When do you decide to put down the fork? Do you eat until your plate is clean, or do you leave a few bites? Many of us end up eating every last bite when we sit down to a delicious meal, even if we are stuffing ourselves beyond what our bodies really need, or what we even want.
The reality is that our bodies count on information from lots of different sources to determine when we should take our last bite. Feelings of fullness (or satiety) are the result of a complex communication process between your stomach, your brain, and your fat cells via different hormones. This intricate feedback system can take about 20 minutes to fully register in your brain. Because of that length of time, we continue to eat, even when we've passed the threshold of having just enough, and can end up over-stuffing ourselves. In other words, if you are speedily chowing down on that pizza, you may reach for another piece long before you realize that you've already had enough!
Luckily for us, when we eat slowly, we are likely to consume fewer calories, which can help us stay lean. In fact, a recent study found that when people slowed down during meals, they ate less, drank more water, felt more satisfied earlier in the meal, and had increased feelings of pleasantness after completion. Of course, all of this helps regulate the digestion process too.
But it's not just eating too quickly that gets in the way of our bodies telling us to: "Put down that fork!" Distractions can also cause us to overeat. For many of us, eating has become an afterthought—something we "get done" while answering E-mails or surfing the Internet. We tune out the innate feedback from our bodies and end up scarfing down all that's in front of us, regardless of how much is there or how we actually feel. Next time you eat, try turning off any electronic devices that may distract you from detecting your fullness cues. That goes for the computer, television, and cell phone. Even reading a book or a magazine can be distracting, causing you to lose track of how full you feel and diminishing the enjoyment of your food. Learning to unplug during meals can retrain your brain to focus on your satiety signals instead of mindlessly searching for the bottom of the plate.
So whether it's six bites or a plate and a half, try to stop eating when you are satisfied—not when you are stuffed. Chew slowly, pause between bites, and truly enjoy your meals. That way, you can quit when you've had just enough and are only taking in what you really need. And don't worry if you still have food on your plate—that's why we have leftovers!
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Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the U.S. She is a member of Women's Health Magazine's advisory board and has authored three books: Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts "A Little Bit Better" on Youtube's Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri's tips every day on Facebook!