Controlling portion sizes can help to get a variety of foods

Paying attention to hunger and satiety cues can help us eat the right amount of food.

How much do you eat to live and how much do you live to eat? It’s easy to lose track of how much we eat. Think about the reasons that we eat – hunger, boredom, stress, being at social events or just habit of eating at certain times or events. Often we might eat because we see or smell food, even though we are not hungry.

We can easily ignore or override our signals of hunger and satiety that our brain naturally sends to us.

What are your cues that tell you that you are hungry? Some might sense a hollow feeling or maybe they feel a slight headache. What are cues that tell you that you are full or reach satiety? Noticing these cues and paying attention to whether we are actually feeling them or not can help us to think about our eating habits.

It can be easy to eat too much because the food tastes so good or we were very hungry when we started eating and it feels good to eat. When we are hungry, we tend to eat faster. Because we eat faster, we may not realize how much we’ve eaten in a short time and not slow down and even go for second helpings. Those extra calories can often lead to energy that we are not burning off in activity and extra weight stored on us! By slowing down our pace, we can give our brain a chance to signal that we are getting full or have had enough. Michigan State University Extension says that as you eat, be mindful of your pace, put your fork down every now and then and take sips of water or enjoy the conversation of others. Once you’ve eaten a plateful of food, wait several minutes before taking more. You might start to feel full before you take more food.

Take note of the size of the plate you eat from. We often put more food on large plates, even though smaller amounts are enough to satisfy us. By putting less food on slightly smaller plates, we can get the illusion of plenty of food. Resist the urge to finish off food still in serving bowls or on children’s plates. Ask yourself whether you are really hungry for more. Many leftovers can be eaten at a later time or as part of a meal the next day. You can even put some leftovers in the freezer to be added to casseroles, skillet dinners or soups another time.

Paying attention to how much we eat and whether we are really hungry is important, because we can easily get used to eating more food than we need and the extra calories we consume will likely turn to excess weight. Eating from a box or standing by a snack table will likely increase the amount we eat, because we are not really paying attention to our eating. Putting snack foods in bowls or on plates allows us to pay attention to how much we eat. In addition, when the bowl or plate is empty we have to make a conscious choice to stop eating or get more.

By overriding our brain’s signals of satiety, we make recognizing those signals more difficult. When we stop recognizing signals of satiety, overeating becomes very easy and we eat for reasons other than satiety, such as boredom, stress or just because we want to eat. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods helps us reach satiety before consuming too many calories, because they are good sources of fiber and water content. They also tend to be low in calories, so by eating enough of them we can eat less of higher calorie foods.

Consider the variety of foods in your meals. In addition to eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, we want to consume three to four servings of low-fat dairy and two to three servings of protein each day to get the calcium, protein and other nutrients we need.

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