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How To Stop Eating & Start Listening

Yeah yeah, another post that’s gonna give me the miracle solution to stop stuffing my face when I’m stressed and start magically eating only when I’m hungry…

Is that what you’re looking for? Well I’m gonna say this right off the bat:

This is not a miracle solution: this post is about uncovering your most basic instincts.

Our world is so different from the one that those instincts were developed. Now we have commercials, billboards, buses, and even the backs of airplane seats telling us that we should be eating RIGHT NOW!

If your goal is to lose weight or to maintain a healthy, energetic physique, you’ll want to listen in to what I have to say here.

You’re going to have to go against what the TV tells you and tune into your self instead.

In this post, we’re going to go over the basics of recovering the sensations that we are meant to listen to. For some, this may be review, but think of it this way: the more you read it, the more ingrained it gets in you!

And for those of you that don’t know this information yet, study hard! This should become your foundation if you want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight! If you always return to these basic behaviors, you WILL lose weight and keep it off!

Throughout this post, I’m going to help you develop better habits for eating smarter. By the end, you’ll have a sample day of perfect eating… and it won’t even feel like work!

Ready to stop the emotional eating and start feeling in control of your diet?!

Good! Let’s do this thing!

Slow Down

This takes a conscious decision on your part to break the habit of mindless munching. It won’t just happen because you hope it will.

Right now, I want you to say in your head, “I will slow down when I eat.” Now commit to it.

Flip that switch, ’cause that’s all it takes.

There’s about 20 minutes of lag time from the moment you start eating for your brain to register that you’re full, and it’s directly related to the hormones that your body produces when you eat. By eating more slowly, your body will have a better chance to release hormones that tell your brain that you’re full. When you recognize you’re full before finishing your meal, you end up cutting the amount that you’re eating without depriving yourself.

Instant portion control!

Try any of these tricks for introducing slower eating:

•Count the times you chew- 20 times per mouthful!

•Time yourself- if you usually take 5 minutes to eat a meal, make it 10 the next time you sit down to dinner. When you’re comfortable with this, make it 15, then 20.

•Take 3 bites, then take a drink of water. Repeat this until your meal is through.

•Eat with friends! Chatting in between bites will cause you to take longer to eat a whole meal.

Another great post about slowing down your eating can be found on Zen Habits. If you want to know more about the science behind why eating more slowly will help you cut calories, check out this article from The New York Times.

Eat Every 3-5 Hours

In order for you to properly execute the task of slower eating, you have to make sure that you’re eating often enough so that you’re not STARVING by the time you sit down to your next meal.

Most of my clients do best eating 3-5 meals a day every 3-5 hours.

If that sounds like a lot, I would like to welcome you to the modern world, my friend. Eating smaller, more frequent meals helps to stabilize your hormones so that you don’t experience drastic drops in blood sugar that drive you to crave instant energy in the form of processed, sugary foods. You know that afternoon craving for chocolate? You’re probably experiencing that because you’re not getting adequate nutrition earlier in the day!

Always start with breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up, and start timing from there. Here’s an example of what your schedule should look like:

7 am breakfast

10 am small snack

1 pm lunch

4 pm small snack

7 pm dinner

If you follow the schedule above, you should be able to stave off that starving feeling that leads you to reach for anything edible nearby (read: anything in the vending machine, goodies left in the break room, or whatever is on your coworker’s desk). Now you’ll have the brain power to make good choices.

Eat Balanced Meals Every Time

“Balanced” means different things to different people. To most, it means grains, protein, vegetables, and a little bit of fat, and for many, this would be a great choice.

What I’m finding with my clients and myself, however, is that not everyone handles grains in the same way. Some people feel more energy cutting them out ENTIRELY, while others feel lethargic and irritable (most people feel this way for the first 2 weeks of cutting the starchy carbs, but it often gives way to more energy).

To find out what your carb sensitivity is, experiment with giving up the grains and concentrating on lean protein, lots of vegetables, and healthy fats.

If you’re planning on doing some self-experimentation, here is a list of starchy carbs to consider excluding from your diet (this list includes whole grains):

•bread of any kind

•rice of any kind

•pasta of any kind

•potatoes of any kind

•bulgur, barley, quinoa, millet, oats, etc.

