Listen to Your Body for Natural Portion Control

How do YOU define a healthy lifestyle?

Portion control is not about some arbitrary measure of how much you should eat at a meal or snack. True portion control is a very natural act of listening to your internal cues. We were all born with the ability to self-regulate, without effort. Like the way you know when you need to go to the bathroom--you don't usually need 'urination control'.

But somewhere along the way, you stopped listening to your internal eating cues. And now you can't usually hear them at all. When you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full, you have just discovered the secret to natural portion control.

You have to eat slowly enough to sense your fullness. It takes about 15-20 minutes for you to sense your fullness. Unfortunately it takes the average American approximately 7 minutes to finish a meal. At that pace you won't have any idea if it was the right amount of food for another 8-13 minutes after you are done eating.

Physical hunger is described as an empty or even painful grumbling in the stomach. It could strike as a headache or shakiness. Paying attention to one’s own body is a crucial step in the regulation of weight. It is sometimes easiest for people to use a tool such as the Hunger Fullness Scale.

This is a scale from 1-10, with 1 being terribly hungry and 10 being full almost to the point of sick. On this scale, a 5 is considered neutral. Hunger and fullness act like a pendulum, if you get to a 2, you will probably eat to an 8. It is advised that people eat at around a 4 (just empty, knowing you will have to eat in an hour or so—but don’t wait!), and then stopping at a 6 (satisfied, but not too full, still full of energy).

Being hungry is a bit like being in love…if you are not sure, then you are probably not. If you find yourself wanting to eat when you know that you are not physically hungry, it is smart to investigate this urge further. Some people will use the method of journaling for a few minutes before deciding whether or not to eat.

This journaling can help give you insight into what you might be feeling. This can be really difficult at first because people tend to be completely tuned out to our uncomfortable feelings. Knowing what is actually going on can give you the opportunity to address that need, rather than continuing to numb it out.

Non-hunger eating is the most prominent issue that people face in weight concerns.

This type of eating strikes nearly all of us at some point or another. It sneaks up on you when you are bored, stressed, upset, and even when you are really, really happy. This is usually the culprit in binging or compulsive overeating behaviors.

Eating when you have no physical hunger at all serves to numb your feelings of discomfort. Some people have not felt physical hunger in a very long time due to this constant numbing. Chemicals such as serotonin play a big role in regulating your moods. This gives you a very subtle positive feedback message each time you consume sweets or carbohydrates.

So the next time you are struggling with concerns about portion control, remember that it is not about a random measurement. Every food on the planet can fit into a your healthy lifestyle if you eat it when you are experiencing physical hunger, and if you stop eating when you feel physical fullness. In fact, satisfying your true food cravings can lead to decreased eating overall.

Having your favorite food my actually result in fewer daily calories consumed because you don’t end up eating half a box of wheat thins later in the day. So if there is a question to eat or not to eat, simply check in with your body (not a diet) to determine the answer


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Jennifer Pereira MA, RD, LD, CSCS, LPC - WISE Therapist & Dietitian

Do you have a problem?

1. Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat?

2. Do you make yourself sick (or use laxatives/exercise) if you feel uncomfortably full?

3. Do you currently suffer with or suffered in the past with eating issues?

4. Do you ever eat in secret?

5. Does your weight affect how you feel about yourself?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, or if you are not satisfied with your current eating patterns, contact us for more information.