Stop Eating When You Feel Full

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Some of you may think you already stop eating when you feel full, but unless you are French – think again. Based on research, Michael Pollan says instead of using our internal cues to know when to stop eating most of us “allow external, and usually visual, cues to determine how much we [should] eat.”

Think back to your last meal…did you stop eating when your gut told you you’d had enough or when your plate was clean, the package was empty, or the T.V. show was over?

According to Pollan:

Supposedly it takes twenty minutes before the brain gets the word that the belly is full; unfortunately most of us take considerably less than twenty minutes to finish a meal, with the result that the sensation of feeling full exerts little if any influence on how much we eat. What this suggests is that eating more slowly, and then consulting our sense of satiety, might help us to eat less. The French are better at this than we are, as Brian Wansink discovered when he asked a group of French people how they knew when to stop eating. ‘When I feel full,’ they replied. (What a novel idea! The Americans said things like ‘When my plate is clean’ or ‘When I run out.’) Perhaps it is their long, leisurely meals that give the French the opportunity to realize when they are full.

I don’t know about you, but as long as I can remember I’ve been told to “clean my plate.” I am finding that it helps to start off with less food, because it can sometimes be difficult to stop eating an exceptionally good meal when there are only one or two or even three bites left. It wouldn’t be enough food to save or pack up at a restaurant, and I know we’ve all been taught how awful it is to “waste” food.

And speaking of eating at restaurants my husband and I have been making an effort to split an entrée as well as a small appetizer since their portions tend to be over-sized here in America.

The key is when you start with less food you can always add more. You may be surprised at how often you don’t feel the need to pile on more…especially if you rest for a few minutes before going back. This is something I’ve honestly struggled with myself ever since I first read Pollan’s book, but I continue to try as hard as I can to not be won over by a delicious meal and instead stay in check by listening to my gut.

As Pollan says “Better to go to waste than to waist,” which will “help you eat less in the short term and develop self-control in the long.”

Not to mention “Americans are on average eating 200 more calories a day than they were in the 1970s.” We think this concept of controlling our portions goes hand-in-hand with eating real food because we have personally found that real food is incredibly filling.

You truly don’t need to eat as much to get to that “full” feeling as you would with the empty calories that make up highly processed food. But following through on this concept can sometimes be easier said than done – trust me, I know!

Some other similar concepts from the “How should I eat?” section of Pollan’s book Food Rules:

  • Pay more, eat less.
  • Stop eating before you’re full.
  • Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
  • Buy smaller plates and glasses.
  • Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Do all your eating at a table. (A desk does not count!)
  • Try not to eat alone.
  • Leave something on your plate.

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64 thoughts on “Stop Eating When You Feel Full”

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  1. I am in. I have big problem with emotional eating. This has made me fat in the past. I have lost around 20 pounds with a lot of exercise and good diet but I still struggle much at the dinner table. Food has been my best and worst friend. This week, I promise to you all and myself to be mindful of my portions and try to feel when I’m full. I’ll also try to drink water with my meal, I’ll see if it helps(I don’t drink anything at meals.

    Thank you Lisa for your wonderful blog. I don’t have kids at the moment put once I do, I’ll do anything in my power so my future kids have a healthy relationship with food.

  2. When I was very overweight about 16 years ago, I started doing this….and also would not eat a meal until my stomache actually growled and lost 80 pounds! I am in!

  3. I’m definitely in with this, starting today! Me and hubby (he doesn’t know this either!) We’re both trying to lose weight, and this should be good discipline for us.

  4. Okay, we’re in – self and significant other (he doesn’t know it yet.) Both have decided we need to cut back on calorie intake, and this is a good way to start.

  5. I am so in! I always feel better when I stop eating sooner rather than later. Thank you for posting!

  6. 2 adults and 3 children. I feel most uncertain about this challange. It’s so different than what I’m used to, fights a habit (of cleaning my small portioned plate) and I dont even feel like I know how to do it. I am excited about trying and about this challenge helping to lower our food bill some.

  7. i’m starting this one today! i’m excited to see what changes i will be able to make.
    i WILL struggle with eating at my desk. that is the only i do it at my job.

  8. This was actually last week for us. Definitely a challenge for my fast eating husband. And for me on the days that I work. 12 hour shifts and never really sure when my next break will be means that I tend to overeat when I do get a break so I don’t get hungry later! I will have to start stashing nuts and whole grain crackers so I can sneak away if that does happen. Any other tips for staying full withou overeating? Whole grain has already helped with this, but it still happens!

