Habit 2: Eat to 80% Full
Previously, we spoke about the habit of eating slowly, and how it is one of the most effective ways to gain better control over your eating habits.
To briefly recap:
- If you eat too quickly, you miss your hunger and satiety cues and are much more likely to overeat.
- Eating slowly is more important than what / when / where you eat or who you eat with because you can do it anytime, anywhere, with any food, around anyone.
- Eating slowly is a great safety net to fall back on whenever life starts to get a bit messy and you start feeling overwhelmed.
- Eating slowly helps you build a healthy relationship with food.
Going hand-in-hand with eating slowly is the habit of eating to “80% full”.
When you eat slowly, you are better able to pay attention to just how hungry or how full you actually are.
And when you are deliberately trying to eat to 80% full, you have to eat slower in order for your satiety signals to start kicking in and to make sure that you don’t overshoot how much you eat.
What does “80% full” mean?
In short, “80% full” is that sweet spot between being hungry and being full or even stuffed.
It’s when you simply no longer feel hungry.
This is a great place to be at if you are aiming to lose fat or maintain a healthy body weight, especially if you combine it with the healthy Sleekgeek Food List, a well-balanced meal with the Sleekgeek Healthy Meal Template and sensible Portion Control Guidelines that give you clear direction to help you avoid eating both too much or too little.
NOTE: The most important thing to understand is that “80% full” is not a specific number. It’s an intention.
The habit of eating to 80% full is a conscious effort while eating (or while serving your food) to not overeat. The goal is to avoid ending up “stuffed” and therefore eating too much.
Being mindful of how much you eat and whether you are still actually hungry before taking the next bite of food is a very useful tool in losing fat as well as effortlessly maintaining a healthy weight.
A bit of bonus info:
There is a Japanese practice called “hara hachi bu” as a means to help regulate appetite and avoid overeating without the need to count calories.
It refers to their cultural tendency (Confucian teaching) to eat until only about 80% full.
It’s believed to be an important factor in the attributed mindfulness and longevity of their population. Interestingly enough, some sort of calorie restriction practice is common throughout a variety of different cultures, other than the Japanese, such as:
- Ayurvedic tradition (eat until 75% full).
- Islamic Qu’ran guidelines (excess eating is a sin).
- The prophet Muhammad (describing a full belly as 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, and 1/3 air – aka only 2/3 full).
- German expression (“Tie off the sack before it gets completely full”).
- Indian proverb (“Drink your food and chew your drink”).
- French expression (“I have no more hunger” as opposed to saying “I’m full”).
As you can see, eating to “80% full” is nothing new…
The benefits of eating to 80% full
Like we said with eating slowly, we consider eating to 80% full to be one of the most important nutrition habits of all.
It’s the second “anchor habit” in the Sleekgeek Nutrition Guidelines because every other nutrition habit will be easier to do and more effective if you can get your eating behaviour under control.
Eating mindfully (eating slowly + eating to 80% full) is more important than what you eat, when you eat, where you eat, or who you eat with!
Because, no matter what comes your way, you can always choose to eat slowly and mindfully with any food, at any time, anywhere, around anyone, and in any situation.
Yes, even if it means sneakily eating junk food at 3am in the glow of your refrigerator without anyone knowing.
The goal is to create mindfulness around the food you eat, helping you understand things such as why you eat and whether food will solve that problem or not.
It teaches appetite awareness:
Eating to 80% full has both short-term and long-term benefits.
Apart from simply helping you avoid eating too much in the moment, it also teaches the skill of appetite awareness.
It helps you build a more intuitive understanding and control of your hunger / fullness that is necessary for easy long-term weight loss and weight maintenance.
Over time, you will gain a better sense of your hunger and satiety cues and will also be able to better distinguish between physical hunger and cravings or other kinds of more emotional hunger.
This is a rather challenging habit for most people and you will likely feel a bit uncomfortable or confused at first. This is where excuses or resistance are most likely to pop up. Struggle and perseverance are great teachers. Practice, practice, practice, practice!
