A mystery was brewing on the mountainous French Island of Corsica.
According to a local legend, some animal was attacking goats and sheep at night. But nobody knew what it was until 2009 when someone finally trapped one. It was a cat-fox. When researchers took a look, they saw that it resembled a house cat except it was a little larger and its tail had black rings around it with a black tip.
When researchers looked at the cat-fox’s fur under the microscope they were shocked. These animals weren’t related to any European wildcat… or known species in the world! The closest thing its DNA resembled was that of an African forest cat. (Which poses an interesting mystery as to how it found its way onto this island in the first place?)
Even though at first glance the cat-fox just looks like a domestic cat, when you take a closer look you’ll notice it has some unusual qualities such as wide ears, short whiskers, and dog-like teeth. Plus, it has dense fur which protects it from ticks and fleas which show you this is no ordinary cat.
People mistake hunger in the same way. They think they are hungry. But when you take a closer look, they are mistaking real hunger for external cues such fancy food packaging… smells from a nearby food court… pressure from family or coworkers… “It’s time to eat” (aka rules)… etc.
External cues are external factors that determine your eating behavior. Internal cues are based on your actual hunger or fullness levels. They are based on “feeling satisfied” or feeling actual hunger. In this issue we’re going to dive into how to get in touch with real internal cues instead of getting fooled by external ones.
Let’s look at three ways to detect your body’s real hunger signals:
#1: Ask New Questions
The questions we ask ourselves drive our decisions.
Dr. Susan Albers who specializes in mindful eating poses three questions that immediately help separate whether we’re eating for emotions or for actual hunger.
According to Dr. Albers, when someone is experiencing real hunger they will eat a wide variety of foods to get out of hunger. However, when someone is having an emotionally-charged craving, they will gravitate towards a specific food. Think about when someone is driven towards something specific like ice cream or Zebra Cakes.
#2: Practice Hara Hachi Bu
How do you know when a meal is over?
When your plate is clean?
When the food is gone?
When everyone is done eating?
Many of us have been taught since we were young to eat until we are full. Maybe even until we are stuffed! But rarely do people calibrate what real hunger feels like.
Think about hunger like a spectrum. If you’ve ever stuffed yourself silly (like on Thanksgiving) we’ll call that 150% full. And when you are ravenous that’s 0%. Most people believe the goal is to hit 100% fullness with each meal. Instead we want to embrace the Japanese term hara hachi bu, which roughly translate to “eat until the belly is 80% full”. Not 100%.
It’s eating until you are no longer hungry. Or eating until you feel satisfied. Most people haven’t calibrated their hunger like this. One way of doing this is during a meal, ask yourself, how full am I on a scale 0-100? Aim for that 80 mark.
This may take a bit of trial and error. But you’ll find that point where you feel okay, and feel content. Not bloated and uncomfortable. Another way of doing this is with one less bite per meal. According to Dr. Albers
“If you frequently find yourself mindlessly eating portions that are too big, start by just leaving one bite behind on your plate. Then once you have really got the hang of it, try leaving two bites.”
#3: Pump The Brakes
Slowing down meals is probably one of the hardest eating habits I’ve seen people try to break.
So many people are used to shoveling down meals without any thought. I’ve been guilty of this so I can get back to work. Or squeezing in a meal in between training sessions.
But the slower you eat, the easier it’ll be to catch yourself before you’re overly full.
One way to “pump the brakes” is simply drinking more water. I’ve shared about the power of drinking more water (have you started yet?) and how drinking 12oz before a meal burns extra calories and causes you to eat less. The other benefit of this is that it slows you down.
When you do this, you’ll notice you’ll feel satisfied with less food. It will literally change your perception of a meal and how much food is required to feel full. Plus, typically you’ll feel better because you aren’t overly full and feeling “heavy” when you leave the dinner table. In essence, you’ll catch yourself before you hit that 100% fullness level.
For me, a few things that have helped with this are:
1) Put your fork or utensil down frequently
2) Stop to drink more water during the meal.