Eat Less: The Basics of Healthy Eating – Part 1

Most often when people are looking for nutrition information it is to lose weight, improve their health or optimise their body composition.  For this reason, for part one of this series, I have the following advice for every meal: Eat less.

“Eat less. Really? Isn’t that obvious? I’m never reading this blog again. What a waste of time.” -First Alarm Strength blog reader 

But hold on, that’s the 2 word answer that your physician gave you. That’s what Carl from accounting advised you after he lost 1.3 pounds and told everyone about it. Eat less is what you came up with yourself.  That is not the end of my piece though. It’s just the advice I’m about to give you but in the simplest way possible. Those are the words you’ll remember from this post but subconsciously you will know exactly what “eat less” really means.

No doubt a few questions come to mind:

How much is less?

How much is enough?

How do I eat less?

How do I know I’m full?

What if I’m not full?

What if I don’t eat enough and I wither away?

The first and possibly most important piece of advice I can give is not to eat until you are full. Do not eat as if you haven’t eaten in weeks and will never see food again.  Eat slowly and stop eating when you feel you are 80% full. The speed that you eat is very important because there is a lag between when you are full and when your brain actually receives the signal from your stomach.  Eating slowly allows your brain to perceive fullness before you over eat by allowing your stomach to begin to signal your brain as you are approaching fullness rather than after. Stopping at 80% full will help to limit unnecessary calorie consumption.

If you are used to eating until you explode this might be an odd feeling for you. You might feel like you could still eat more but if you take a second to think about how you feel you should realise that you are actually quite content, and still comfortable. This might mean that you still have food on your plate. Most of us grew up being told to finish what’s on our plate and that stuck with us. We feel that if we don’t finish what’s on our plate we are somehow being disrespectful to the chef, or we feel we are wasting food because you know there are starving kids in Africa and they would love to have your meal.

To avoid these feelings of being disrespectful or wasteful there are a few strategies you can adopt to eat less. One is to serve yourself less food.  This can result in eating less and finishing what’s on your plate while still having the option of going back for more (which if respect is your number one issue this will look like you really liked it).  It takes some self control but I suggest starting with taking half of what you normally would for your first plate and then taking more of the foods you wanted afterwards.

 **Most of us would eat way past 100% so stopping at this 50% might actually be exactly what you need to feel the 80% full feeling**

Another option is to use a smaller plate. People fill their plate regardless of how big they are. At the firehall we have serving platters as plates and they always get filled, even though half full would probably be enough.  (Note to self: Use the smaller plates at work).  This simple trick makes you think you are eating more food because the plate looks full and you think you are eating more food than what’s on the big plate but in fact it’s the exact same amount.


Each plate contains the same amount of food but one of them looks empty

If you’re eating out one option is to cut your meal in half and package it right away for later. Restaurants don’t always cook with your health in mind. They want to make it taste as good as possible so you come back.  This reduces your risk of overeating that delicious meal you just ordered but also allows you to enjoy it again later.

If you’re at home just put your leftovers in a container for your lunch tomorrow and if you’re at someone’s house, say grandmas and you don’t want her to think you didn’t like what she made, tell her that you are full but you want to take the rest home because it tasted so good. This accomplishes your goal of only eating til 80% full and now grandma is happy that you liked her food.

With each meal before you start tell yourself “Slow down, and stop at 80%.”  You may not get it right away and that is OK. You may have to start with stopping at 90%.  You will also have meals that are 110%, and that’s OK too. At this point you don’t have to worry about anything like how many veggies your eating or how your macro nutrients are divided.   We want to start with one habit at a time.  By introducing and focusing on only one habit at a time studies suggest you are 80% likely to make it stick.  By introducing a second habit at the same time, those same studies suggest that your chances of success drop to only 20%.  With this approach it is generally safe to introduce one new behaviour every 2 weeks.  If you are not confident that your new behaviour has become habit by the end of week 2, take another 2 weeks and then introduce your next behaviour.  We keep up with this approach until we have a solid set of habits that will encourage a much healthier lifestyle.  With this approach your stomach is happy, your brain is happy, your waist line will be happy and grandma will be happy.

So, there you have it, first instalment done. Eat less.

Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive updates on new blog posts if you want to follow this series or “The Basics of Strength Training”.  This list is only for blog updates I will never use this email list to try to sell you on personal training.

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