Last week in the 52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You series we looked at hunger and when you should start eating. Now let's look at the other side of things: when you should stop eating. This is another huge factor in effective eating habits for reaching your goals.
Eating too much?
While this seems like an obvious thing, many people get themselves into trouble because they don't know when to stop. Many people have conditioned themselves to think that they should keep eating until they are full. This often results in overeating. Others have been told since childhood that they must not leave the table until every scrap of food is gone. While this is noble intent is great for not wasting food, it tends to turn people away from listening to their body's natural full signals. While this is not the end of the world if the meal started with an appropriate portion, it results in overeating when there is an abundance of food (e.g. restaurants, dinner parties and worst of all - buffets).
One of the things that I have learned as a parent of young children is that when they are done eating, they are done. Trying to make a toddler eat more food when he/she has had enough is a battle you will always lose. My youngest daughter (who is now 20 months old) is amazing at this. She will be happily eating away and then all of a sudden she is done. It doesn't matter what is on her plate, when she has had enough, the food may go on the floor, on her highchair seat, in her hair, or on Daddy if he is within reach, but it will not enter her mouth. She will even do this if she has a special treat (e.g. chocolate chip cookie).
If you want to get to and stay at an optimal body composition, you need to re-learn to listen to your body and stop eating at the right time.
Eating for fat loss or staying leanIf your goal is fat loss or staying lean, then this week, focus on stopping eating when you are 80% full. This will work very well with the previous habits of eating when you are truly hungry - not just bored and eating slowly. If you have extra food on your plate, save it for later. Over time as you get to know your body better, look at taking/making less food if that is all you need.
Eating for muscle gain and high performance
As mentioned in last week's habit, eating for muscle gain or high performance is not a natural, comfortable thing for the body. In this case, you have to rely more on head knowledge and body assessment evidence to determine how much you should eat (Note: click HERE to learn more about monitoring your body composition). Eating for high performance may require eating until completely full or beyond to get the required calories and nutrients. And, as I mentioned previously, when eating for muscle gain, you may have to eat until you feel tired. Important Note: if your goals change or you retire from competitive sport, you had better shift into the habit of stopping at 80% full or you will quickly pack on fat.
Here are the links to the previous 2013 weekly habits in case you missed them:
Week 1: Kitchen Cleanout (at the end of the introduction to this series)
Berardi, J., Andrews, R. The essentials of sport and exercise nutrition: Precision Nutrition certification manual, 2nd ed. Precision Nutrition, 2012.