  9. I am a bit late reading this, but I do agree. I think it is because my nan, who raised me, went through two wars, and things were very scarce. I remember clearly to this day sitting at the table crying, because I wasnt allowed to get up until I had eaten every last bit. And since starting to eat more healthily I have found that the whole foods do fill me up much better than the other food I ate before (even though it was not what I would class as junk food), so have naturally starting serving smaller portions. Eating more regularly through the day has helped with this as well.

  10. I think another important factor in the “European diet” is the courses. Even if you do something as simple as eat a bit of soup or an appetizer (or even a pre-meal drink), and wait and chat for a few minutes to let it sit, then you won’t be as hungry for the main course.

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  12. i’m late for this challenge, but this is a good rule to learn from our children! i’ve always struggled with my weight and self-image and i didn’t want to set my children up for the same issues at an early age, so i’ve always tried to watch what i say to them at meal time in regards to being finished eating. instead of asking them if they are “full” i’ve always asked “is your tummy happy?” i want them to understand their body cues…so if that means they eat 3 bites and feel satisfied or it takes a second helping to get to that point they should eat until they are “satisfied”, not necessarily “full”. i know it’s a matter of semantics, but words are very powerful! now, reminding myself of the same rule can be difficult when i’m eating an especially delicious meal!!!

  13. I’m in. This was something I learned in Weight Watchers and it’s really changed my life. I take a very small portion (compared to what I used to take), eat it, wait 10 minutes, and if I’m still hungry I’ll get more. Nine times out of ten, I don’t go back for seconds. Great challenge!

  14. I’m in – just one adult. My 11 yo son continues to eat until he is full – doesn’t clean his plate. I’ve never forced him. I suggest taking a smaller portion – “as you can always get more if you are still hungry”. I love the ideas here!

  15. Ah ah, I’m French and I’m still not all that good at listening to my body. Especially with the eating habits here.
    I find it a lot easier to eat less when I’m having a sit down dinner with friends. Maybe because you chat and take more time in between food intakes. In the end I just feel satisfied.
    Now in other situations, like at work when I have little time or when I eat in front of the TV with my husband, then I just want to finish my plate.
    Oh and yes, I was raised (in France) with the saying of finish your plate too.

    Things that help: eat and socialize, don’t focus on food only.
    Put less food than you think you will eat in your plate, and refill only if you’re still hungry later.
    Use a smaller plate if you know you’re a clean plate kind of person.
    Take time, avoid distractions like tv and such.

    So sign me up, I’ll try.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I always love hearing from you…thanks for sharing your “two cents” on this one!

  16. I am definitely in for this one – I struggle with this but am hoping this will help kick start my motivation! 1 adult in!

  17. I can tell that my kids are already beginning to pick up bad habits from me…and this is one of the big ones. I know from experience what a trap overeating can become, as we use food as comfort/entertainment, etc. I so want to be a good example to them, and, with God’s help, I’m going to be, starting today.

  18. I’m in. 1 adult.
    I’ve been reading/listening to Peter Walsh (Does this Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?). One of his suggestions, that I really like, is to eat the portions you have allotted yourself, then clean up the kitchen. Everything, including your plate. With any luck, the prospect of having to clean up again will deter you from having seconds. I also try to brush my teeth soon after dinner, to discourage evening munchies.

    1. What a great idea…cleaning the kitchen! That will help me actually take care of cleaning the kitchen before the end of the night when I’m not motivated! :)

  19. I had a dream about this last night. I think my subconscious is telling me to take the challenge. It will just be me. No one else in my family has the “children are starving all over the world, so clean your plate” mentality. I’m doing it for a full week and hopefully beyond!

    1. Are you old enough to remember Allan Sherman and his song about how he got fat? In the introduction he talks about his mother telling to clean his plate “because children are starving in Europe”. (That dates it, doesn’t it?) “And they kept starving and I got fat.” It’s wasteful to eat something for which you aren’t hungry, and it doesn’t do starving children – anywhere – a bit of good. Good luck!

      1. 100 Days of Real Food

        I don’t remember that song, but he does have a very good point!!

  20. I’m in! My kids are too young-4 and 2, and hubby already pretty much does this. So, it’s just me for the week.

  21. This is a great one. I already do this one mostly, but this week I’ll be deliberately more conscious of my fullness. So count me for one adult.

    I honestly believe that by combining a diet of real foods and this “French” mentality of stopping when you are full and only eating at a table at meal times (no mindless snacking, no car eating, no couch eating) you will never be overweight. These are the two keys to a healthy weight in my opinion. Bravo on this challenge! For any readers who need further ideas on the French and their relationship with food, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” is an enlightening read.