•beans (lentils and black beans are very high in protein, so if you’re planning to keep beans as part of your diet, these are the ones to stick with)

Again, every body is different and reacts differently to carb restriction. If you are feeling tired, annoyed, or depressed after the initial 2 weeks, add some back in, ideally earlier in the day.

Now that we’ve had the carb talk, let’s talk about what your plate should look like.

•Your plate should consist of a fist-size amount of lean protein, a ton of vegetables (green leafy ones get bonus points), and a little bit of healthy fat.

•If you didn’t do well with cutting the starchy carbs, you should also have some whole grains or beans on your plate.

•All components should be as close to the source as possible.

This means that the more it’s been tinkered with, the farther it should be from your plate. If it comes in a package and has ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf… that’s the only place it should be with all those preservatives anyway!

Come Prepared

The best defense you’ll ever have against out-of-control eating is preparation.

This means that the more prepared you are with healthy options, the less likely you will be to get tempted in the first place.

For instance, if you found out that a last-minute work meeting was going on and they were bringing in donuts–which sound awesome because you skipped breakfast (which you just learned is a BIG no-no)–you would be less likely to indulge if you came prepared with a healthy breakfast or snack.

Being prepared gets rid of the excuses:

It was my only option!

I was just so hungry!

I needed it!

If you follow all the steps we went over above and come prepared to keep following them the whole day, you will be much more likely to succeed in your new healthy lifestyle.


One of the biggest traps you can fall into while eating is distracting yourself. Be it watching tv, surfing the web, or reading a magazine, any activity that switches the focus away from the food you’re putting in your mouth is an easy way to over eat without realizing it.

In our society, we have grown accustomed to doing many things at once. Take meal time to become present and be mindful of the things you’re fueling your body with.

Every 5 Bites, Ask Yourself, “Am I Still Hungry?”

Every five bites or so, put down the fork, spoon, spork, whatever you’re using to take a breath and check in.

Are you still hungry?

Answer honestly, and either pack up the rest if you aren’t, or take another five bites if you’re not.

Take these breaks to drink some water.

Often times people will mistake being thirsty for being hungry! In fact, I try to begin every meal with a full glass of water, and I find that I eat less because of it.


These tools will give you the foundation you need to be able to hear your body’s hunger signals over the noise of the media, temptation, and boredom: some of the most common triggers for mindless eating.

Do you have any tricks to add to this list or questions for me?

Please leave all your questions, comments and concerns here in the comments and I’ll comment back!  I’m happy to help however I can, and I would love to hear your take on any steps I may have missed!


Photo 1 by gamene, photo 2 by SeveStJude, photo 3 by garryknight, photo 4 by Muffet, photo 5 by Pink Sherbet Photography, photo 6 by tomislavmedak, photo 7 by Colin_K

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7 responses to “How To Stop Eating & Start Listening”

  1. Sue Mitchell says:

    These are all great tips, but I love the one about setting a timer on yourself. That’s a new one I think I’ll try. Sounds a wee bit compulsive, but I’m assuming I’ll only do it for a while, as an awareness technique and not turn it into some permanent, geeky data-gathering obsession. :) Thanks for the idea!

  2. Maria says:

    Good advice on eating every 3 hours starting counting from breakfast time.

    I think that sometimes we should just treat ourselves as if we were babies.

    Babies need absolute conformance to a schedule to function well: Eat times, sleep times, play times, are all scheduled. Miss the sleep time and then the baby cries and can’t sleep.

    Similarly, having routines in our lives, and doing the same thing every single day, can help us a lot with our productivity and our wellness.

    • Amy says:

      Good call, Maria! We’re all just grown-up babies anyways! ;)

      Having that routine to do every day is a great way to make sure you just get out of the house and MOVE. Once that gets routine, however, mixing it up is great for keeping the body guessing and staving off boredom!

  3. Vishnu says:

    All great tips – bread is a big part of my diet as is rice and pasta. What are good substitutes if trying to cut out carbs – which we eat because they tend to be more filling. Please please don’t say vegetables.

    • Amy says:

      Ummm… vegetables would be my answer to that! Also, protein is very filling!

      Let me know how it goes as you cut them out! Can’t turn back now, Vishnu!

  4. Vishnu says:

    afraid you’d say that. am i the only vegetarian who hates vegetables!?!

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