A 'When to Eat' Scale

I used to eat until I was full and a few hours later, I'd eat again and again and again and I would live most of my days feeling full. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. When meal time came around, I used to eat because the clock told me so. I'd finish my food because I wasn't supposed to let it go to waste. I'd look forward to a dessert because that was a trained part of the meal too. I'd eat dessert even if I was full and my brain told me this was good. What were the results? For me it led to chub in all the right places for most of my adult years, not a lot (thanks to genetics) but more than I wanted. It wasn't until my late 30s that I started to change my perspective for the better with a few exceptions (haha to some weird habits my wife hates). I began to save food, all the time and this was good for me but not for my wife. I'd save the crust on the sandwiches my wife would cut off for the kids. I'd clean up the dinner dishes and I'd scrape the kid's left overs into tupperware for lunch the next day. I know this is grossing many of you out. I am a weird duck, I know. I am not suggesting that you should be excessive in this saving habit but there is a more general suggestion soon. Keep reading. . . but one more funny example of my weirdness and then substance will follow. My mother-in-law likes to tease me about one specific saving incident for which she reminds me almost yearly. I was sweeping up the crumbs from the floor and I saw that my kid had dropped a chicken nugget that was now in the pile of dust. So what did I do? I threw it in the trash right? Nope. I picked that nugget out of the food, washed it off and ate it. 🙂 What is wrong with that? I washed off all the dirt and restored it to goodness, but for my family I had crossed over a line that I have not been able to recover from in all these years. I'll admit to that. This has now become part of the info that my mother-in-law shares when she introduces me or when we get in to one of those "Do you remember . . ." family chats over the holidays. But back to the point. In addition to saving food, I would eat when I was hungry and not based on the clock and then about 2 years ago I was given a new paradigm about eating that drives my behavior to this day. It was explained by a professional nutritionist who came to our work. Here is what she explained using a 1-10 eating scale to measure hunger and satiation. Let me give some definition to basic numbers in this scale.

  1. Starving and without energy.
  2. Hungry and looking forward to eating, but energy levels are still fine.
  3. Satiated and comfortable,
  4. Full and feeling uncomfortable and maybe I should take a nap.
  5. Stuffed and needing to lay down or stretch out and feeling pain.

Typical Pattern

She said most of us live between a 5 and a 7 on the eating scale. When it is meal time we eat because the clock says so. We don't have a strong need to eat, but we do because we are programmed to and most of us like the taste of food and so we do. We fill up a full plate and we eat the whole thing which is more than we need but we are making sure to avoid hunger. Feeling full in our heads is better than feeling hunger. Most of us never want to feel hunger for too long. Per the nutritionist this bouncing back and forth between 5 and 7 means that we always have more calories in our belly than we need.

A Better Pattern

Alternatively to maintain a healthy weight, we should shift our patterns so that we eat when we are a 3 and we stop when we are a 5. This leads to different thinking. We become okay with moderate hunger in between meals and we instead decide when to eat based on our energy levels. If we have energy still we are okay but when we feel an imminent drop in energy, then we eat. If we pay attention to our feelings, we stop when the hunger goes away at a 5. We aren't necessarily full but the pain of hunger is gone. Now if you are like me this is a hard point to stop eating. For some reason if I am honest with myself, I worry about the hunger that isn't too far off. I've felt  the feeling and I used to tell myself that hunger was bad - don't let it happen. I would tell myself that the next meal was a long way away and that I better add some food to my belly so I can "make it to the next one" as if I wasn't going to make it to the next meal as if I were packing extra supplies for a long journey and would need those reserves. But who am I kidding. I have never gone without food so long that I can't take that next step to the fridge. No, that isn't my problem but in the past I would often feel like it could be. Perhaps this is a genetic tendency passed on by our ancestors who hundreds of years ago may have faced life threatening hunger. For me starvation isn't a reality and so I need to shift my mindset from being full to that point when the hunger is gone. What have the results been? Well it has been most remarkable to use this new 'when to eat' scale to monitor my food. What do you think? Is this how you operate or is there a better model?

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