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21 Days of Self-Care: Day 19 - Don't Top Off the Tank

This is one of the first habits addressed in my nutrition coaching program. Along with eating slowly, it is one of the foundational habits, especially for those who are trying to lose weight. But it is one of the hardest habits to do consistently. If you can look at failure as an opportunity for learning and growth, then I have learned and grown by leaps and bounds over my journey toward healthy nutrition, because I have failed at this habit repeatedly. We call this habit “eat to 80% full”.

This is another exercise in awareness. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Are you hungry right now? How do you know?

Take a minute. Check in. Put your hand on your stomach. What do you feel?

Do you need to eat right now? Do you want to eat right now? Do you feel like you should eat right now?

If you're having trouble with this, you're not alone. Most of us have forgotten what it's like to feel truly physically hungry (or satisfied).

80% full is about two things: 1.How much you eat. 2.How it feels to eat that much.

So by doing this exercise, you’ll learn: 1.What portion sizes work for you. 2. What it feels like to be physically hungry, satisfied, and/or full.

There are a few ways to do this exercise. You can start with what you’d normally eat, and then just shrink that a little bit. Order one size smaller than normal, or use a smaller dish. Or stop eating just a little sooner than you normally would, by purposely leaving a couple extra bites of your meal on your plate.

Or, you can use the tried and true scale of 1-to-10 model. Imagine a physical hunger scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is no hunger and 10 is the hungriest you’ve ever been. Before each meal, pause. Ask yourself: Am I physically hungry? Rank your physical hunger on a scale from 1 to 10. If you're somewhere around a 7 or higher, go ahead and eat. If you're not there yet, wait a little longer. Physical hunger comes in waves. So if you feel a wave of hunger, wait for a few minutes and see what happens. It might be a blip.

Once you’re at 7 or higher (i.e. hungry enough to eat), proceed slowly, pausing to check in with your hunger level. If you're somewhere around a 2 to 3 or lower (which is more or less 80% full), stop. You're done. Pause. Again, notice what this stopping point feels like. Or what thoughts come up (e.g. "Oh no! I'm wasting food!"). If you're not yet down to a 2 to 3, take another bite. Repeat until you get to something that seems like 80% full. Then stop.

Again, this doesn't have to be precise. You're just getting the hang of where this stopping point occurs.

Notice what 80% full looks and feels like for you. Now YOUR body is the boss. YOU are in control.

That covers the “need to eat” question. But what about the other 2: do you want to eat? Do you feel like you should eat right now?

Your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals can get drowned out by “noise” from what we think (“it’s lunchtime, I should eat”); what we feel (“I worked hard, I deserve this ice cream”); what’s around us (“Mmmm, donuts!”); or what other people think or want (“I went to all this trouble, eat something!”)

Try to notice (observe) and name (describe) when you’re distracted by this kind of “noise”, (feelings and thoughts; what’s around you: situations, foods, & environments) and tune in to physical signals from your body instead. Tip: anytime you use or hear the word “should”, that’s probably just noise. That applies to the rest of your life, too.

When you notice that you’re not physiologically hungry, but want to eat anyway, ask yourself:

“What else am I hungry for?” Could be stress relief, distraction, enjoyment & pleasure, connection, a break from responsibility, novelty or stimulation (show of hands, who else eats when they’re bored?!)

When we notice and name, we gain back control. Awareness leads to change; we prevent bad decisions before they happen.

Information for this post is sourced from my nutrition coaching program, powered by Precision Nutrition's ProCoach platform.

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