When you were a kid, it’s likely that dinners at the kitchen table weren’t truly over until you’d finished all your vegetables. And while getting your greens is certainly a good thing, it’s quite possible these dinnertime practices have fallen by the wayside. As you’ve aged and the American diet has reached an all-time unhealthy high, being a member of the Clean Plate Club often takes on a different meaning these day. It’s typically no longer considered an accomplishment, seeing as nowadays, plates are more often filled with processed foods, and the presence of fruits and vegetables is sometimes frighteningly lackluster.
Well, times, they are a changing, so it’s about time we adjust our way of thinking. There’s a big, and important, difference between feeling stuffed vs. feeling satisfied.
It takes your brain 20 minutes to realize you’re full
It’s important to recognize that feeling satisfied is not caused by your stomach actually being full. According to SFGate, your stomach has room to hold up to four liters of volume, but that doesn’t mean you’ll need, or want, to fill it to max capacity.
Feeling satisfied is a result of your brain reacting to the chemicals that get released when food (or drink) enters your stomach. However, your brain takes about 20 minutes to actually register those chemicals, which is why you often hear about people trying to eat more slowly or avoid scarfing down a meal. Even though you may still have room in your stomach while you’re mowing down a bowl of pasta, there’s a lag time between your stomach being full, and your brain realizing you’re full.
Learn to recognize how your body feels when you start getting full
Although it does take about 20 minutes for your brain to register the food and drink you’ve put into your stomach, it’s also important you’re familiar with the onset of feelings that may signal you’re actually getting full. The San Francisco Chronicle recommends comparing how your stomach feels when you’re hungry, to how it feels after drinking a glass of water. Just like food, of course, water also takes up space in your stomach, thus leaving less room for food (one of the many health benefits of drinking water).
After drinking water, your stomach won’t feel as empty within just a few minutes. So, as you eat, pay attention to how your stomach feels over the course of the meal. That same empty feeling will be replaced with a gentle pressure. Stop eating once you feel that pressure, even if you think you’re still hungry (or, in most cases, are just tempted to finish that plate of oh so delicious food). This pressure will be gentle, and will still leave you feeling light and energetic. Only when you have become uncomfortable, have you overeaten.
Tune out potential distractions
It’s not surprising that, in today’s fast-paced world, eating can seem more like a chore, and less like a time to sit back and actually enjoy your meal. You don’t have to be the best chef in the office to know how important it is to take a break to eat your lunch. Too many people eat a quick lunch right at their desk, which presents a whole host of problems, such as answering e-mails or being distracted by the internet or social media. Eating should never be thought of as something to get done or out of the way, so don’t fall victim to making a habit of it.
The next time you eat, try turning off all electronics, and removing yourself from any possible distractions. Keri Glassman, R.D., writes in an article published in U.S. News & World Report that such distractions can keep you from detecting your fullness cues. “Even reading a book or a magazine can be distracting, causing you to lose track of how full you feel and diminishing the enjoyment of your food,” Glassman says. “Learning to unplug during meals can retrain your brain to focus on your satiety signals instead of mindlessly searching for the bottom of the plate.”
And on the note of not rushing through your meal, does it seem as though many restaurants have forgotten proper etiquette when clearing plates? Well, in case you didn’t know, it’s bad form for everyone to have their plates swooped away as soon as they put down their fork. Unfortunately in our culture, it seems as though most places are more concerned with flipping tables than allowing customers to enjoy a leisurely meal. Don’t let the wait staff rush your meal too soon, because all you’ll be left with is that unwanted, overly stuffed feeling.