How to Stop Eating when you’ve had Enough

ricotta gnocchi

As I said to one of my coaching clients last year, ‘being a food lover is a blessing and a curse’.

I’m so grateful for all the opportunities for connection, creativity and joy my love of food brings.

However it does come with some struggles.

Like over eating.

I hate to think how many meals have been amazing in the moment but left me feeling not-so-amazing afterwards.

But as I’ve discovered for myself, it’s totally possible to love delicious food and (mostly) stop when you’ve had enough.

Here’s how I do it.

5 steps to stop eating when you’ve had enough

1. Decide

The first and biggest step is to commit to yourself that you’re going to figure this out.

Start working on the belief that you can become someone who loves their food AND stops when they’ve had enough.

If I can do it, so can you!

2. Focus

If you aren’t paying attention to what you’re eating, your chance of being able to recognize when it’s time to stop are non-existent.

Mindful eating is a huge key to this puzzle.

At the very least, sit down and turn off all distractions.

I’ve recently been experimenting with counting to 20 bites for at least 2 mouthfuls every meal which I’ve found helpful.

I also put my cutlery down between bites.

3. Look for the pause

This is a new idea one of my Simple Meal Plan members alerted me to.

Basically pay attention to the point at when you slow down, pause, and/or take a small breath.

Look for any natural pauses that signal it might be time to stop.

Even if you’re not feeling completely full yet.

4. Stop

When I find myself noticing a pause and then going into the mind drama of ‘I’ve had enough but it’s soo good, I want more’, I remind myself ‘I don’t struggle with this‘.

Then I put down my knife and fork.

It’s that simple.

I then either push my plate to the side or cover it with a serviette so I’m not tempted to pick.

5. Practice

Like any skill, learning to stop eating when you’ve had enough takes practice.

As I alluded to with my (mostly) above, it’s still a skill I’m working on myself.

Every time I finish a delicious meal by stopping when I’ve had enough and feel awesome afterwards, I get the positive reinforcement to keep practicing!

What do you think?

Are you a fellow food lover who also struggles to stop? Is there anything you’ve tried that has or hasn’t worked?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Have fun in the kitchen (and at the dining table)!

With love,
Jules x

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37 Comments

  • Very timely article! I just finished lunch and was thinking … hmm, some trail mix would be good. Even though I am actually full!

  • Those are all very good points and worth thinking about. I like the counting to 20 idea, and putting down your fork. I really hate waste and so struggle with not eating everything that is on my plate. Lately I have been dishing up less than I think I will eat, and then know I can add more if I need to. Mostly I don’t need to!

    • I hate waste as well Gillian and have been experimenting with what I call ‘mindful serving’ – focusing on how much I put on my plate in the first place.

      I find it’s making a big difference!

  • Good tips. I struggle with this too. One thing I learned from my Grandma (but don’t always practice), is brush your teeth right away after eating.

  • Great timing on this post. Just this morning, I wrote in my journal, “It’s the pull between good tasting food and healthy feeling.” Your focus on mindful eating will help me, because I was thinking I had to focus on how I will feel in the future to keep from overeating, but now I see that I can focus on the food right now and enjoy it.

    • Love it Nancy!

      It’s hard to be motivated by how you feel in the future vs feeling now.

      I really find telling myself ‘I don’t struggle’ makes it easier to get out of that ‘pull’

      Jx

  • I struggle with this a lot! I am a volume eater! Tiny skimpy portions put me into grazing mode. I very much wish to get to a place where I can be peaceful with food portion sizes. I plan meals for others, create and test recipes – in other words the kitchen is my playing field, my passion and sometimes my worst nightmare! Especially as we age and matabolism slows down, as of now vigorous regaular exercise keeps things in check. I shall vow to practice one of these tips for the next four weeks. Easy steps. Thanks! Anyone in the same boat? Jules might be able to connect us and we can support each other on this journey.

    • If you’re a volume eater (which I think we all are in some way), I find loading my plate with lots of veggies is the best way to feel satisfied.

      And I hear you on the challenges of having the kitchen as a professional place and a playground.

      I’ve recently been working on overcoming my tendency to snack as I’m cooking. Will have to share tips for my progress in that area as well!

      Great idea to go for easy steps Suzanne – would love to hear how you get on :)

  • I try to do the intermittent fasting routine so popular now, eating in only a six hour window. What i find is that i consciously or subconsciously feel a need to eat lots because it will be a long time before I can eat again. Not sure if I wouldn’t be as well off just eating 3 meals a day on a usual schedule.

    • Not sure about this. A book I read on Intermittent Fasting suggested that people DIDN’T overeat when the next eating opportunity came about (even though they thought they did, or wished they could eat more).

      • I’ve seen research suggesting people eat about 20% more when ending a fast Susie but I feel for myself it does vary. And I know there are times I eat more before the fast because I think I’m fasting tomorrow :)

    • I fast with a similar window Charles. I find some days I’ll eat more before hand but mostly I’m in a good rhythm so it’s become my new normal.

      I actually prefer it because I don’t have to worry about making breakfast for myself and can focus on getting my family fed and out the door.

      The thing is even if you end up eating the same amount of food, there are other health benefits to spending more time in the fasted state.

      Are you enjoying the fasting or is it a challenge for you?

  • As a child I never learned what it was to be properly full. I was required to eat what I was given, to clean my plate, and too bad if it was too much or too little. For a very long time I felt a need to be stuffed before I could stop eating. These days I am fairly often able to stop when there is too much food on my plate. The exception to that is when I’m in an anxiety-producing situation, or when I’ve gone far too long between meals. I’ve also been working on eating smaller servings of fast carbs since I’ve become borderline diabetic. When I’m serving myself I try to make sure my portions aren’t too big, and I keep trying to direct my husband to make my portions a more reasonable size when it’s his turn to cook. He seems to think that my portions should be equal to his, even though I’m smaller and have a much slower metabolism than he does.

