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Recognizing When You're Hungry and When You're Full

If you learn its language, your body can tell you when your diet is well balanced. When a meal is heavy in one nutrient, such as fat, and light in the others such as protein or vitamins, you may not feel full. Your body has a feedback system that tells your brain when your diet includes enough carbohydrate, fat, and protein.

Arbitrary portion sizes and years of parental instruction to “clean your plate” have conditioned people to ignore their innate ability to tell when they’ve had enough to eat. Re-learning to recognize and respect your hunger and satisfaction signals takes time. These techniques can help:

  • Don’t wait until you’re famished to eat. You’re apt to overeat when you’re absolutely starving. People who skip meals or eat skimpy meals often eat when they’re ready to drop. Eating three meals and two or three small snacks is one way to make sure that you’re never too hungry or too full.

    What counts is the total number of calories that you consume each day, not how often you eat.

  • Pay attention to how you feel, and eat mindfully. You need to eat slowly to recognize the sometimes-vague signals that you’ve had enough to eat. The goal is to internalize those feelings. Until you can hear and heed the conversations that your brain and stomach are having, wear clothing with waistbands. A waistband that’s snug around your middle can serve as a reminder to stop eating when it feels tight.

  • Eat slowly. Your brain needs up to 20 minutes to get the message that your body has had enough to eat.

  • Buy only single servings of foods that you crave, or you may find it difficult to stop eating even when you’re full. Many people use a product more freely when they aren’t worried about running out, when price isn’t important (larger packages are often cheaper than smaller ones), and when space is tight (larger packages take up plenty of room). So if ice cream in the freezer tempts you, single-size servings, purchased one at a time, may be a wise move.

    Similarly, at restaurants, think small. Super-sizing may seem like a value, but calorically speaking, it’s a bad investment.

Your body is sensitive to sensory fulfillment as well. Creamy textures and sweet flavors need to be balanced with crunchy and savory ones. That’s one of the reasons that diets that eliminate an entire group of food are so frustrating: Besides being unbalanced nutritionally, they’re unbalanced in flavor and texture.

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