  22. I started practicing this rule about 6 months ago and I know it has helped me to lose weight. Another rule I started practicing about a year and half ago was “no seconds” (except for on Thanksgiving!) these two rules have really made a difference and I feel so much better after meals.

  23. Count me in. This is something I’ve struggled with–the cultural tradition of cleaning your plate each meal is very strong. Somehow my disabled/deaf daughter has also developed the habit of believing that if something is on your plate, you must finish it! It’s a benefit when it comes to trying new and different foods, but she’s gained weight because of it. Maybe if she sees my example of leaving food on MY plate she will come to recognize that it’s acceptable to NOT eat everything. We’ll give it a try!

  24. I’m in. I’ll work on the hubby too. I have been trying to lose weight and usually I do this but every now and then I get so hungry that I stuff my face and then I want to die afterward because I feel too full. I’m sure you all never have that problem….
    So, part of this challenge for me will be to not allow myself to get so hungry that I want to eat the kitchen counter!

  25. I am in. I am wondering what advice others have for getting the kids to eat something… I have a very picky 4 year old. If I don’t FORCE her to eat a certain amount of her plate (I never force her to eat all of it), she won’t eat anything and then will come back an hour later looking for a yogurt or a banana. Sure, those are not horrible alternatives, but that isn’t my idea of a balanced dinner. I may try the ‘four bites of everything’ rule for my four year old…

    1. My daughter went through that phase. She figured out if she skipped dinner, she could have something better later. I started putting her plate in the microwave or fridge and when she came back hungry, I offered it again. She’s 7 now and eats when we do. I still have to make her try new things and things she doesn’t like at every meal, but she doesn’t fight me on it.

      When she was in that phase and we went out to eat and we didn’t want to take her food to go, we always just gave her a worse option to eat first when she finally got hungry. Like eat a few pieces of broccoli or spinach, then you can have yogurt. Luckily for us, she loves spinach and broccoli, but would never choose it over yogurt.

  26. My husband and I and two kids are in for this one, if you count the kids. The kids don’t know what it’s like to “have” to finish their plate, I never push it because it was really pushed with me. I want them to grow up to know that you need to listen to your body before anything else. I’m the only one that has a problem with this. My husband is amazingly good at this actually. I’m learning to serve myself smaller portions, but when I don’t I just cover up what I was eating and put it in the fridge for later.

  27. We are in – 2 adults. My 3 yr old has not been tainted yet and stops when she is full. Now if i could just get her to try one bite of everything on her plate as mentioned in a previous comment, i would be thrilled!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      We even say “3 bites for a 3-year-old” in our house…too bad for her she turns 4 tomorrow!!

      1. Ha! We do that too and my son turns 5 next Sunday . . . meals time will become even more torturous for him :)

    2. I also have a stubborn 3-year-old. There is no way he’s taking a bite of anything he doesn’t want to!

  28. We’ll do it. I already don’t make the kids clean their plates just make them take one bite of everything on their plate, but I usually follow behind and finish it for them. Bad bad bad.

  29. Lise Silverwolf

    I’m definitely in. I do this quite regularly already, but will make a full concious effort on it this coming week.

    Anyone got any suggestions for someone (my hubby) who’s body actually does not EVER send that “clue” that the stomach is full? Right now, we just measure out portion sizes for him, but I’d love to hear any other ideas people might have. No, he’s not making it up, just to eat more. There’s just some weird reason he body never sends that “I’m full” response to the brain. In the past, it ended up with huge weight gains, and severely overfull tummy.

    1. I know from hearing my patients stories that they never felt full and could eat an entire pizza, liter of soda, etc and never feel “full.” These were patients who were morbidly obese and had resorted to bariatric surgery. Your stomach literally stretches to accommodate all of the food we stuff into it. But, when we stop eating so much, it does rebound back. This takes time though. I don’t know if your husband is obese or how long he has been measuring out portions, but the simple answer is to just keep measuring out portion sizes and taking at least 20 minutes to eat so your body can respond. Eventually he should start to notice that he feels satisfied. If not, it could be some other disorder and should be evaluated. I hope that helps!

  30. Jessica Kielman

    We are in! All 4 of us are going to try…my husband and I are going to stope eating when we are full, and our two children said they will not snack out of boredom! What a fabulous idea!

  31. I’m in! I really struggle with this so this is great for me. It’s only 1 in my household b/c my 2 kids already stop eating when full and my husband has no interest in this.