other book available that can explain the entire process of how to become an intuitive eater as precisely as this book. It rocks!

Eating in accordance with your body’s hunger cues is known as intuitive or attuned eating.  In their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, authors and nutritionists, Evelyn Tribole, M.S.R.D., and Elyse Resch, M.S.R.D. F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D explain the different types of eating personalities. Over their years of research and working with clients the authors have identified three basic eating personalities that share characteristic eating patterns. All of these eating personalities can show up regardless of whether you are dieting or not and they each have a range of behaviors. You may recognize yourself as a combination of one or more categories. I want to help you to better understand where you are right now so that you can move into a place of having more harmony with your food and eating in response to your body’s actual physical sensations of hunger.

Which style of eating feels like it describes you?

The careful eater – tends to be vigilant and watches everything they put in their body for the sake of their health. They may spend hours planning their next meal, keeping a food journal and writing down every bite of food they consume. At the grocery store, a careful eater will spend a long time making choices, reading all nutrition labels. While eating out at a restaurant, they will interrogate the waiter wanting to know everything that is in their food, how their meal is prepared and need assurance from the server that all specific instructions they requested have been followed.

A careful eater may order salmon, grilled with lemon and no oil and vegetables sauteed in water and not butter. Sometimes the careful eater will only eat in this way for a period of time, like from Monday – Friday and then on Saturday and Sunday they will splurge. But without realizing it that accounts for 104 days of splurging over the course of a year so careful eaters often resort back to going on diets to lose weight. Generally careful eaters tend to undereat when they are being vigilant because they are always monitoring the quality and quantity of the food eaten. At the far end of the spectrum, it’s often very difficult for careful eaters to forgive themselves for overeating and they chastize themselves for any eating indiscretions. Although careful eaters may not actually be dieting, they often eat the same foods and when they ‘overdo’ it, they think about going back on a diet.  There is nothing wrong with being vigilant and knowing what is in your food. Awareness is a good thing, but a problem occurs when diligence and a desire for better health crosses the boundary of food awareness and creates stress and anxiety over body image and eating choices which can border on obsession.

The professional dieter – Also known as chronic dieters, their main goal is to lose weight. Professional dieters are always dieting or talking about cutting back, fasting, juicing or cleansing. This type of eater is savvy in terms of knowing about the many ways to lose weight by eating less. They have read a multitude of diet books and know a lot about portions, fat grams, calories, and dieting tricks. The professional dieter jumps from one diet to another because their previous attempts at dieting have not yet worked. Professional dieters also have careful eating traits. But despite all their awareness of diets, their willingness to restrict their eating and choose the right foods, they have a tendency to binge and overeat once they have crossed their own line. They have a long list of forbidden foods that they believe they can not/must not eat.

This creates an allure of the ‘forbidden fruit’ food which makes it almost impossible for them to resist. Once they eat a bite of a forbidden food, a part of them feels as though they have failed and they continue to overeat until the end of that day, holding the hope that the next day will be perfect and they can start with a clean slate. The professional dieter often gets frustrated with yo-yo dieting and the futility of the cycle of deprivation. Diet, lose weight, gain weight, binge, and go back to dieting. The problem is it’s really hard to live with so much restriction. As time goes on and your body weight yo-yos up and down, it becomes more difficult to lose weight. Chronic undereating makes you feel deprived and you end up overeating to compensate for that frustration. Some professional dieters will resort to risky methods like using diet pills, laxatives and even purging (vomiting after a binge) to lose weight.

The unconscious eater.- tends to pair activities with eating. Some examples of this are eating while watching television, working or reading.  The book describes 4 different sub-types under this category of eating. They are as follows:

The Chaotic Unconscious Eater – Despite the fact that nutrition and diet are important to this person, their life is too busy and chaotic to take time to eat. As a result they grab whatever kind of food is available to eat on the run. The chaotic eating style is haphazard and because this type of eater is so busy, they often don’t recognize when their body is physically hungry and they wait too long until they become ravenous.

The Refuse-Not Unconscious Eater – This style of eater is not aware of what they are eating or how much they eat. They are vulnerable to wanting to eat food whenever their senses pick up on it. Regardless of whether they are hungry or not, they want to eat whatever food crosses their path. Among their temptations are: Seeing pictures of food in magazines, people eating, noticing candy jars, watching tv commercials, seeing a pile of food leftovers at a business meeting, having a cake sitting on a counter, driving past food signs, reading cook books, watching cooking shows, opening the refrigerator, smelling food being cooked, walking past a bakery, hearing the sound of a candy wrapper being unwrapped or a bag of potato chips being opened.

In one of my first Losing Weight without Dieting Programs, a client of mine once shared that she walked past her sink and noticed a plate full of crumbs and wondered where it came from. After a while, she remembered that she had eaten a sandwich but was completely unaware when she was eating it. It’s not uncommon for these types of eaters to grab a handful of candy and pop it in their mouth or re-fill their plate 4 times at an all-you-can-eat buffet because they are not aware of what they are doing. Social events with food are very difficult challenges to this type of eater.

The Waste-Not Unconscious Eater – This style of eater is driven by getting as much value for the food as possible. Throwing away food is considered a sin. This eater will be driven to clean their plate and eat the leftovers from others as well.

The Emotional Unconscious Eater – This person uses food to cope with all their uncomfortable emotions like anger, boredom, sadness and loneliness. They often view their eating as the problem, but it is really just a symptom of a bigger problem. This type of eater is just as likely to grab a candy bar when they are under stress as they are to tend towards chronic compulsive binges eating vast amounts of food.