Imagine you are learning to play the guitar or piano for the first time. You won’t get it right immediately.
How to identify 80% full
You probably know what “stuffed” feels like, right? When you are just about struggling to breathe and unbuttoning the top button of your jeans to ease the discomfort…
Let’s call that “150% full”.
You also might know what absolutely “starving” feels like. Thankfully very few of us experience true primal starvation, but when that 10am snack feels like such a long way away from breakfast, I’m sure you can guess what it must be like to go without food for days…
Let’s call that “0% full”.
Somewhere in between all of that is the sweet spot of “80% full”.
You may need to first identify what 100% full or even 150% full feels like first so that you can work your way backwards from there to find something closer to 80% full.
At times you may even overshoot and eat too little, finding yourself still hungry and in need of a snack 20 mins later. That’s OK, it requires practice, and even we don’t get it right 100% of the time. If you eat too little for a day or end up supplementing your meal with another snack, neither will be the end of the world. You’re learning.
Ideally, you should be able to finish your meal no longer hungry (possibly even a bit doubtful that it was enough food) and then find that 10-20 minutes later you surprisingly actually feel comfortably satisfied and satiated.
Here’s that graphic again from up top if you want some help visualising all of this:
Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues:
To help you better identify when you are 80% full, there are a few signs that you can pay attention to.
- Hunger Cues such as a growling or empty-feeling in your stomach, feeling “hangry”, maybe a hunger headache or feeling lightheaded, and so on.
- Over-Fullness Cues such as feeling stuffed or bloated like you are ready to pop, uncomfortably full, feeling a bit heavy and sluggish, maybe even heartburn or nausea or gassy, and so on.
- Satiety Cues such as feeling energised and no longer hungry, feeling fairly satisfied and satiated, feeling as though if you stopped eating now you would be just fine, and so on.
Avoid this common mistake:
Eating to 80% full is not the same as eating 80% of what’s on your plate and then throwing the other 20% away.
Ideally, you want to get to the point where you are in-tune with your hunger and serve yourself exactly the right amount.
However, this takes practice. Even we don’t get this right every time. Some times we serve ourselves a bit much and some times we serve ourselves too little.
No one is perfect, so don’t worry about getting it 100% right 100% of the time. Your hunger tends to change day-by-day depending on how active you are and what else you have eaten that day.
So just take it one step at a time. Just the act of thinking about your hunger and serving with the intention of eating to 80% full means that you will likely get a lot closer to your goal than if you were just serving (and then eating) mindlessly.
What to do now?
Eating to 80% full is all about practice and actually “doing “rather than just “knowing” you should.
- Step 1) Just try.
Put together a healthy meal for yourself (see the Sleekgeek Healthy Meal Template if you need some ideas) and then just slow down. Eat slowly, paying attention to how hungry you are as you progress through your meal. Maybe you started feeling ravenous, then half way through you feel much better but still definitely hungry… Keep eating, but try and stop before you actually feel full. Don’t worry, if you stop too soon and find yourself still hungry 10-20 mins later you can always finish your food or go grab a snack.
- Step 2) Practice.
You don’t just wake up one day and become a slow or mindful eater. It’s something that you work on over and over again, slowly getting better over time. Focus on what you can do to just get a teeeny tiny bit better each day (get 1% better as we always say).
- Step 3) Be more mindful of your portions.
Once you’ve been practicing this for a bit, you might notice that you routinely serve yourself too much and often end up leaving food behind on your plate. Knowing that eating to 80% full is not the same as eating 80% of what is on your plate, see if you can portion out exactly the right amount of food to match your hunger so that you eat everything on your plate without anything going to waste, while also only eating to 80% full. Check out the Sleekgeek Portion Control Guidelines if you need some help with portion control.
What’s up next?
Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series which is all about Protein.
This is where we show you why eating enough protein is so incredibly important no matter what your goal is (health, weight loss, weight maintenance, muscle gain) and also how to easily get more protein in your meals.
If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for the Sleekgeek Health Revolution Newsletter so we can keep you up to date.