    • You’re definitely not alone with the clean plate problem Susan! I had the same.

      It’s great you’re able to stop now – it’s definitely something we can all relearn with practice.

      If I’m feeling anxious or ravenous, I’ve been experimenting with deep breathing before I start eating. The theory is that deep breathing puts the prefrontal cortex of your brain back in control. This is the rational / planning part of your brain that is able to remember important details like over eating now will make you feel gross in the future.

      So far so good but still a work in progress.

      And if your husband can’t get on board with making your portions more reasonably sized for you. Maybe taking some food off your plate and editing the serving size before eating might help. Or making sure you leave food when he has served might help.

      Jx

      You’re lucky your husband cooks!

  • Somewhere along the line I discovered the idea of ‘diminishing returns’. If you’re eating something nice, pay attention – the first few bites are really sensational, the next few are very nice, etc, diminishing until you reach the point that you’re just eating because it’s there and you don’t want to waste it, not because you’re still really enjoying it or are still hungry. This helped us change our habits and take small servings, savour and enjoy them to the max – then stop eating. It’s not the whole solution, but sometimes it helps.

    • Love this Keryl!

      Especially with our sense of smell (and taste) the more we are exposed to a particular flavour in one sitting, the less we detect it.

      Thanks for the reminder :)

  • Great tips! It’s something that I have struggled with for years.
    Here’s what I would add:
    Make sure every bite counts. Don’t eat junk if it’s going to take room away from nice food later.
    Cut back on sugar – my appetite dramatically decreased when I stopped eating sugar and I realised that what I thought was hunger was actually sugar cravings.
    Eat slowly. It’s more enjoyable and the full hormones have time to kick in. I am preaching to myself here because I have tended to be a “wolf it down” person.

    • Thanks Rita!

      I completely agree with cutting back on sugar and for me carbs. One thing I really noticed when I had a week of eating higher carb than normal last year was how it impacted my appetite. It was incredible how out of wack everything became. And how much better it was when I cut out the carbs again.

      And yes for eating slowly!

  • Hi Jules – your post is so timely. This is an issue I constantly struggle with – especially when travelling and eating at hotel buffets – want to try it all and then can’t bear to waste the food when I have had enough. I went to boarding school and if a meal was good we ate seconds if we could because the next meal might not be so edible – left me with bad habits.

    • I went to boarding school too Amanda – so I know where you’re coming from.

      With bufffets (and eating at home too) I have a personal rule that I don’t take seconds. So I put everything on my plate before I start eating.

      Having it there in front of you in one plate makes it much easier to avoid over eating.

      You can break free of those boarding school habits!

  • I like having some kind of beverage after a meal – tea, stevia-sweetened lemonade or chocolate milk, etc., and that means leaving some room for a cup of water in my belly! I often still fill up too much on my meal, though, so a strategy I may try is to prepare the drink before my meal so it is ready when I choose I’ve had enough to eat!

  • When my daughter and her family come to a meal, (4children),she insists we use bread and butter plates for them all! I always have salad platter on the table as well and that is always emptied! Normally I serve small meals for my husband and my self– it is adequate! I usually serve fruit afterwards and that disappears!

    • Your daughter is very wise Rosemary! Small plates make a big difference.

      And serving the salad / veg in the middle but keeping extras of the less healthy options out of the way is another excellent trick.

      Jx

  • The other tip to remember is that it takes 20 minutes for the food you are eating to register in your belly. So by slowing down your food intake during a meal, you are allowing the ‘full’ signals from your stomach to start up!

  • Serving sizes help with both the eating and budgeting of food for me. I use a cup measure or a serving spoon – the cup measure is great for veg prep; instead of prepping too much (unless I’m doing mise en place and prepping for a few days) – and I know that two heaped serving spoons makes a balanced amount of the ‘main event’.

    I felt so dim whem I realised – yes!- you can just put one slice of bread in the toaster instead of filling both slots lol! Honestly, it’s amazing how things like this literally double the amount we consume/waste.

    I also bag-up food into portion sizes before it goes in the freezer – because the bigger the original pack – the more that gets put out and cooked. I’m not adverse to using left-overs – but then I’m striving not to be a dustbin either!

    Great post and comments x

    • This is so great thanks Elaine!

      I think measuring is excellent if you’re happy to do it.

      And there’s a lot of research that shows the bigger the pack the more we serve and eat. So your tip of bagging up into portion sizes before freezing is an excellent one.

      Thank you!
      Jx

  • I only prepare what I am prepared to eat and I never wait until I’m starving. If I’m starving I eat a fruit or veggie to hold me.

  • I am a fast eater and would often serve myself seconds while waiting for the rest of my family to finish. Lately my tactic has been to leave the table when i finish eating and start cleaning the kitchen as my husband usually cooks so I’m the one on cleaning. Gets me away from the table and means that everything is squared away by the time the others finish.

  • Like most people, I struggle with over-eating and value what you and others have written. I agree with every point you have made in your post, Jules, and I will try to put them into practice. The word ’try’ is relevant. Managing your eating or any other problem or productive activity requires ongoing management, and a very important part of that ongoing management is self-awareness.

    • Yes we’re definitely not alone with this one John!

      And I agree self-awareness is critical.

      Your comment reminded me of my favourite Star Wars Quote from Yoda…

      “Do or do not. There is no try.” :)

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