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Eat Less by Changing Your Eating Behavior

Updated on October 13, 2009

Eating is part of survival and, as such, our body naturally lets us know when it requires nourishment; in turn, it responds when we have had sufficient to eat. However, more and more, external factors are also playing a part in when we start and stop eating. Eating has moved beyond a survival mechanism and entered the realm of habit. We have become detached from the communications from our body and respond out of habit when it comes to eating. Unfortunately, these eating habits tend to be unhealthy and, more often than not, they lead to overeating. The good thing though is that habits can be changed.

Habits are patterns that have been reinforced over time. The starting point for changing all habits and behaviors is awareness.

In this case, you develop your awareness by maintaining a food diary. Make a note of everything that you eat throughout the day. Also note the time, how much you ate, where you were, what you were doing and why you ate. You may have been hungry or you may have felt upset or bored or some other emotion. This will bring your attention to your eating, help you with changing and monitoring your diet and enable you to identify bad eating habits.

Changing your eating habits and eating behavior will help you to eat less
Changing your eating habits and eating behavior will help you to eat less

Find Your Eating Cues

Firstly you need to find what makes you eat unnecessarily; what are these external factors that are overriding your natural physical signals. This you will pick up from your food diary. Perhaps it is whenever you eat out at a restaurant; perhaps it is the biscuits in the kitchen at work. Then you need to implement behavior that will change these habits. For example, meet friends for coffee rather than a meal or don’t order starters at restaurants. Leave the kitchen at work as soon as you have poured your coffee and don’t be tempted to eat the biscuits.

Find your eating cues and change your behavior in order counteract them and work towards eating less.

Eat Mindfully

The most important thing is to be aware of the eating process. When you are not in tune with your body and when external factors are influencing your eating habits, you are usually not really aware that you are eating and it is when it is easy to overeat. The way to increase your awareness is to focus on your meal and the experience. Eat slowly and really taste each mouthful. Know what you are putting into your body. Think about the aroma and the texture; think about what type of nourishment it provides. Your body is important and you need to honor this importance by providing it with good nutrients. Maintain awareness around eating.

Bring Your Attention to Your Breath

Breathe deliberately between mouthfuls. This has the effect of slowing down the speed at which you eat and making you more aware of the eating process. It also enables you to feel how full you are as the breathing action causes your diaphragm to push down on your lower organs. Furthermore, by being aware of your breath you become more aware of your body and in tune to its requirements. You are getting back in touch with your physical signals.

Eat Slowly

Eating slowly is not only about mindfulness, it is also about becoming more aware of your body’s needs and messages. Your brain will only receive messages that you have eaten enough after about 15 to 20 minutes. Only then will you feel full. If you wolf down your meals in 10 minutes you can easily eat much more than you need. Ensure that you take more than 20 minutes to eat your food so that you can be alerted naturally as to when you are full and stop eating excessively.

Many people are raised with the rule that they must finish everything on their plate. This then gets established as a habit. Realize this and accept having food left on the plate. With time you will learn the portion sizes you require and you will be back to finishing your plate of food – or nearly finishing it.

Chew Food Thoroughly

This helps with staying mindful and eating more slowly. It also aids digestion as food that is properly chewed requires less processing further down the digestive tract. This in turn frees up energy which you can expend elsewhere – for example, in exercising.

Smaller Plate, Smaller Portions

Use a smaller plate. Psychologically if you see a full plate of food you may feel there is enough to fill you up. If your plate of food is a bit smaller than usual, you can still fill it, but your portions will be smaller. It’s easier to eat less and stop your mind wondering whether it was enough.

Eat When Hungry

Eating when bored or upset is also merely habit. Before eating anything, note if you are truly hungry. Signs of hunger include a rumbling stomach, fatigue, decreased concentration, irritability and a slight headache. Again this is getting in touch with your body and its requirements. This also applies when you are eating a meal; stop when you are no longer hungry.

Start using a qualitative scale to rate your hunger levels. The book “Why Weight? A Guide to Ending Compulsive Eating” (author: G. Roth, New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1989) provides the following scale called “The Hunger-Satiety Rating Scale”:

10 = Stuffed to the point of feeling sick (Satiety)

9 = Very uncomfortably full, need to loosen your belt

8 = Uncomfortably full, feel stuffed

7 = Very full, feel as if you have overeaten

6 = Comfortably full, satisfied

5 = Comfortable, neither hungry nor full (Neutral)

4 = Beginning signals of hunger

3 = Hungry, ready to eat

2 = Very hungry, unable to concentrate

1 = Starving, dizzy, irritable (Hungry)

If you wait to until you are “starving”, you are likely to overeat. Aim to start eating when you have early signs of hunger (level 4) and to stop eating when you are comfortably satisfied (level 6).

Sit Down to Eat

Always eat when sitting down at a dining table. This increases your awareness of the fact that you are eating. Try this when eating snacks as well; you can even make a “rule” to use a knife, spoon or fork which then encourages healthier types of snacks.

Only Eat

Don’t do anything else whilst eating such as watching television or working. It distracts you from your eating and you will ignore any feelings of satiation.

Weight loss will usually involve change of diet and increased exercise; however, there are other factors that you need to consider which could make the process easier and more effective. These are your eating habits or your eating behavior. These can be changed into more healthy patterns by developing awareness and reconnecting with your physical signals of hunger and satiety. You can control your food intake and your weight. 

Image credit: BinaryApe


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    • JulietduPreez profile image

      JulietduPreez 8 years ago

      Sure. Eating mindfully or consciously makes a huge difference.


    • sheryld30 profile image

      sheryld30 8 years ago from California

      Sounds cool to me. Thanks for sharing! :)