If you haven’t read the first post in this series, The Simple Tool That Can Help Prevent Overeating, start there to give yourself more background information for this article. Once you’ve recalibrated your body with balanced nutrition and understand the concepts of the Hunger Scale, you are ready to tackle these next steps in becoming an intuitive eater and preventing yourself from overeating by honoring your hunger cues.
1. Clear distractions. Turn off the TV, get away from the computer and turn your cell phone on silent. It’s hard to tune into your body’s quiet cues with digital distractions making noise and taking our focus off of the task at hand: eating. Sit at the table with a chair and a plate to put yourself in a good environment and mind-set for eating intuitively.
2. Drink water or iced tea before a meal. Filling your stomach with a glass of water or tea can take the edge off of hunger so that you don’t rush into your meal and eat too fast.
3. Eat when you’re hungry … not starving. Beginning a meal at a 3 instead of a 2 or 1 on the Hunger Scale is key to getting in touch with your intuitive self. If you’re too hungry, it’s easy to go from starving to stuffed in a matter of minutes.
4. Determine your hunger level before a meal. Before you take that first bite, rate your hunger on a scale from 0–10 with 0 being starving and 10 being stuffed (see our Hunger Scale for more). If you rate yourself “overly hungry,” be extra careful about how fast you are eating and recognize that it may be easier to overeat. Take it slow so you don’t pass the “satisfaction” point without even noticing.
5. Engage your senses. Enjoy the sensual aspect of food. Does your food have visual appeal? Notice the colors and arrangement of the food on the plate. What does it smell like? Does it remind you of anything? Enjoy that moment. Take a bite, and savor the taste, flavor and texture of the food. Make mental notes of the experience, or even talk about these qualities with the person you’re dining with. It makes the meal much more enjoyable, and you’ll find that you begin to notice fullness more easily.
6. Take a time-out. During the meal, pause and put your fork down. This gives you more time to pace yourself and check in to gauge how full you are. Engage in conversation if you are with someone. Take several deep breaths, and drink some water. Repeat this several times during the meal. It may be smart to give yourself visual reminders, after you have finished a quarter of your food, to set the fork down and so forth.
7. Determine your level of satisfaction midmeal. It’s easy to recognize when your plate or bowl is half empty, so use this midway point to your advantage. When you are halfway through with your meal, stop eating and give yourself a hunger-fullness rating. Ask yourself, “How many more bites do I need to satisfy my hunger?”
8. Assess your fullness post-meal. When you are finished with your meal, rate your level of fullness. If you passed by “satisfaction” and are “full” or nearing uncomfortable, assess the cause. Did you just really love the food? Were you overly hungry, and you ate too fast? If you’ve finished your meal and you don’t feel physically satisfied, assess if you had a balance of nutrients—carbs, fats and proteins. Give yourself permission to get more food if you’re still hungry, and trust that as long as you are eating what your body truly needs you are not overeating. The only caveat is that you make sure your hunger is truly physical and not emotional.
9. Give yourself time. Remember that relearning to eat intuitively takes time, and for some people it can take a long time. Recalibrating your hunger and fullness can be a process of a month to several months. Also, know that it’s common to become familiar with hunger faster than it is with fullness. Distinguishing the subtle changes between satisfied and full can take longer to develop and put into practice.
If you’d like to learn more about intuitive eating, engage a counselor and/or registered dietitian to help with the process. It can be reassuring to discuss the symptoms you are feeling and your intuitive-eating journey with someone who is trained in this area.