The problem with being an unconscious eater

Unconscious eating of any type becomes a problem when it results in chronic overeating, which usually occurs when you are not even aware of doing it. A lapse of consciousness takes place between seeing the food and the last bite of eating it. Think about when you’re at the movies and you’re eating popcorn or a box of candy. Unconscious eating occurs when you are scraping the bottom of the package or bucket and you didn’t realize that you were eating that much. This is a simple and common form of unconscious eating. But this same style of eating can exist at a very intense level, causing the person to enter into an altered state when they are eating and zone out with food.

Here’s a story of mine that shares a discovery I made about eating that can help you to stop mourning after your meals.

Eating to Fill A Corner

One morning as I was sitting down to breakfast at about 7:30 a.m., ready to enjoy 1/2 of a cinnamon raisin bagel with margarine along with a nice, hot, steamy mug of peppermint tea with sugar and lemon, I thought of something that I learned many years ago.

Back in the day when I lived in one of the apartment buildings that I managed, I used to be neighbors with a french woman named, “Princess D’Or.” Princess and I would often spend time together. One day she invited me over to enjoy a lovely roast duck dinner with wild rice stuffing, roasted potatoes and apricot glaze. She used to put the potatoes beneath the duck so that they absorbed all the fat and juices as the duck roasted.

At the time, I was a big meat eater, and a huge fan of duck. I served myself a monstrous portion. She put a small amount on her plate. As we were eating and talking, I watched her curiously as she picked at her food and ate small bits. It seemed to me that she was concentrating intently on what she was eating. Curious and wanting to know more, I asked her what she was doing.

She told me that since she often makes this meal, she only wanted to eat enough to fill a small corner of her tummy. When we got up from the meal, I could tell from the sensations in my body that I had really overdone it, and as my Nana used to say, “I was eating with my eyes and ignoring my stomach.” I was groggy and feeling pretty awful. I knew that I had to excuse myself to go home next door to take a nap in my apartment. She on the other hand was excited and filled with energy and couldn’t wait to finish a piece of art work that she was painting. After thanking her for the lovely meal, we bid our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

As those memories twirled ’round in my head, I looked down at the bagel in my hand, I noticed that there was one lonely little raisin in what was supposed to be a cinnamon raisin bagel, which had absolutely no flavor of cinnamon whatsoever. I cut about 1/3 of the bagel out of the 1/2 and I proceeded to spread it with margarine. I took a bite and noticed that it had nearly no flavor. Then I took another bite and noticed that my observation was the same, Yuck! no flavor. So I left the rest of the bagel 1/2 on the counter and I made a mental note to toss it to the birds later. I decided to take my peppermint tea upstairs and share my observations with you.

Today I really understand what Princess meant by eating to fill a corner. Just those couple of bites of tasting that nasty ‘raisin’ bagel were enough to take the edge off of my hunger, which was strong enough that it prevented me from focusing on what I was writing. So I knew I was hungry, but unlike that night where I became one with Princess’ duck, I didn’t want to feel that sensation of being overstuffed and unproductive. Next when I get hungry, whenever that is, I’ll probably make myself a couple of lightly scrambled eggs, because I know that I don’t have to limit myself to 3 squares a day. I can eat anything and anytime I want.

How about you? Are you eating to fill a corner or a cavern? Do you know beforehand how much you want to eat, and if you do, what helps you to decide?

It’s so important to learn how to pay attention to how your body feels and what you need/want. By doing that, you’ll feel so good and be able to eat whatever you want.

Maybe you’re not aware of the feeling in your stomach. You’re not alone. Here are some tips to help you know when to stop eating:

Maximum Satisfaction: Living in the land of butter, cream, cheese, bread and wine, the French are no strangers to the idea of getting maximum satisfaction from their food. There dieting is considered a dirty word, because they don’t fear fat and richer foods. Because their heavier meals are more satisfying and calorie dense, it is easier for their stomachs to register satisfaction because fat is more satisfying and stays longer in the body. The French are accustomed to tuning into the sensation in their bodies to know when to end their meals, eating only until they feel satisfied and no more.

Savor each bite: The romantic French have a similar attitude toward eating as they do toward lovemaking. Savor the moment. When you eat your next meal, pay close attention to the flavors, richness, aroma and texture of your food.

Hari Hachi Bunme: The Japanese also rely on internal cues to guide them to know when to stop eating. They have a saying that recommends “Hara hachi bunme”, which means “Eat until you are 80 percent full.” Like the French, the Japanese also eat slowly, enjoy their food for it’s flavor, eating much smaller portions than Americans.

But you may still be having trouble knowing when to stop. Here’s a bit more help:

Most of the time if we are unconscious eaters, we’re just not aware of how our body feels unless we’re directed to pay attention. So for example you may not have noticed the sensation in your knee until something reminds you to think about your knees.

Find a quiet spot where you can sit alone for a few moments. Put your hand over your stomach and close your eyes, tilting your eyes down toward your stomach. Just to remind you–Your stomach is in the upper portion of your belly beneath your rib cage. Notice how it feels now.

Have you just eaten? Is your last meal sloshing around in there? Does your tummy feel peaceful or does it hurt? If your body could talk, what would it say?

Each time you sit down to eat, let your body tell you what’s right for you. What’s your plan today? Will you eat to fill a corner or a cavern? And if you’re eating to fill a cavern, what part of you is feeling empty?

It’s so important that you understand that only you can break the cycle of your shame and guilt around overeating. I’m here to help. Are you ready? Click below to join my Facebook group, “30 Days to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” and get a fresh perspective. Because seriously your body is not the problem, but hating yourself is. Let me teach you how you can re-parent yourself by using self-compassion and stress-relief to re-balance your relationship with food so you can eat more mindfully and gently to feel better and get healthier from the inside-out.

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